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Pete Wells Awards Three Stars to Cosme

Pete Wells Awards Three Stars to Cosme

This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviewed the Flatiron District’s Cosme, and found himself completely smitten with chef Enrique Olvera’s cooking, describing it as “a thrill, largely because it sails right over ideas like tradition, authenticity and modernity.” He liked it so much, in fact, that he awarded the restaurant three stars and a glowing review.

At the outset of his review, Wells gave his take on the genre of Mexican cuisine as a whole in the city; the trend of chefs taking immersion trips south of the border has not led to the northern migration of authentic Mexican fare, according to the critic. Instead, the city has been “enjoying a boom in serious Mexican cuisine, when in fact what the city is experiencing is a handful of restaurants that present, some more convincingly than others, a chef’s south-of-the-border fantasies.”

This is not the case when it comes to Cosme, as Olvera is a Mexican-born chef whose “research trips were to Manhattan instead. He studied its dining rooms, its menus, its cocktails and its customers. He was clearly taking notes, because he shows an uncannily state-of-the-art instinct for what New Yorkers want when they go out for dinner.” The underlying message to Wells’ readers here is that the chef delivered the quality food and experience the critic was hoping for.

As usual, Wells includes a small personal story to highlight his experience of the restaurant. In this one, we get a glimpse of grade-school Pete, who used to have the habit of bringing “the purple-smudged handouts still warm from the Ditto copier up to my nose to breathe in their sweet, forbidden, chemical smell, like rubbing alcohol mixed with danger.” He includes this tidbit of personal memory in relation to the fresh tortillas he was served, as “Whenever a stack of fresh tortillas arrived, I would pull one from its folded napkin, hold it up to my face and inhale… The aroma of these tortillas was completely wholesome… but I still wanted to fall headfirst into it the way I did with Ditto solvent.” He then bluntly states, “There are no tortillas remotely like this in New York.” So, dear readers, you’ve been warned by the venerable critic: Olvera’s tortillas might be as addictive that Ditto copier smell is to Wells (or, for a younger generation, perhaps as addictive as those fruit-scented markers from your childhood).

Towards the end, he includes the minor missteps that stood in the way of that coveted fourth star. Firstly, he pointed towards the large bill that’s hard to avoid at Cosme, as the menu “isn’t a lot of help when it comes to suggesting how to put together a meal. Servers will suggest sharing about three dishes for each person at the table… [and] you will pay for the experience. Cosme is an expensive restaurant, where dinner for two with dessert and wine can easily creep beyond $300.” There were also a few less-than-terrific dishes on the menu (“A few dishes leave you wondering momentarily if it’s worth it”) and a lack of great dessert choices, because although “there is an absolute classic on Jesús Terea’s dessert menu… the rest of them tend toward a blandly pleasant sweetness.” However, he insists that “There aren’t many problems like that, though” immediately after making those criticisms.

I reached out to the team at Cosme to find out their thoughts on Wells’ assessment, and managing partner Santiago Perez said, “Of course we are flattered by the positive comments, but we are also aware there's a long way ahead. We believe in our concept and need to stay true to it. The most important thing is to keep the majority of our guests happy and will make adjustments as we see fit.”

It’s probably a safe bet that none of those adjustments will be to Olvera’s style of cooking because, as Wells closes he review, he bestows upon Olvera the praise so many chefs in the city have fallen short of receiving from the critic when he writes that the chef’s food “isn’t the kind of Mexican cooking that can be learned on a vacation. It has to be lived, and for that there are no shortcuts.”

Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant and City Guide editor for The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.

Pete Wells Awards Three Stars to Cosme - Recipes

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Season driven Scandinavian fare from Icelandic chef Gunnar Gíslason. Farm to table as well aswild ingredients from the region, mixed with Nordic flavors and old school techniques. Located in Grand Central Terminal between Vanderbilt Hall and the 42nd street southwestern passag.

#2. Ai Fiori

Ai Fiori

Michael White's new restaurant at the Setai hotel, serving a menu of cuisine from the French riviera and Mediterranean.

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Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, the owners of Babbo, offer this explanation of their labor of love: "We opened Babbo in the summer of 1998 in an effort to emulate the best of the great Italian tradition of hospitality and quality at the table and in the glass. The philosophy .

#4. Uchu

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#5. Batard


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#6. Blue Hill

Blue Hill

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#7. The Breslin

The Breslin

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#8. Cafe Boulud

Cafe Boulud

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#9. Carbone


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#10. Casa Enrique

Casa Enrique

Chef Cosme Aguilar and owner Winston Kulok earn a Michelin star for the fresh Mexican fare they bring to Long Island City, not far front their well loved French bistro Café Henri. Fresh ingredients, and dishes harken back to Aguilar’s childhood in Chiapas, Mexico’s Southern most .

#11. Casa Mono

Casa Mono

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#12. Caviar Russe

Caviar Russe

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#13. The Clocktower

The Clocktower

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#14. Contra


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#15. Cote

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#16. Dovetail


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#17. Faro

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#18. The Finch

The Finch

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#19. Gabriel Kreuther

Gabriel Kreuther

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#20. Gramercy Tavern

Gramercy Tavern

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#21. Gunter Seeger

Gunter Seeger

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Kyo Ya

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La Sirena

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Minetta Tavern

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The Musket Room

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Peter Luger Steak House

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Sushi Amane

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Sushi Inoue

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Sushi Yasuda

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Sushi Zo

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Tempura Matsui

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#43. Tori Shin

Tori Shin

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#44. Uncle Boons

Uncle Boons

Uncle Boons blows the roof off of NYC Thai food, and earns a 2015 Michelin Star for their efforts! With Per Se vets Matt Danzer and Ann Redding (who enjoy working together so much they married) have put together a consist, succulent menu, avoiding trends and fads. Wood paneli.

#45. Ushiwakamaru


Heaven for sushi purists from Chef and owner Hideo Kuribara. Traditional omakase menu and wide variety of Sake.

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#47. ZZ's Clam Bar

ZZ's Clam Bar

Rich Torrisi teams up with Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick for a Michelin starred curated seafood restaurant in Greenwich Village. The accommodations put to the test the notion of 𠇌lam bar”. Reservations are required for this tiny space that seats about 10 around 4 small tables.

Lilia Ristorante

Ever since Missy Robbins opened, restaurant reviewers have been raving that finally, she's finally cooking pasta again. Born into a family of hosts, travelers and cooks, Missy Robbins brings the best of Italy to Williamsburg where wood-fired seafood, hand-crafted pasta, classic Italian cocktails and warm hospitality come together to create a casual dining experience. Robbins says she found her Italian soul in her five years as Executive Chef at Spiaggia in Chicago. While focusing her skills on fine dining Italian she found her true passion for cooking in a deeper understanding of regional Italian cooking. If you come here and don't get the pasta, you're doing it all wrong.

Recommended for Best Restaurants because: It's nearly impossible to get a table - it's really that good.

Maria's expert tip: You can try squeezing in at the bar, but the chances are slim it'll happen. Reservations are a near-must - book at least 2 weeks in advance.

The Legacy of David Chang’s Ssäm Bar, an NYC Icon Leaving Its East Village Home

Last week, Momofuku announced that the ever-changing Ssäm Bar, once a kimchi-laced, offal-laden, ham-slinging hangout that played a central role in turning the raffish East Village into a citywide restaurant destination, will close and relocate to the slick, bi-level Wayō space in Manhattan’s Seaport District. Patrons who used to stare at an odd John McEnroe poster during dinner will now enjoy panoramic vistas of the East River. In a way, the move reflects the evolution of the Momofuku empire what was once experimental and frayed around the edges is now shiny and corporate.

