Receipt of a coveted Michelin Guide star (or two or three) can turn a nameless restaurant into a culinary hotspot with if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it prices. A mere 2,635 worldwide received stars in 2013.
Don’t want to drop a paycheck on a three-star establishment? You can still sample a top chef’s culinary creativity without making your wallet weep. Dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants (or their high-profile chefs) have less expensive spin-offs. San Francisco chef Michael Mina counts 17 culinary outposts worldwide including Bourbon Steak at Turnbury Isle in Aventura. Superstar bad-boy Brit Gordon Ramsay has a staggering 28 eateries under his brand.
It was 1900 as Paris was prepping for the World’s Fair when brothers André and Édouard Michelin recognized they could help vacationers riding on Michelin tires have a more predictable trip. The duo created a small, red book called the Michelin Restaurant and Hotel Guide.
Today the guides — which cover most of Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, New York, Chicago and San Francisco — have become an international benchmark in gourmet dining. According to Michelin, the star is reserved for the most distinctive restaurants and granted only for “what’s on the plate” — the quality of the ingredients, cooking technique, distinctive and creative. In short, a place that nails it every time.
At Daniel Boulud’s swank Manhattan restaurant, DANIEL, you’ll pony up $300 for a six-course tasting menu with wine. Find similar French influences with an American flair, but a far friendlier price tag at Boulud’s Florida hotspots: DB Bistro Modern Miami and Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach.
“Do you get a taste of the starred restaurant at a spin off? Typically, no. It’s a taste of a Michelin-star chef,” says Michelin’s Head Inspector, who, as tradition dictates, must remain anonymous so as to experience restaurants as any other customer would. “Is the food good? Yes. It’s a great meal, often at a great value. Think of it as an artist working in another medium.”
So, instead of a $211 multi-course feast including Cotswold lamb and spring vegetables at the three-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, order the $23 Traditional Shepherd’s Pie with lamb and veggies at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. Or if you want to really dine on the “cheap,” Gordon Ramsay BurGR at Planet Hollywood will sell you a Hell’s Kitchen Burger covered in Asadero cheese, roasted jalapeno peppers, avocado and oven-roasted tomato for $14.
The list goes on and on. Perhaps because, as the Michelin inspector explains, “Michelin stars bring chefs both notoriety and offers to expand their brand or create new second or third concepts altogether.”
Chicago chef Graham Elliot offers something for every pocketbook. His eponymous restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighborhood has two Michelin stars and a $125 to $165 tasting menu. At the rock ’n’ roll-themed Graham Elliot Bistro, try charred octopus with spaghetti nero for $26.
Master chef Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurants in New York and Las Vegas are both Michelin star recipients with prices to match. Yet you can pay just $20.13 for a three-course lunch including Confit Lamb Shoulder with Moroccan Couscous at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdales in Costa Mesa, Calif.
In fact, California seems to host a lion’s share of Michelin offshoots. Chalk it up not just to San Francisco and the culinary wizards of Napa and Sonoma, but because for 2008 and 2009 the guidebooks covered (and anointed stars in) Los Angeles.
Lobster Bolognese is the signature dish at chef Josiah Citrin’s Melisse in Santa Monica. For $16, budget-minded gourmands can eat ahi tuna tartare with avocado mousseline and citrus vinaigrette at Citrin’s new Tower 8. Says Citrin, “The Tower 8 menu is a taste of how I enjoy cooking for guests at my own home.”
Similarly, chef Michael Cimarusti’s Providence in the heart of Los Angeles is Michelin starred with a $175 tasting menu. For a budget-friendly version, check out Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood, a new seafood spot named after the chef’s grandparents.
In Oakland, chef James Syhabout owns the 80-seat Commis, where an eight-course prix fixe menu (without wine) will set you back $75. Or pay a ten-spot at Syhabout’s Hawker Fare, which serves $10 or less Asian rice bowls using gourmet ingredients like Kai Piak (rice congee with 1,000-year-old eggs).
The wine country cuisine of chef Richard Reddington’s Redd has been awarded a Michelin star seven years in a row thanks to entrees like sauteed skate wing with cipollinis, snow peas, and spinach. Yet the far more affordable wood-fired pizzas and homemade pastas with locally sourced ingredients of Redd Wood in Napa Valley, are equally tasty.
San Francisco’s tony Nob Hill neighborhood is home to Acquerello Restaurant under the watchful eye of executive chef Suzette Graham-Tognetti and chef de cuisine Mark Pensa. The seasonal tasting menu is $145 (plus $95 with wine pairings), where you might sample Cuttlefish Tagliatelle with capers, chili flakes, lobster and agretti. This summer the team behind Acquerello opened a casual spin-off called 1760. Here you’ll find shrimp with grilled avocado, lime and cilantro, Charcoal Raviolo with smoked yolk and That Basil Butter and Smoke Scented Aji. Prices range from $9 to $25.
Often an affordable sibling is mere steps away. In Wiltshire, England, for instance, chef Martin Burge is the creative genius behind two-starred The Dining Room at Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa. There the three-course a la carte menu featuring “fillet of veal poached and roasted, served with slow-braised cheek, textures of hazelnuts, carmelized sweetbread and Maderia sauce” will set you back $114. In the same building, he oversees the informal cuisine of Le Mazot where dishes like “fillet of cod roasted, dressed with linguini and tomato and anchovy beurre blanc” are yours for a fraction of the price.
Likewise you can shell out $175 at dinner for chef Mathias Dahlgren’s amazing fare at Matsalen restaurant in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel. The adjacent, Michelin-starred bistro Matbaren offers Dahlgren’s Swedish flair, minus the credit card shock. In Chicago, Michelin-starred Spiaggia shares the same kitchen (though different cooks) with Cafe Spiaggia, and in New York Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s laid-back Nougatine is just steps away from his self-named award-winning establishment, Jean-Georges.
You don’t have to sup in some culinary capital to enjoy the taste of a Michelin star. Edinburgh, Scotland, is home to Restaurant Martin Wishart. Michelin star chef Wishart also operates an Edinburgh brasserie, The Honours, which offers a far less expensive menu, but gives diners a taste of what he does in the kitchen.
New York chef and restaurateur Michael White serves French/Italian Riviera-inspired cuisine at Ai Fiori. The Sunday Pasta Dinner with your choice of three pastas is $72, and a seven-course tasting menu runs $130. Or head to White’s offshoot, Osteria Morini in Bernardsville, N.J., for a more moderately priced taste of traditional Italian cuisine.
You are King is the revamped Amsterdam-based restaurant of Chef Ron Blaauw. He voluntarily gave up his two Michelin stars to create an eatery designed for diners on a tighter budget, with the price of each meal about $20. And here’s a surprise: French chef Emmanuel Hodencq held one star for 12 years in Clermont-Ferrand. These days he’s dishing it up at Rick’s Deli & Market in Greenville, S.C. It’s a long story, which begins and ends with Michelin, that he’s happy to share if you drop in.
Hungry to find a Michelin-starred restaurant offshoot? Ironically there is no guide. Your best bet is to do an online search for the name of the chef whose cuisine you want to sample or the Michelin-star restaurant. Then check the websites for other outlets and peruse any available menus.
Laura Daily is executive editor of LivingOnTheCheap.com