Every year the San Pelligrino World 50 Best Restaurants comes out about this time and fires up age old rivalries, particularly in the US. For decades Ney York and San Francisco have been engaged in a transcontinental pissing contest with the restaurant scene central to the grand debate. In their fury though they may have neglected to notice that the rest of the world is really kicking both of their asses.
The San Pelligrino list is actually one of the more credible lists out there on the topic. And you should listen to San Pelligrino. After all they are smart enough to dupe the entire world into importing water. In reality though San Pelligrino is just the primary sponsor of the list and it is actually operated by Restaurant Magazine with over 800 restaurant industry experts, chefs, restauranteurs, etc. Unlike Michelin they do not view the world through tricolored lenses and measure every restaurant to a specific cultural standard.
Of the 50 restaurants I’ve only dined at three, Pierre Gagnaire, Atelier de Joël Robuchon, both in Paris and of course the French Laundry in Yountville, CA. I would count these as three of the best dining experiences of my life. Also I have worked for two of the chef’s with listed restaurants, Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud, from whom my cooking has forever changed for the better.
Looking at this list, Spain is established itself as the restaurant capital of the world, hands down. San Francisco is sliding, badly. Not a single SF restaurant in the top 50 (Coi was number 58). Looking at the Bay Area though there were two, the French Laundry at 43 and Manresa in Los Gatos at 48. Thomas Keller is still a pimp for having Per Se at number 6 and the French Laundry at 43.
So what’s up with San Francisco? I thought it was this amazing west coast oasis of great food? Well, it is, still. As good as New York? Well that depends. On the highest echelon of fine dining restaurants New York will always outperform San Francisco. It takes a certain intensity to execute fine dining that San Francisco just doesn’t have. If you’re a server or cook in SF and your shift begins at 4:00, that means you’re in Dolores Park eating ganja cookies until 2:30.
What SF does excel at is the second echelon. Farm to table, casual-upscale restaurants. Hipster joints. Usually pretentious ad nauseum, these restaurants benefit from some of the best food available in the world. There are no better growing regions in the world than that which surrounds San Francisco. The product is already so good that all you really need to do is drop it on a plate and it’s really fantastic. Sonoma plums, delta asparagus or Hog Island oysters don’t require a great deal of fuss and SF chefs are wise not to fuss.
Seeing this list is really making me want to travel. As though I needed another reason to spend thousands of dollars to on a vacation in Spain. It’s cool to see the rise of Asia as well and I’m glad that they are given fair consideration unlike Michelin did. Singapore and Tokyo are cleaning up.
Let me hear your thoughts. Anything missed on the list? Is it fair? Add your comments below.