That’s not so much a damnation as it is a statement of fact. After the Trump-supporting billionaire Stephen Ross took a minority stake in Chang’s empire in late 2016, the New York restaurants have largely expanded into polished luxury developments, including the Shops at Columbus Circle, Hudson Yards, and the Pier 17 mall in the revamped Seaport.

But here’s the surprising part: Even as has Momofuku moved into soulless real estate, the group has managed to keep its creative culinary soul intact, slinging gelatinous raw crab, Korean-Lebanese wrap sandwiches, and buttery imitation crab rolls in places where one might otherwise expect a $70 strip steak. That roughly means that even as Ssäm Bar relocates to a fancier part of town, the likelihood of it devolving into best-hits blandness is low.

If anything, the venue has long acted as the group’s creative core it’s always seemed to change or expand before entering into the middle-aged stasis that many restaurants its age experience. It opened in August 2006 — two years after Noodle Bar’s debut — as a Korean-American Chipotle, with staffers selling burrito-like wraps on an assembly line. And then it morphed into a late night den of freewheeling gastronomic innovation, a global riff on an American brasserie that spawned countless more small plates places.

Ssäm Bar’s influence would grow in the decade-plus that followed. Alongside the Spotted Pig, it paved the way for a stripped-down and affordable-ish style of ambitious gastronomy that contrasted with starchier Midtown establishments.

A bartender at Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s Booker and Dax makes a cocktail Nick Solares

It was home, for a time, to one of the city’s most groundbreaking cocktail bars. It launched Christina Tosi’s neo-nostalgic dessert empire. And it broadened the concept of what constituted quintessential New York food. Ssäm Bar helped popularize Korean preparations like ssäm wraps and tteokbokki rice cakes into America’s culinary mainstream, which was less open-minded than it is today — even if, alas, the American brasserie as a larger construct hasn’t internationalized as much as it could have throughout New York.

There were occasional French-Vietnamese vibes in the early days, but over the years, Ssäm Bar would lean into large, family-style roasts, and pivot towards the foodways of Singapore by 2017. It was a neighborhood institution that never felt institutionalized as it aged, or felt unneighborly as it attracted patrons from across the globe.

In relocating, the true loss isn’t to the larger city — at the very least, the new Ssäm Bar will bring a bit of personality to the new Seaport, a tourist-heavy area that could use an idiosyncratic jolt — but to the East Village, a neighborhood whose own evolution over the decades saw it transform from artsy and accessible to increasingly elite. Ssäm Bar felt like an anchor tenant in slowing that neighborhood’s transition. And now it’ll be another empty storefront in a slice of the city that’ll have no shortage of empty storefronts as the pandemic forces more businesses to close.

Here’s an overview of notable beginnings, reviews, overhauls, and endings in Ssäm Bar’s history in the East Village.

David Chang in 2007 Photo by BILLY FARRELL/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

August 2006: Ssäm Bar opens with a menu of Korean-American burritos. Workers stuff slow-roasted pork, rice, and kimchi into flour tortillas on a Chipotle-style assembly line. They do not, alas, attract the fervor or crowds for which Momofuku Noodle Bar was famous for at the time.

September 2006: Chefs Chang, Joaquin Baca, and Tien Ho launch a late night program that eventually becomes the heart of the operation. The early menus include smoky Tennessee hams, raw fish plates like uni with whipped tofu, bacon with apple kimchi, spicy braised tripe, a giant bo ssäm pork butt for large parties, and a killer banh mi sandwich. Grilled tteok (rice cakes), ubiquitous at K-Town restaurants but rarely seen elsewhere, become an exercise in unabated eclecticism Chang slathered the chewy nuggets in a spicy Sichuan ragu, effectively creating a Chinese-Italian dish seen through the lens of a Korean staple.

These offerings come to epitomize what Ssäm would become: an after-hours chef’s hangout characterized by small plates and salty, fatty, offal-y, globally-minded flavors. It served loud food in a loud room. It was the modern, international successor to the more European-leaning Blue Ribbon.

Like Noodle Bar, it also had a tough no-substitution policy that seemed to rankle herbivores who preferred to eat their vegetables without a heady slick of lard. It presaged a culinary era that shifted the balance of power away from picky diners to no-nonsense, my-way-or-the-highway chefs. “We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items,” Ssam Bar’s menu famously read. Later, Chang would say in a lengthy GQ profile: “Vegetarians are a pain in the ass as customers. It’s always ‘I want this’ or ‘I don’t want that.’ Jesus Christ, go cook at home.”

The bo ssäm pork butt at Ssäm Bar Momofuku [Official Photo]

January 2007: Ssäm Bar adopts the late night menu during regular dinner hours.

February 2007: New York Times critic Frank Bruni awards the restaurant two stars, praising Chang’s budget gourmet approach to ambitious eating, while criticizing the backless stools, the lack of coffee, the uneven execution, and the “throwaway” mochi dessert.

November 2008: Christina Tosi opens the first Milk Bar in the back of Ssäm Bar, and it was “greeted with an apostolic fervor,” according to a Ligaya Mishan review in the Times. Patrons would line up for complex elevations of junk food, including cereal milk, Fruity Pebble milk, crack pie, and compost cookies studded with potato chips. In a pre-Cronut world dominated by cupcake lines, Milk Bar represented the most auteur-esque entry in the city’s pastry and baking scenes.

Milk Bar’s signature pie, which until recently was called “Crack Pie” Momofuku Milk Bar [Official Photo]

October 2008: Chang’s oversized personality sometimes manifested itself at Ssäm, which was a favorite of chefs and food writers. At one point, he allegedly banned writer Josh Ozersky over publishing a menu on Grub Street. As Ozersky told Eater: “One night I walked into Ssäm Bar, and was told in no uncertain terms by Corey Lane and David himself that I was no longer welcome to ever eat in their restaurants again, because they believed that I had mocked them and put them down. I was shocked.” Chang, upon Ozersky’s death in 2015, tweeted that the food writer was “many things and so many of our differences seem so childish now, but he could pen some amazing stuff.”

December 2008: Bruni awards three stars to Ssäm Bar less than two years after his original review — a shockingly quick upgrade by the standards of any major review outlet. This development — which followed a 4,700 word Alan Richman of Chang in GQ and a James Beard Foundation award for best New York chef — signified a mainstream coronation of Ssäm Bar’s counter cultural business model.

2010-2017: Matthew Rudofker ascends to the executive chef position at Ssäm bar. His lengthy tenure, alongside chefs de cuisine Ryan Miller and Tim Maslow in the early years, is characterized by an exaltation of large format items, like a five-spice rotisserie duck and a giant ribeye. Together with the bo ssäm pork butt, Noodle Bar’s fried chicken dinner, and Má Pêche’s beef seven-ways, large-format family-style feasts increasingly become a hallmark of Chang’s global collection of restaurants.

April 2011: Milk Bar closes at Ssäm Bar, relocates across the street a day later, and quickly expands into a national empire of its own.

February 2012: Dave Arnold’s Booker and Dax opens in Ssäm Bar’s old Milk Bar space. It instantly becomes one of New York’s most celebrated cocktail bars, and one of the city’s only bastions of avant-garde eating or drinking — a style of whimsical, science-forward gastronomy that never established deep roots in the five boroughs. Bartenders used centrifuges to infuse bananas with rum and CO2 lines to carbonate both the gin and tonic in a G&T.

Cocktails at Booker and Dax Photo by Nick Solares

Sometime in 2012: The restaurant starts serving a dish known as a pancake cake, which continues the Ssäm Bar predilection for all things large, albeit in dessert form. The delicacy is an unfinished, four-inch high, four-inch wide cake layered with raspberry jam, bacon, maple, and miso ganache. It is a dead ringer for an indulgent Denny’s-style breakfast, only denser, chewier, and less sweet. It feeds four. It is one of the city’s greatest desserts of all time, and a forerunner to other pricey, super big desserts like the Pool’s $41 princess cake.

