A Southern California spot finally joins the little red guide’s upper echelon
With the pandemic weighing down the restaurant industry, the upper reaches of Michelin’s ranks remained relatively static the last few years in California. But there have been a serious shakeup of late to the three-star level of restaurants in the Golden State. A massive wildfire burned down the Restaurant at Meadowood, knocking it off the list; David Kinch closed his legendary Manresa at the end of 2022, despite holding onto his star in the latest guide; Quince announced it would close six months for a remodel; and for the first time, a Southern California restaurant was given a third star (but more on that later).
Here are the six Michelin three-star restaurants in California, or as Michelin would say, the six restaurants “worthy of a special journey.”
Addison, San Diego
When Michelin expanded to cover all of California in 2019, Addison received one star for its outstandingly executed French-influenced fare, but chef William Bradley had higher ambitions. So he and his team set to remake the menu and find a voice more distinctly their own, focusing on the produce, flavours and culture surrounding them. Calling it “California Gastronomy” now a the nine-course tasting menu includes dishes like the Thai coconut soup tom kha gai and Regiis Ova caviar perched atop creamy koshihikari rice with a smoked sabayon and sesame seeds. Michelin noticed, elevating Addison to two stars in the 2021 California guide before handing the restaurant its third this past December.
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Since opening in 2011, chef Dominique Crenn has put out a soulful, artistic take on modern French fare. After sitting at two stars for years, Michelin has finally awarded Atelier Crenn a third. The guide wrote that “The current menu displays a wonderful balance of grace, artistry, technical ability and taste.” With the honour, Crenn became the first woman to run a Michelin three-star restaurant in America. Not only that, her newest restaurant Bar Crenn—an ode to classic French gastronomy—picked up a star in its first year of eligibility. In 2019 she announced that she would take the meat off of all her menus—seafood would remain—because of Crenn’s concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture. However, she has said she would serve lab-grown chicken once it passes FDA approval.
Benu, San Francisco
Among his peers, chef Corey Lee is highly revered. “The first time I ate Corey’s food was at the French Laundry when he was chef dae cuisine,” Crenn says. “I could taste the talent behind the food. What I love about Benu is he celebrates where he’s from—Korea—and he communicates that in a very special way.” Praised for his technical ability and refinement of dishes, Lee’s Benu earned its third star in the 2015 guide. Lee has merged flavours from Korea, China and Japan with techniques he honed as the French Laundry’s chef dae cuisine for four years. The result is a lauded tasting menu that will feature dishes like an oyster with pork belly and kimchi; or smoked quail, lilies and fermented pepper.
French Laundry, Yountville
Around since the early 1900s, the French Laundry was transformed by Thomas Keller into a leader of American fine dining after taking it over in 1994. Rooted in his love of French food and technique, the nine-course menu features dishes like a cauliflower velouté with toasted marcona almonds, john dory with creamed black trumpet mushrooms, squab with sunchokes, and venison with caramelised Brussels sprouts. “The French Laundry showed the importance of nostalgia in food,” says James Syhabout of two-star Commis in Oakland. “It traces what triggers you to take you to that same place when you first had a dish and it made you so happy. That’s all that matters sometimes about food.” One of the greatest testaments to the French Laundry’s influence has been the sheer number of alumni who have opened acclaimed restaurants of their own, from Grant Achatz’s Alinea, to Corey Lee’s Benu, to Rene Redzepi’s Noma. Like his idol Paul Bocuse, Keller has created a proving ground for exceptional chefs.
Quince, San Francisco
Chef Michael Tusk has combined his love of Northern Italian cuisine with his surrounds in Northern California to evolve classics like tortellini into modern American fare. Opened in 2003, Quince earned its third Michelin star in the 2017 guide. As with fellow pillars of contemporary California cuisine in the Bay Area, Quince is devoted to sourcing the best product. Tusk has created a partnership with Fresh Run Farm—an early adopter of organic farming—to grow heirloom fruits, vegetables and flowers exclusively for the chef. In 2011, after six straight nominations, Tusk won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific, for his work at Quince and his rustic Italian restaurant Cotogna. But you won’t be able to get into Quince for a while as the restaurant is closing down for an overhaul with it scheduled to reopen in six months. One of the big changes will be in the menu structure: Right now Quince only features a prix fixe, but a la carte options will be added upon reopening.
Husband and wife duo Kyle and Katina Connaughton wanted to open more than just a restaurant when they debuted SingleThread in Sonoma in 2016. From the inn above the restaurant to the farm to the 11-course tasting menu, the two create an immersive and comprehensive experience. The Japanese-inflected food is informed by Kyle’s time as a chef around the globe. Among many stints, he worked at the famed chef Michel Bras’ restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan, made pastries at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills; and led the research kitchen at Heston Blumenthal’s temple of molecular gastronomy The Fat Duck. When the pandemic shut them down, Connaughton switched to a takeout menu, but also partnered with local nonprofit Sonoma Family Meal to make meals for those in need in their community.
This story was first published on Robb Report USA