Friday, July 19, 2024

Three Long Beach restaurants recognized by Michelin but does the guide matter in L.A.?

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Long Beach restaurant Heritage—which I featured recently on my Underrated Restaurants list—and The Attic—which has seen an entire rebirth following the hiring of Eleven Madison Park alumnus Chef Cameron Slaugh—have both been added to Micheline’s guide to California cuisine.

Each have received the guide’s “Michelin Plate” status, meaning it offers “good cooking” (and just that, with no more criteria offered). 

The Attic was described as a place “gorgeous and decidedly Southern plates, but not without a twist or two” while Heritage was described as “a sandwich shop, but fine dining is the norm come nightfall—with a menu of contemporary, seasonal dishes.”

HiroNori has maintained its “Bib Gourmand” status restaurants with “good cooking at a good value,” with the guide only noting HiroNori’s Irvine location, a recognition it has held for three years running.

Chef Thomas Ortega’s Amor y Tacos in Cerritos—part of the Amor Familia group that has Playa Amor and Amorcito here in Long Beach—also maintained its status as a Bib Gourmand. 

This recognition matters in a general sense: Long Beach restaurants deserve more recognition in almost every sense of the word, something that former L.A. Times food critic Patricia Escárcega and current L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano have been showcasing to both Los Angeles and Orange County.

But Michelin, despite its recognition as the world’s food ranking par none, has a distinctly problematic relationship with the L.A. region. They just returned to the region two years after dismissing it for nearly a decade, halting any recognition of one of the world’s most recognizable, culturally rich metros.

It’s reason? I’ll give you the direct quote from former Michelin Directeur Général Jean-Luc Naret explain the choice in 2010:

“The people in Los Angeles are not real foodies. They are not too interested in eating well but just into who goes to which restaurant and where they sit.”

I commenced the eye-roll then and I am doing it now, re-reading the words; it was the classic New York read of Los Angeles with French subtitles.

While Naret may have exited, giving way to the much more amicable Alexandre Taisne taking charge, the entirety of the L.A. region needs to ask itself: Should we really care about a guide who described us as a vacuous, vapid group of people in an equally vacuous cuisine scene?

Here’s how Chef Roy Choi put it when the guide returned in 2019: 

“I don’t really have thoughts on the Michelin Guide, because that has nothing to do with the life that I live. All I can say to those who do care about it is that, just from a city pride standpoint as it pertains to Los Angeles, these people dissed you right to your face. They called you unsophisticated, left you hanging, slandered the city across the globe. And now they’re going to come back, and guys are going to grovel at their ankles? That doesn’t mean you have to hate Michelin or the idea of it, but if you have L.A. pride, think about that.”

Choi’s comment hit home for many people who have long called this region not only their home but their culinary heart, a vast and expansive food scene that spans, crosses, and criss-crosses every culture imaginable. 

And Michelin’s own comments don’t help much as to where their philosophical or methodological approach to a place it so brutally dismissed comes from. 

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“Michelin recognizes California as a booming culinary destination which is setting the dining trends for the future,” International Director Gwendal Poullennec said in a prepared statement when returning to California.

Is this an indirect reference to Jordan Kahn’s absurdly trippy Vespertine, a joint that could only truly exist in Los Angeles? Or is it noting-but-not-really that cuisines largely panned by Michelin—Mexican being the most egregious—have deep, deep roots in our urban homestead? Perhaps they were finally admitting, again indirectly, that their snubbing of Los Angeles was embedded in its colonizer-centric take on food, where French cuisine consistently overshadows anything—gasp—”ethnic”?

While we appreciate your recognition, it’s an opaque, if not smarmy statement that refuses to acknowledge one very glaring fact: It is not that Los Angeles has caught up to Michelin but that the world has finally caught up to Los Angeles. Perhaps they don’t want to admit they finally checked in with the late Jonathan Gold’s masterful take down of Michelin’s presence in the region.

Let’s not get into the absurdity of the process of ratings: To cover the entirety of our country, Michelin has 10 inspectors for three cities. Yes, you read that right: ten people, three cities, because that’s the United States. New York. Chicago. San Francisco. And, after a decade hiatus, Los Angeles. Sometimes they hit up the suburbs—hey there, Napa—and sometimes they do not—much to the chagrin of Chicagoans

These inspectors, cloaked in secrecy like they’re in the Cold War Hunger Games of Gastronomy, eat lunch and dinner out daily at a new restaurant after being assigned so by their higher-up. Unlike common food critics, who venture to places multiple times before throwing down their opined gauntlet, these tired inspectors usually only visit a place once, stressed about what to order because that one order will determine rankings. I imagine an exhausted, tetchy inspector throwing a plate of branzino across the room, yelling, “It’s too salty, you twits!” and marching out. No dining companions, no breaks, on the road.

If a restaurant merits further interest, they will send out a second inspector, typically one that attached to that cuisine or area. This results in, if anything, inconsistency.

That being said, Los Angeles held no chip on its shoulder after Michelin left (despite the rather pejorative rant of this here writer). That also being said, Michelin is still very much respected; despite critiques of being antiquated, geocentric (French food, despite its redundancy, always wins the stars—hell, Chef Carlos Gaytán became the first chef in Mexico to get a star and that was only a few years ago), and favoring luxury over food, the guide still stands strong.
In that sense, having Michelin here could be a good thing; one can only hope they’re French enough to go below the 10 but perhaps the French aren’t that adventurous.

My ultimate hope, both here in Long Beach and especially in Los Angeles, is that chefs continue cooking as if they weren’t here. Keep cooking like the only thing you care about are your patrons and community.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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