October 2016: Booker and Dax shutters. On the one hand, this development is heartbreaking for those who saw the cocktail bar as leading the way for a progressive future within the Momofuku empire. On the other hand, Arnold successfully launches his Booker and Dax follow up, Existing Conditions, independently of the Momofuku Empire, within two years. It doesn’t quite approach Milk Bar in its popularity — there’s still just one bar — but the scenario highlights the ability of Ssäm Bar and Momofuku to incubate ideas.

Later in October 2016: After giving us a decade of poor posture — and after getting ravaged for the austere design elements of Nishi — Chang decides comfort is important for Ssäm Bar. He tosses the squat dining room stools and installs chairs with backs. He banishes the communal tables. The old Booker and Dax space becomes a seated dining room, and as a result, Ssäm Bar feels less like a stripped-down vestige of the aughts, and more like a comfortable, traditional restaurant.

May 2017: Max Ng, one of the lieutenants at Ko, becomes executive chef at Ssäm Bar. The menu changes again. Ng introduces ingredients and preparations inspired by his native Singapore, such as sambal-slicked skate wrapped in a charred banana leaf, whole king crab with Hokkien noodles, and coconut pandan pie. Old classics remain, but the new menu, paired with the dining room changes, makes Ssäm feel like an almost entirely new restaurant. In October, New York Times critic Pete Wells awards it three stars. By this time, the restaurant is entirely more amenable to dietary restrictions, and it appears Chang no longer casts hexes upon vegetarians or food writers.

March 2020: Ssäm Bar closes along with all of Momofuku’s other venues amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

May 2020: Chang announces that Ssäm Bar will relocate to the former Bar Wayō space in the Seaport District when the pandemic abates. Dinner service will use elements of tabletop grilling — currently installed upstairs — which means that Ssäm Bar, will yet again morph into a new restaurant.

Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.

Danny Meyer's The Modern Is The Big NYC Michelin Winner for 2016

Michelin, arguably the world's most recognized restaurant guide, unveiled its 2016 star ratings for New York restaurants today, and the big winner was Danny Meyer's The Modern, was elevated to two stars under chef Abram Bissell. Anonymous inspectors award worthy venues with either one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), two stars ("excellent cuisine, worth a detour"), or three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"). No new restaurants were admitted into the three star category this year.

Another big winner was the service-included Atera ($235), which retained its two stars after chef Matthew Lightner left earlier this year he was replaced by Danish chef Ronny Emborg. Semilla in Williamsburg, whose affordable vegetable tasting menu ($85) won over critics across town, earned a coveted star in its first year of business. Gabriel Kreuther, the longtime chef at The Modern, also earned a star for his eponymous effort on Bryant Park.

Michelin originally planned on announcing its results during a gala tonight in Lower Manhattan. Then something called "Twitter" happened. Excited chefs, who learned of their individual rankings after receiving phone calls from Michelin, started sharing their results all over social media yesterday and today. So the Red Guide went ahead and released its full list of starred restaurants a bit early.

Here are some initial thoughts on this year's guide, followed by the full list.

  • The Modern's elevation to two stars makes it the highest Danny Meyer-rated restaurant in the guide, and the first Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant to hold more than a single star since Meyer sold the three-starred Eleven Madison Park to chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara. The Modern is Meyer's most expensive restaurant set menus in the formal dining room run $98-$138.
  • Expensive – but not necessarily exorbitant – Japanese restaurants made up a good deal of the new starred selections. Among those venues were Cagen, which charges $130 for kappo tastings, Hirohisa, whose omakase menus run $100-$150, Sushi Yasuda, where a service-included meal will run $100-$150 before sake, and Tempura Matsuri, which charges $200 for a tasting that culminates in a bunch of fried stuff. Okay maybe that last's one's exorbitant.
  • Japanese restaurants also made up some of the bigger snubs of the year. Nakazawa, which received a rare four-starNew York Times review in 2013 (as well as a three star review from this critic), was left off the list for yet another year. Also omitted were Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau's enormously popular Shuko ($135-$175), and Nancy and Tim Cushman's Boston-import O Ya ($185-$245). And sushi spot 15 East lost its star after chef Masato Shimizu left the restaurant to move to Bangkok with his wife.
  • Cosme, the New York debut of Enrique Olvera, arguably the world's most acclaimed Mexican chef, did not earn a spot on starred list for 2016, its first year of eligibility. The omission puts Michelin at odds with local reviewers the New York Times, New York Magazine, and this critic all awarded three stars to the Flatiron District restaurant. Casa Enrique remains the city's only Michelin-starred Mexican spot.
  • All six of New York's three Michelin-starred restaurants kept that honor. Those venues, as one might expect, are all quite expensive. They are: Per Se ($310, service included), Brooklyn Fare ($306, service-included), Le Bernardin ($140-$205), Jean-Georges ($138-$218), Eleven Madison Park ($225), and Masa ($450, America's priciest restaurant).
  • On the Thai front, Zabb Elee in Queens was kicked off the list, but Issan-themed Somtum Der, known for its incendiary papaya salads, was added, as was Uncle Boons, whose lamb laab and rotisserie chicken earned it a glowing Eater review in April.
  • Major Food Group kept its stars for Carbone, a Rao's-style red sauce scene where high-rollers eat $63 veal chops, and for ZZ's Clam Bar, where a just few bites of Golden Eye snapper will set you back $50. But Michelin withheld stars from the group's two newer (and slightly more affordable) restaurants: Dirty French, a love letter to global gallic fare, and Santina, a hotspot underneath the High Line that hawks chickpea crepes with hot sauce.
  • Anissa, Anita Lo's very adult and very excellent fine dining spot in the Village, was left off the starred list for a second year in a row. New York Times critic Pete Wells upgraded the restaurant to three stars in 2014.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list was The Finch, a small American spot in Clinton Hill by Gabe McMackin (Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern). Eater's Robert Sietsema enjoyed his meals there, praising the ambitious offerings in a two-star review. He wrote: "Best is a warm salad of shaved lamb tongue ($12) — impossibly tender glottal organs wagging in a puddle of lemon puree. Who knew lamb tongues were so delicate and tasty?
  • Jonathan Benno, the longtime Per Se chef who went on to Italian-inspired acclaim at Lincoln (after a somewhat rocky start), did not earn a star for his efforts in the 2016 guide.
  • Pizza, barbecue, and ramen, three of New York's strongest and most vibrant cuisines, still remain unrepresented on the New York starred list. Instead, restaurants focusing on those wares, such as Roberta's, Mu Ramen, and Hometown Barbecue, are relegated to the Bib Gourmands, the Michelin guide's selection of cheap eats. Not impressive.
  • Rebelle, a gallic collaboration between chef Daniel Eddy (his raw fluke grenobloise with brown butter and capers is the real deal), and wine guru Patrick Cappiello (he only pours selections from the U.S. or France) earned a star. Contra, by contrast, the neo-bistrot that frequently hosts pop-ups by some of France's most important chefs, was left off the starred list again.
  • Estela by Ignacio Mattos, which President Barack Obama famously visited in 2014, was left off the list for another year. Michelin is well known for withholding stars, for no apparent reason, from wildly popular restaurants beloved by locals and critics alike Roberta's and Momofuku Ssam Bar are both longtime members of that group.

