Food & Drink

Michelin Guide expands to include Sacramento restaurants

Michelin will expand its California restaurant guide coverage to include Sacramento as well as greater Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Monterey, the company announced Tuesday morning.

U.S. guides had previously been limited to the Bay Area, New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago after Michelin stopped visiting Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 2009. Anonymous Michelin inspectors have already been through the Sacramento area, Visit Sacramento president/CEO Mike Testa said, and the California guide is expected to be released in June. It won’t be known which restaurants are included – or how many stars they received – in the guide until June.

Sacramento’s food scene has earned nods from outlets such as Thrillist and the Travel Channel in recent years. At the same time, there were no area chefs or restaurants among the 250 James Beard Award semifinalists announced last Wednesday.

Inclusion in a Michelin Guide will subsequently propel Sacramento into the national — and international — dining discussion, Camden Spit & Larder chef/co-owner Oliver Ridgeway said. The company currently publishes guides for 37 cities or regions across four continents.

“When you look at the other American cities that Michelin reviews, that’s the company that Sacramento’s restaurants are going to be in,” Ridgeway said.

Visiting chefs such as Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation, Hong Kong), Sung Jae Anh (Mosu, South Korea) and Michael Tusk (Quince, San Francisco) all came out for the announcement. Thomas Keller, the first American with two three-star restaurants — including The French Laundry in Napa Valley — also spoke about what Michelin’s expansion meant for the state.

“Michelin has always been the pinnacle of cuisine and what it means to be a chef and restauranteur,” Keller said. “To now have the guide extend to cover all of California, my home state, and include additional cities means there is much more credibility to what we’re doing here.”

Though Michelin is famously secretive about what earns restaurants a star, consistently excellent food and service is a good place to start. Inspectors also highlight “Bib Gourmand” restaurants, or moderately priced options that fall just short of earning a star, and Michelin added the “L’Assiette Michelin” designation last year to recognize all others included in the guidebooks.

Local culinary talent such as Canon chef/co-owner Brad Cecchi, Grange chef Dane Blom and Origami Asian Grill chef/co-owner Scott Ostrander have all worked in Michelin-starred restaurants. Cecchi, who was executive chef when Napa Valley’s Solbar earned a star for the eighth consecutive year in 2016, said Michelin-starred chefs often feel pressure to raise prices and fit a certain mold to retain their status.

“Receiving national recognition is a game-changer for any restaurant, however, that also comes with an immense amount of pressure,” Cecchi said in an email Tuesday. “Maintaining your star, and living up to the expectations, can weigh heavily on a team. We certainly would not have been prepared for that when we first opened 18 months ago – that being said, the fact that the Michelin Guide will now include Sacramento is a huge honor and an incredible opportunity for this city’s dining scene.”

Whether they seek them out or not, there’s a decent chance at least one Sacramento restaurant will end up with a star, said Selland Family Restaurants CEO Josh Nelson. Nelson, whose family owns The Kitchen and Ella Dining Room & Bar, said he thinks Sacramento’s best can compete with some of dozen or so Michelin-starred restaurants he’s eaten at around the U.S. and in Europe.

“When I think of the one-star restaurants I’ve been to, there are certainly restaurants that are of that caliber or better in Sacramento,” Nelson said. “And that’s not to knock the one-stars, its just to say that we have restaurants that are equally as good, for sure.”

Having restaurants with Michelin stars could also help retain Sacramento’s most talented young chefs, Nelson said. Some, like Cecchi, leave town to better their skills before returning home.

Then there are those like Placerville native Timothy Hollingsworth, who left the area to work at The French Laundry in Yountville, established himself as a rising culinary star and opened his own high-dollar restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. If the next Hollingsworth had Michelin-starred options in Sacramento, Nelson said, they might stick around.

It was not immediately clear whether restaurants from the surrounding area such as Hawks in Granite Bay or Park Winters would be eligible for Michelin recognition. Michelin critics no longer visit Chicago’s suburbs; they generally skip out on areas around Washington D.C. but awarded Virginia-based The Inn at Little Washington three stars in this year’s guide.

Testa, who led the charge for Sacramento to adopt “America’s Farm To Fork Capital” as its official slogan, began talking to Michelin representatives in 2017. He eventually brought in Visit California as well, which helped convince Michelin to expand its presence throughout the state.

“The effort to expand Michelin’s presence on the West Coast started with Visit Sacramento,” Visit California president/CEO Caroline Beteta said in a media release. “As the discussion grew to encompass the entire state, Visit Sacramento brought Visit California to the table so we could dream big together. We applaud Visit Sacramento’s vision in seeing the tremendous impact Michelin would have not only in the capital region, but across the state.”

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.