The 2016 New York Michelin List of Starred Restaurants:

  • Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Jean-Georges
  • Le Bernardin
  • Masa
  • Per Se
  • Aquavit
  • Atera
  • Blanca
  • Daniel
  • Ichimura
  • Jungsik
  • Marea
  • Modern (The)
  • Momofuku Ko
  • Soto
  • Ai Fiori
  • Aldea
  • Andanada
  • Aureole
  • Babbo
  • Bâtard
  • Betony
  • Blue Hill
  • Bouley
  • Breslin (The)
  • Brushstroke
  • Café Boulud
  • Café China
  • Cagen (new)
  • Carbone
  • Casa Enríque
  • Casa Mono
  • Caviar Russe
  • Delaware and Hudson
  • Del Posto
  • Dovetail
  • The Finch (new)
  • Gabriel Kreuther (new)
  • Gotham Bar and Grill
  • Gramercy Tavern
  • Hirohisa (new)
  • Jewel Bako
  • Juni
  • Junoon
  • Kajitsu
  • Kyo Ya
  • La Vara
  • Luksus at Tørst
  • Meadowsweet
  • Minetta Tavern
  • Musket Room (The)
  • M. Wells Steakhouse
  • NoMad
  • Peter Luger
  • Picholine
  • Piora
  • Pok Pok Ny
  • Public
  • Rebelle (new)
  • River Café (The)
  • Rosanjin
  • Semilla (new)
  • Somtum Der (new)
  • Spotted Pig
  • Sushi Azabu
  • Sushi of Gari
  • Sushi Yasuda (new)
  • Take Root
  • Telepan
  • Tempura Matsui
  • Tori Shin
  • Tulsi
  • Uncle Boons (new)
  • Wallsé
  • ZZ’s Clam Bar

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Tamarind Tribeca lost its Michelin star in the 2016 guide. That restaurant had already been dropped from the starred list by the 2015 guide.

Award-Winning Chef Missy Robbins Shares the Simple Advice That Has Powered Her Career

Right around the time chef Missy Robbins might have updated her bio to include restaurateur, she could’ve also added cancer fighter to it too. That’s how cancer is: fierce, fast, and pretty much always unexpected, often arriving at the most inopportune time. But for Robbins, who was in the midst of building a pair of dream restaurants of her own, she took on the cancer fight like anything else — by keeping her head down and her eye on the finish line.

Growing up outside of New Haven, Connecticut Robbins says food was a huge part of her family’s world, but a career in the kitchen hadn't crossed her mind. “I never necessarily thought I’d be a chef,” she says in her InStyle Badass Women video, above. “I just thought I’d get into the restaurant business somehow — very late in life.”

Indeed, years later, when Robbins was a student at Georgetown University in the early ‘90s, she began planting the seeds for a culinary career. Inspired by a childhood girlfriend who was cooking at a Chicago hotspot, Robbins began knocking on doors.

“I started in the kitchen at 22-years-old with zero experience,” Robbins says. “[But] when I saw my friend cooking at this very famous restaurant in Chicago, I got really inspired by her and said, ‘I’m gonna give it a shot.’ At the time, [being a chef] wasn’t this renowned profession.”

Even though being a chef wasn't the cool career it is now, it was still wildly competitive (not to mention a boys' club), and with zero experience, getting in the door wasn’t easy. A part-time restaurant job lead to culinary school which lead to externships and apprenticeships where she worked under top chefs at renowned New York City restaurants like March, Arcadia, and The Lobster Club, where Robbins would serve as sous chef. Soon, the kitchens of Northern Italy beckoned, and Robbins moved abroad to study and learn.

“I would go from restaurant to restaurant and spend a month at each I fell in love with regional Italian cooking,” she says. Robbins stockpiled knowledge of Italian products, techniques, and the focus on quality ingredients, and six months later, she returned to Manhattan, where she worked as sous chef and later as chef de cuisine at the Soho Grand Hotel.

In 2003, Robbins moved to Chicago, where, as Executive Chef of Spiaggia, the restaurant was nominated by The James Beard Foundation for Outstanding Restaurant nationally twice and for Outstanding Service in 2008. Robbins would move on to serve as Executive Chef of A Voce restaurants, where she stayed until 2013, earning a Michelin star at each location in Manhattan, and was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef during her tenure.

“I’ve had a great amount of success in this business and it’s been a really long road,” Robbins says of her career focus. “It’s not about awards or stars and accolades — it’s about making people happy. I was doing what I wanted to do and I was happy doing it. When you can do that, things can go your way.”

Robbins was ready to go out on her own: she dove into research (and travel) to build the restaurant she always wanted with her business partner, Sean Feeney.

“For me, the idea of success was always having my own place,” Robbins says, adding that location was key. “The dream was to open in Manhattan.” But once a unique space Brooklyn became available, she had to reconsider locale. (Of Brooklyn, Robbins says: “I thought, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It was an incredible decision that has made me a more open-minded person.”)

In early 2016, Robbins and Feeney opened Lilia in a former auto-body shop in North Williamsburg.

Seemingly instantly, Lilia’s tables were packed (they still are) and reservations were hard to come by — making them that much more covetable. New York Times dining critic Pete Wells awarded Lilia three stars and acutely observed that pasta made by Robbins is “a direct route to happiness,” of which New Yorkers had been deprived since she left the two A Voce restaurants in 2013. Robbins’ thoughtful approach to cooking Italian food earned her the loyalty of a new camp of Brooklyn diners, even more accolades, and another James Beard Award nomination.

“I’ve been a boss for a long time but it’s different when you own your own restaurant. I can't imagine ever not being my own boss,” Robbins says adding that the recognition is nice too. “It feels good and validating and accepting. But, again, you can't do this to win an award — but winning the award still feels awesome.”

Hot on the success of Lilia, she got to work on opening a second spot. In the midst of planning, Robbins received awful news following a routine mammogram. After extensive tests, Robbins was given a breast cancer diagnosis, and her life changed immediately. She had to tell her business partner and the rest of the Lilia staff who, Robbins says, were incredibly supportive. With a plan in place — a lumpectomy surgery followed by radiation treatment — she once again had to keep her eye on the prize. Robbins leaned on her staff to keep Lilia going and they came through. After all, those reservations are still hard to get.

“I knew very early on that I was going to be okay,” Robbins says of her diagnosis. “I just needed to take the time to focus on [cancer treatment] without losing focus on Lilia or Misi." The latter was her not-yet-opened second restaurant.

Misi opened in late 2018, also in Williamsburg, complete with a reservation wait and foodies whispering about a pasta room. (While they do serve about 500 bowls of noodles a day, Pete Wells called Misi “much more than a pasta restaurant” and awarded it three stars).

If Robbins makes it look it all look easy, that’s just another skill in her arsenal she’s as focused and appreciative as ever: “I think breast cancer has helped make me a better version of myself,” she says, adding that her advice to others is the same for herself: “Follow your path, be true to yourself, take your time, put your head down, and work for whatever it is you’re excited about.”

Pete Wells Awards Three Stars to Cosme - Recipes

My restaurant review this week tackles Saison, a tasting-menu restaurant in San Francisco that makes extraordinary demands on diners and rewards them with cooking that is at least as extraordinary. I had mixed feelings about the place a year ago, but my second meal there, early this spring, was one of the most compelling I’ve had on the job.

Loyal readers, and loyal New Yorkers, will notice that this is the second time in three weeks that I have left my home stadium for an away game . Just what kind of stunt I am trying to pull here?

I think it’s time for the restaurant critic of The Times to cast a wider net. The Times has been a national paper for years now, and its Web site is seen all around the world. People hop on planes to other cities far more often than they did in 1962, when Craig Claiborne started the paper’s weekly restaurant column. Some of them even plan their vacations around dinner reservations that have to be wrangled months ahead of time.

Cooks get around more, too. A chef in Brooklyn might be trotting out techniques she learned during a six-month stint in Copenhagen. A restaurant in Los Angeles might have as much in common with one in San Sebastian as it does with the place across the street. The exchange of ideas in cuisine has gone global in ways that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.

I wanted my criticism to reflect some of those changes, and my editors agreed. They even gave me a fancy new rubric for my out-of-town reviews: 𠇌ritic on the Road.”

James Beard Awards: Geography vs. Quality

You don’t have to live in New York to believe that the city has some of the best restaurants in the country. This is widely acknowledged by just about everybody who keeps up to date on food — everybody except, apparently, the men and women who oversee the restaurant and chef awards given by the James Beard Foundation.

The foundation released its long ballot of semifinalists on Tuesday, and it makes for some interesting reading. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that 29 recently opened places are in the running for the Best New Restaurant award, but that only one of them, Empellón Cocina, is in New York City. Maybe it’s just because 2012 was my first year as restaurant critic, but I thought we had some strong openings last year. I was very enthusiastic about Blanca, the NoMad, Atera, Gwynnett St., La Vara and Neta, none of which made the list.

Of course, any list like this entails hard decisions. The trouble with the list is that it doesn’t read like the product of hard decisions. Instead, it looks like the product of a committee made up of people determined to spread the wealth around the country. The list released on Tuesday is not the result of a vote. It was written in a committee room, and reflects the committee’s will. And what’s clear from where those restaurants are located is that the committee is very focused on geographic diversity.

Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised for Waiters?

When President Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he wanted to raise the minimum wage, the chef Tom Colicchio took to Twitter to lend his support.

The national minimum cash wage for workers who also receive tips — in the restaurant world, that group typically includes servers, bartenders and bussers — is much lower, $2.13 an hour, versus $7.25, and it hasn’t changed in two decades. So I replied to Mr. Colicchio, asking whether he supported making the minimum wage the same across the board. I’m not sure I got an answer, but the exchange quickly drew in others in the restaurant industry and beyond, including Sara Jenkins of Porsena, Grant Achatz of Alinea, William Tigertt of Freemans, and the team from Northern Spy Food Company.

Here are some highlights. Please let me know in comments what you think. Should cash wages for tipped employees be raised too? Should we go to the European tradition of including tips in the bill?

5 %of workers earned minimum wage in 2011, An increase in the minimum wage will cause inflation in theory, but all other things (cont…

— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) 13 Feb 13

Sandy-Ravaged Totonno’s to Get a Helping Hand

Some of the money that two restaurants raised to help Governor, which last week gave up its struggle to repair the damage done by Hurricane Sandy, will be sent to another embattled Brooklyn restaurant.

Totonno’s, the legendary pizzeria in Coney Island, will receive $5,000 from a benefit organized by Coi restaurant in San Francisco, and another several thousand dollars from a dinner held at Eleven Madison Park.

The news, first reported on Serious Eats, is a lucky break for a New York landmark that has sorely needed one since the Atlantic Ocean swelled over the Coney Island boardwalk and flooded the neighborhood. Like many small businesses, Totonno’s has had to deal with moldy walls, ruined floors, trashed equipment, unreliable contractors, unhelpful bureaucrats and skeptical lenders.

But Totonno’s is a special case. It is a landmark in the history of American pizza, one that is treasured by chefs including Alain Ducasse, as well as by generations of New Yorkers.

I had my first pie at Totonno’s back in the 1990s. I was writing an article about brick oven pizza, which was then seeing a revival at places like Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s. I had tasted their handiwork, but it wasn’t until I went to Coney Island that I understood what they were trying to do.

It was as if all my life I𠆝 been listening to wedding bands cover 𠇋rown Sugar” and then I𠆝 heard the Rolling Stones for the first time.

Governor, a Casualty of Sandy

5:57 p.m. | Updated

Governor, the restaurant near the Brooklyn waterfront that I awarded two stars about seven weeks before it was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, will almost certainly never open again. In an interview Monday, Tamer Hamawi, one of the owners, confirmed the news that was first reported by Andrea Strong on Saturday.

The restaurant was open just four months when flood waters destroyed most of its polished wood floors, tables and chairs, along with most of the kitchen equipment and its air compressor. Mr. Hamawi estimated the damage at $300,000 to $350,000.

In its short life, Governor won the loyalty of many of its neighbors in Dumbo and the respect of several high-profile chefs. Several restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park and the Momofuku empire, organized benefits that raised about $13,000 for rebuilding. A Gofundme site collected private donations that totaled around $42,000. Mr. Hamawi said that the owners were in the process of offering to return all those donations.

“It was incredible,” he said of the support that Governor had received. “It was overwhelming, actually. I was watching the funds rolling in and almost feeling worse in some ways, just seeing this money coming in for us, just feeling an overwhelming burden to turn this thing around.”

But Governor had already been struggling with initial construction costs that had gone far over budget. By July, when it opened several months behind schedule, the owners had already sunk $700,000 to $800,000 into the project. This led to unanticipated loans.

Where to Eat in Staten Island: Lakruwana and Beyond

This week I review Lakruwana, a showcase for Sri Lankan food and crafts in Staten Island, a part of town that Times restaurant critics have not often written about.

Staten Island is often called the forgotten borough, but Hurricane Sandy reminded everybody that, yes, this remote territory is in fact part of New York City. For me, it took my vague intention to find a restaurant there that I could review, and turned it into a priority.

Last November, I wrote an article urging New Yorkers to eat in downtown restaurants to help ease the financial harm done by the blackout. I knew that restaurants in other areas had been hurt even worse, but a lot of them were still closed when the article was published. Staten Island was one of the places very much on my mind, and soon I began driving across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to scout for prospects.

I knew I wanted to review Lakruwana by the end of my first meal there. It’s an extraordinary restaurant for all the reasons I give in the review. But Staten Island has a lot of other places that are worth the visit. I’ll suggest a few, and I hope some readers will make other recommendations in the comments.

The Future of the New York Steakhouse

In my review of Arlington Club this week, I point out that some of the best things to eat there have no business in a place that claims to be a steakhouse: popovers, French-style gnocchi, carrot-cake madeleines and crepes soufflés, an old-school French dessert. This led me to ask if Arlington Club had an identity crisis, or if perhaps it was the steakhouse genre itself that was confused.

Just four or five years ago, it seemed that a new steakhouse opened in Manhattan every few months. This was during the boom steak consumption tends to rise in expanding economies, as witness the craze for imported beef in Russia and Asia.

There haven’t been as many new steakhouses around town since the economy shifted into idle. Arlington Club is the first I’ve reviewed in my year on the job. This makes me wonder: Is the New York steakhouse merely taking a breather, or will it continue to decline once the economy is roaring again?

Struggling Red Hook Businesses Feed a Cookbook

In used bookstores and flea markets, I can never resist flipping through community cookbooks put together by churches, ladies’ clubs and such. You’ve seen them — they’re typically typewritten, with hand-drawn paper covers, and they’re bound with a wire spiral or a curled plastic comb.

𠇊ll Hands on Deck” has no binder — it is being published on Friday as an e-book — but apart from that it has a lot in common with those books. Its editors, Catherine and Zac Overman, approached people around Red Hook, Brooklyn, asking them to give up their best recipes. As in most community cookbooks, there’s a story behind each dish.

In this case, though, the story is often the same, because many of the contributors own small businesses in Red Hook that were hurt by Hurricane Sandy. Dry Dock, a wine and spirits shop that lost $50,000 worth of liquid refreshment to the flood waters, shares its manhattan recipe. The Good Fork restaurant, a neighborhood pioneer, gives up the recipe for the pork-and-chive dumplings that everybody ordered there from the day the place opened until it was shut by the storm. (It has not reopened yet.)

There is also the recipe for the finest Irish coffee in the known universe, served at Fort Defiance, and a chicken pupusa covered with pickled cabbage and jalapeños from El Olomega, the Salvadoran food truck that has fueled countless soccer matches at the Red Hook Ball Fields.

Sandy’s Less-Heralded Victims: The Places That Bring New Yorkers Together

The accuracy of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s statement on Monday that Hurricane Sandy had been “more impactful” than Katrina can be debated. Without taking sides, I think it’s safe to say that if your house or business went underwater last month, Sandy’s effect was the same as Katrina’s: terrible, life-altering destruction.

After Katrina, journalists around the country wrote about the great restaurants of New Orleans that had been damaged. Efforts to save some of the hardest hit drew national attention, like the successful campaign to rebuild Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a venerable fried-chicken establishment

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, we’ve seen coverage of flooded restaurants like the River Café, which faces Manhattan, and Governor, a few yards from the Manhattan Bridge, and places in Red Hook, where any number of spots along the waterfront offer a fine view of the downtown skyline.

But we haven’t read nearly as much about the restaurants at the other end of the borough, the part that faces the Atlantic Ocean and surrounds Jamaica Bay. For that reason alone, I recommend that everybody read Jeff Gordinier’s article in The Times on Wednesday, 𠇏ighting to Save the Flavor of New York.”

Inspiration Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Update Appended

Not long after I wrote about Katy Peetz’s watermelon radish dessert at Blanca, a blogger pointed out on Twitter that it looked 𠇊wfully similar” to a dessert served last year at Dirt Candy, Amanda Cohen’s vegetable restaurant in the East Village.

Ms. Peetz made watermelon radish gelato in September, while Ms. Cohen had a watermelon radish sherbet on the menu from July to December of last year. Radish ice cream isn’t exactly as common as chocolate chip. On the other hand, it is possible to imagine that two chefs, both fond of vegetables and both regular visitors to the twilight zone between sweet and savory, arrived at the idea independently.

But there was something else: both desserts were garnished with red bits of sour watermelon gummy candies. That looked like quite a coincidence to me. It struck Ms. Cohen that way too. In an e-mail, she said that when she saw a photograph of the Blanca dessert, her first reaction was, “That looks familiar!” But she didn’t seem put out by the similarity.

“One thing that I want to be clear about is that I don’t think that she stole my dish,” Ms. Cohen wrote. 𠇌hefs, myself included, are constantly inspired by things they eat and dishes they read about. I’ve written a cookbook and released lots of recipes into the wild, and I don’t have a patent on any of them.

𠇏rom time to time, a Dirt Candy recipe, or a riff on a Dirt Candy recipe, will show up on a menu somewhere, and it always makes me happy and proud. Making dishes is a conversation that chefs are having with each other, and it’s always nice to feel like someone’s seen what I’m doing and found it worth engaging with. And more power to Blanca. It looks like they’re making some amazing food out there.” Read more…

Nothing Is Easy When You're Stephen Starr&mdashBut That's Exactly How He Likes It

Starr is in the business of making blockbuster restaurants, but he doesn't like doing things the easy way.

"I&aposve done a couple restaurants that were easy, and it bothered me that they were easy, " Stephen Starr says, seated at a table at his restaurant Buddakan in Manhattan. Starr is in the business of making blockbuster restaurants. His portfolio includes the acclaimed Le Coucou and The Clocktower in New York City and Serpico and Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, each possessed of a singular, striking environment and intended to be “its own work of art or theater.” (For the record, Buddakan, a 15,000-square-foot spectacle with a dizzying stairwell descending into a glittering dining room, was not one of the �sy” ones.)

When it opened its doors in 2006, Buddakan blew everyone away with its grandeur, its ambience—𠇊nd the food being way better than anyone thought it was going to be,” Starr adds. It certainly exceeded the expectations of New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. 𠇊 restaurant this sexy doesn’t need to be smart,” he wrote. 𠇋ut its chef, Michael Schulson, breathes intelligence and creativity into it.” That intelligence and creativity start with Starr, who is known for sweating the small stuff, down to the precise level of crispiness on the edge of a buckwheat galette or the specific degree, in Fahrenheit, to which the dining room thermostat is set. (On this particular Monday afternoon, the restaurant magnate is interviewing applicants for front-of-house positions at La Mercerie, the café at the luxury home furnishings boutique Roman and Williams Guild).

In a tailored suit and black crew neck shirt, Starr commands a lot of space and, at the same time, disappears into it. This is as true of his physical presence as it is of his role as a restaurateur. How else would you explain why it took more than two decades and upward of 30 well-received, nationally acclaimed establishments in six cities before he received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur last year?

Perhaps if he𠆝 taken the approach of someone like Danny Meyer and made himself the headliner for each of his restaurants, Starr would have received that recognition from his peers sooner. After all, Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group had only four restaurants, two cafés, and a single Shake Shack location in its portfolio when he won that award in 2005. But Starr has never sought the spotlight. He𠆝 rather be the man behind the curtain, creating spaces that make you feel like a rock star—or like you might be dining among them.

Starr’s interest in showmanship dates back to his childhood in New Jersey. 𠇎verything about human nature, I think I learned from being on the boardwalk in Atlantic City,” he says. “I learned to sell. I learned how to market, and I learned what makes people tick.” As a teenager, he wanted to be an announcer on Top 40 radio. He got his First Class Radiotelephone Operator License at 15 to record DJ audition tapes, he snuck into the local college radio station. At 16, he was hosting his own rock show for an hour a week. As an undergrad at Temple University in Philadelphia, he moved on to television, forming a production company with his film professor. They were pitching ideas to networks when Starr’s mother died. He was 19 and devastated. Then his girlfriend broke up with him. The only way to win her back, he decided, was “to make money and get famous.”

The win-her-back part of the plan didn’t pan out, but the rest did. At 21, Starr opened Grandmom Minnie’s, a stand-up comedy venue that served food during the day. A few years later, when he stumbled upon an empty building, he secured a $40,000 loan from a bank, borrowed money from friends, and, in 1977, launched Stars, a comedy club and cabaret. “I booked Richard Belzer and Jerry Seinfeld, [who] was an up-and-coming comedian,” Starr says. “I booked Pat Benatar before she was Pat Benatar.” His next venture was Ripley’s Music Hall, where he booked the Pat Benatars of the world when they were Pat Benatars. Eventually, he founded The Concert Company to stage shows for performers like Madonna in Philadelphia. (He sold the company in 1990.)

He made his first foray into restaurants when a friend suggested they open a 1950s-type burger joint together. Starr came up with the name: Shake, Burger and Roll. They set up shop in an old Roy Rogers in suburban Main Line. “I had no idea what I was doing,” Starr says. “We did hundreds of covers, and we couldn’t get the food out, and it was a disaster. It went out of business in nine months.” If it had worked, Starr says, he𠆝 still be doing Shake, Burger and Rolls all over the place (maybe giving Meyer’s Shake Shack a run for its money.) Instead, he did The Continental, which changed everything for him𠅊nd for Philadelphia.

In 1995, Starr had taken over a little diner on Market Street and didn’t know what to do with it. After a trip to Los Angeles, where a martini craze had taken hold, he turned it into The Continental, a martini bar and restaurant. “I was fascinated by the trend because it was like beautiful girls and handsome guys drinking martinis,” Starr says. “It wasn’t that college drink-beer-and-pass-out thing.” The food was at first an afterthought. But the chef on board encouraged Starr to pay more attention to the menu, warning that when the trend had run its course, people would continue to come back to eat if the food was good. “I listened to him,” Starr says. “His name was Bradlee Bartram, who now runs my company.” (Bartram’s official title is executive vice president.) The following year the movie Swingers came out, and suddenly everyone, everywhere wanted a taste of its retro, martini-sipping lifestyle. The Continental had arrived at exactly the right time. Night after night, it swarmed with twentysomethings. A restaurateur𠅊nd Starr Restaurants—was born.

“My whole goal was to make Philadelphia sexy,” Starr says, laughing. “Like instead of a place where your parents would take you, which is exactly what all the restaurants were, I wanted to sort of sex it up a little bit and make people feel good.” For the next decade, he continued to build properties and develop an audience of restaurant-goers in Philadelphia𠅊n investment in the city’s dining culture that paved the way for a future generation of chefs and restaurateurs.

Starr still resides and continues to sign leases (20 and counting) in Philadelphia. Starting in 2006, he opened spots in other cities: Atlantic City and New York City, then Miami Washington, D.C. Ft. Lauderdale and Paris. What compels Starr to continue, to open each new restaurant? 𠇊 cinematic space,” he says. “It has an impact on me, making me want to do something there.”

“He thinks bigger picture,” says Aimee Olexy, owner of The Love, which she launched with Starr near Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square in November. She’s known him since 1999, when he hired her as general manager at Blue Angel, his third restaurant (it closed in 2003). “He has so many gigantic, full, complete visions.”

Le Coucou is perhaps Starr’s most visionary restaurant yet. He opened it in 2016 with the intention that it would garner critical acclaim, which it did: Pete Wells gave it a three-star rave in The New York Times, the James Beard Foundation voted it Best New Restaurant, and F&W named it a Restaurant of the Year. It also, to Starr’s surprise, has been a financial success. Diners who sit in its luxuriously yawning brick-walled dining room feel enveloped in an effortless kind of romance their faces are bright with candlelight as they behold the gleaming open kitchen that looks like something out of a film set and as they taste Daniel Rose’s refined iterations of French bistro cuisine.

Effortless, it was not. “We worked so hard on that and stressed on every single detail and the food. Daniel [Rose] and I took hours of disagreeing with each other about things to the point where it was exhausting for both of us, but it came out the right way,” Starr says. “I’m relentless. I wouldn’t let up.”

�ing Stephen Starr can’t possibly be easy,” Rose says, 𠇋ut he has turned it into a vehicle for success.”

Unlike some in the business, Starr doesn’t lean on past hits: “With each restaurant I have to outdo what I did last time—there’s got to be something better about the new one than there was about the old one.” Even when creating a second location of a restaurant, as he did with Buddakan, he makes them distinct. “I always feel the necessity for everything to be different,” he says. “That is not a smart business move because when there is an exit, when people want to buy your company, they usually want one or two concepts that they can replicate across the world.”

Twenty-three years in, with 5,000 employees on the payroll, there’s an infrastructure in place to keep Starr Restaurants running smoothly and allow its head honcho to step away from the day-to-day mechanics. But he doesn’t seem wired for pulling back. Here he is, still interviewing potential servers for a property.

His vision, married to an unremitting attention to minutiae, has gotten him this far, but it requires a level of focus on detail bordering on monomania, not to mention a lot of micromanaging. It’s not a scalable means of execution. Starr thinks about it, sometimes�out why he can’t “just open something nice but plain and be left alone.” But of course he can’t. That would be too easy.

In search of a perfect taco

Writing in his new book, Mexico from the Inside Out, published by Phaidon this month, Enrique Olvera explains his country’s tortilla obsession

Street food has particularly strong roots in Mexico City, where over 10 million people use public transportation daily. Held hostage by traffic, hungry commuters satisfy their cravings on the sidewalk. Juan Villoro [Mexican journalist and author] says that nomadic and vagrant cuisine feeds people not where hunger leads them but where traffic drops them off.

We also eat on the street for pleasure, free from social class distinction. Even the highest-ranking executive shamelessly wolfs down a taco.

Parts of my memories are wrapped in tortillas: tacos de cabeza in Monterrey tacos de langosta in Puerto Nuevo tacos de lechon in Mérida tacos de hoja santa in Oaxaca tacos de carnitas con chicharrón, de bistec, or al pastor in Mexico City. No two are the same.

We eat tacos practically every day, and while they look like ordinary street food, they are anything but that. They sum up what, and how, we like to eat. Since 2008, I’ve delved into the taco’s form and taken it from the streets to Pujol. When people complained that the best tacos are on the streets, not in restaurants, we committed to provide them with something more complex, and delicious than what they have eaten before.

To make a better taco, we first had to make a better tortilla. I asked chef Luis Arellano to do whatever it took to produce the perfect tortilla. At first he thought I was joking: people think that making tortillas is simple, but it’s not and the task turned into an obsession.

We started with sourcing the best ingredients. We tested around twenty varieties of corn – white, yellow, purple, red, and blue – until we found which was best for each recipe.

We nixtamalized [process for preparing corn] with slaked lime until we got elegant texture. We bought a small metal mill, assuming it was the eighth wonder of the world, but it was useless. Finally, we found a supplier with a stone mill.

Purple corn, one of the many ancient varieties that are the backbone of Mexican cooking. Photograph: All photographs by Araceli Paz for Observer Food Montly

We then tried to make our own masa. Kneaded with water, it should be soft and compact, and shouldn’t stick to your hands or break and fall apart.

The tortilla has an irregular form its edges are naturally wavy. With a wooden press, we experimented until we found the right amount of dough for a flat, uniform tortilla, not too thick and not too fragile.

We deduced the exact number of seconds a tortilla should fry in a comal to become the platonic ideal we were after.

We still keep samples of the corn at the restaurant that constituted the beginning of this story – a reminder of our excitement when we had to defend each time we prepared tacos and served tortillas, instead of bread, in Pujol.

Today we are using fewer varieties of corn than when we began: changing them according to the dishes, seasons, and access to the grain. Since 2014, after we found a machine that fit in the kitchen, we’ve been milling our own corn at Pujol.

At Pujol, we don’t see the tortilla as a mere base for the taco, but as edible tableware, tailoring the tortillas to what we will top them with.

Frenchette Pastry Chef Michelle Palazzo knew she wanted to get into the food world since her childhood in Massapequa, New York. She loved cooking shows, learned to poach an egg and bake a souffle at Viking&rsquos cooking camp (Yes, this is a thing.), and volunteered for bake sales all through high school. She moved to the city to attend the Institute of Culinary Education for pastry and restaurant management. Although she didn&rsquot love culinary school, a trip to Italy and an impactful externship at Nico, where she spent her hours candying ginger, solidified her commitment to pastry work.

Palazzo&rsquos first full-time gig was in 2012 at Reynard at the Wythe Hotel, where she quickly worked up to pastry sous. When her mentor, Rising Stars alum Pastry Chef Erin Kanagy-Loux, took maternity leave, Palazzo subbed as executive pastry chef. Palazzo spent a brief stint back with Kanagy-Loux at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery before connecting with the team behind Balthazar and Pastis, Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, who were planning to open a new French bistro, Frenchette. With Palazzo running the dessert brigade, Frenchette has received accolades from Eater, Bon Appétit, the James Beard Awards, and The New York Times. (Pete Wells was dining during Palazzo&rsquos first night of service&mdashThey received three stars.) In her two-year tenure there, Palazzo has developed some of her most creative plates yet, such as a cloud-like tarte au riz and a borderline-savory olive oil tarte tatin.

2004 James Beard Foundation Awards

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion won the prize for KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year at the the 2004 James Beard Foundation Awards, held on Monday, May 10, at the New York Marriott Marquis. More than 60 awards were presented, honoring cookbooks, chefs, and restaurants. Below are some highlights:

» S. Pellegrino Outstanding Restaurant Award: Chanterelle.
» All-Clad Cookware Outstanding Chef Award: Judy Rodgers, Zuni Café.
» Illy Best New Restaurant: Bradley Ogden.
» Gallo of Sonoma Rising Star Chef of the Year: Allison Vines-Rushing, Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar.
» American Express Best Chef: New York: David Pasternack, Esca.

Awards were presented to food journalists in a separate ceremony on May 7. The Kansas City Star was named Best Newspaper Food Section (with circulation under 300,000) and The San Francisco Chronicle was named Best Newspaper Food Section (with 300,000 circulation and above). Julie Powell, of Julie/Julia fame, won the prize for Magazine Feature Writing Without Recipes for her article, “People and Places: Julia Knows Best” (Bon Appétit).

Below is a complete list of all of the winners:


The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
Authors: King Arthur Flour
Publisher: The Countryman Press
Editor: Kermit Hummel
Price: $35.00

The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
Author: Barbara Tropp
Publisher: William Morrow, 1982
Editor: Maria Guarnaschelli

The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts
Author: Sherry Yard
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Editor: Rux Martin
Price: $35.95

Author: Rocco DiSpirito
Publisher: Hyperion
Editor: Leslie Wells
Price: $35.00

It’s All American Food
Author: David Rosengarten
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Editors: Deborah Baker & Judy Clain
Price: $29.95

The Quick Recipe
Authors: The Editors of
Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Publisher: America’s Test Kitchen
(Formerly Boston Common Press)
Editor: Jack Bishop
Price: $29.95

Taste Pure and Simple
Authors: Michel Nischan
with Mary Goodbody
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Editor: Bill LeBlond
Price: $35.00

From Curries to Kebabs
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Publisher: Clarkson Potter Publishers
Editor: Pam Krauss
Price: $32.50

The All American Cheese and
Wine Book
Author: Laura Werlin
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Editor: Leslie Stoker
Price: $37.50

Author: Steven Raichlen
Publisher: Workman Publishing
Editor: Suzanne Rafer
Price: $35.00

Wines of South America
Author: Monty Waldins
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Editor: Hilary Lumsden
Price: $40.00

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove
Author: Laura Schenone
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Editor: Amy Cherry
Price: $35.00

Shunju: New Japanese Cuisine
Photographer: Masano Kawana
Authors: Takashi Sugimoto & Marcia Iwatate
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, American Distributor
Editor: Eric Oey
Price: $49.95


Design Firm:
Avro Ko
Designers: Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O’Neal & William Harris
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7024 ext. 42
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012

Design Firm:
Avro Ko
Designers: Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O’Neal & William Harris
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7024 ext. 42
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012


Show: CBS News Sunday Morning: “Head Table”
Host: Martha A. Teichner
Network/Station: CBS
Executive Producer: Rand Morrison
Producer: Judith Hole

Show: Good Eating
Host: Steve Dolinsky
Network/Station: CLTV, Chicago
Producer: Nelson Howard

Show: Chefs A’ Field: Culinary Adventures That Begin on the Farm
Network/Station: PBS
Executive Producer: Chris Warner
Producer: Heidi Hanson

Show: CBS News Sunday Morning:
“Eat, Drink and Be Merry”
Host: Charles Osgood
Network/Station: CBS
Executive Producer: Rand Morrison

Show: A Matter of Taste
Hosts: Rachel and David Michael Cane
Network/Station: Universal Talk Network, San Francisco
Executive Producer: Rachel Cane

Show: Here and Now
Host: Scott Haas
Network/Station: WBUR, Boston
Producers: Lindsay Crudele & Jonathan Marston


The working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Must have been a working chef for the past five years.

Judy Rodgers
Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

The restaurant in the U.S. that serves as a national standard bearer of consistency of quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service. Restaurant must have been in operation for the past ten Years.

Owners: Karen and David Waltuck
Chef: David Waltuck
2 Harrison Street
New York, NY 10013

A restaurant opened in 2003 that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service, and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.

Bradley Ogden
Chef/Owner: Bradley Ogden
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

A chef, age 30 or younger, who displays an impressive talent, and who is likely to make a significant industry impact in years to come.

Allison Vines-Rushing
Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar
246 East Fifth Street
New York, NY 10003

A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads, who serves as a national standard bearer of excellence. Must have been a pastry chef or baker for the past five years.

Emily Luchetti
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

A restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff and efforts to educate customers about wine. Restaurant must have been in operation at least five years.

Wine Director: David Lynch
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011

A winemaker, brewer or spirits professional who has made a significant national impact in the wine and spirits industry. Must have been in profession at least five years.

Karen MacNeil
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
2555 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574

A restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Must have been in operation for the past five years.

Eleven Madison Park
Owner: Danny Meyer
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Chefs may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for the last five years. The three most recent years must have been spent in the region where chef is presently working.

Charles Phan
The Slanted Door
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111

Ann Cashion
Cashion’s Eat Place
1819 Columbia Road NW
Washington, DC 20009

Paul Kahan
619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60606

David Pasternack
402 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Sam Hayward
Fore Street
288 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101

Eric Tanaka
Dahlia Lounge
2001 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101

Louis Osteen
Louis’s at Pawley’s Island
10880 Ocean Highway, US 17
Pawley’s Island, SC 29585

Luciano Pellegrini
Valentino at The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109


Al’s Breakfast
Owners: Doug Grina and Jim Brandes
413 14th Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN, 55414

Ben’s Chili Bowl
Owners: Ben and Virginia Ali
1213 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Prime Burger
Owner: Tony DiMiceli
5 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022

Sam Choy’s Kaloko
Owner: Sam Choy
73-5576 Kauhola Street
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Alice Waters
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709

Robert Egger
DC Central Kitchen
425 Second Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001


Kim Severson
The San Francisco Chronicle
“A Lot of Cooks in the MRE Kitchen”, 4/17/03

Julie Powell
Bon Appétit
“People and Places: Julia Knows Best”, 12/03

Leslie Brenner
Los Angeles Times
“Forget What You Know:
This is Gazpacho”, 8/13/03

Pete Wells
Food & Wine Magazine
“Captain Bacon”, 5/03

Russ Parsons
Los Angeles Times
“Chefs Ideas, Fresh From the Market”, 5/7/03

Pete Wells
Food & Wine Magazine
“A Chef At Peace”, 7/03

Alison Cook
Houston Chronicle

Alan Richman
Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ)

David Nussbaum, Ann Herolo,
Anne Mendelson, Robert Sherrill
“Mother Milk”, 8/03, 9/03

Bill Ward
Star Tribune, Minneapolis
“Cucina Italiana”, 4/03, 7/03, 9/03, and 11/03

Colman Andrews
“Treasures of the Land”, 12/03

Barbara Hansen
Los Angeles Times
“Mezcal: Good Drink, Bad Rap”, 3/5/03

Allison J. Cleary
Eating Well, The Magazine of Food & Health
“Razing the Pyramid: Piece by Piece, Harvard’s Walter Willett is Dismantling Nutrition Dogma That Has Fueled the Obesity Epidemic and Contributed to “Millions of Deaths”, Winter/03

Natalie MacLean
“Dining in the Wild, Wild West”, 5/22/03

Cole Danehower
Oregon Wine Report

The Kansas City Star
Jill Wendholt Silva, Food Editor

San Francisco Chronicle
Miriam Morgan, Food Editor

Natalie MacLean
“Calling the Shots”, 12/20/03

Source: James Beard Foundation

Posted by Josh Friedland on May 12, 2004 in Media | Link | | Print this page | Share This

Watch the video: Eating for a Living: Life as a Food Critic (January 2022).