Sunday, June 29, 2014

Michelin vs Zagat vs Gayot vs Forbes Stars vs AAA Diamonds

I've been doing a lot of restaurant and foodie reading of late, and became curious at the different review guides and how they rate restaurants. They all have different criteria, likes, dislikes, and quite frankly every reviewer will have different tastes.  For example, Michelin is sometimes criticized for having too much of a preference towards French cuisine.

I was curious, so I looked up the ratings of each of the restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area given a 2014 Michelin star and compared them to the other guides.

It should be noted that each guide has different regions/restaurants that they cover, so lack of a star/review from one doesn't necessarily mean it didn't deserve a rating. Likewise, a lack of a rating could also be due to the restaurant being relatively new and the reviewers just haven't gotten to it yet.

For those who don't know, the ratings have a range of

Michelin - 1 star to 3 stars
Zagat - score out of 30
Gayot - score out of 20
Forbes - three categories of ratings, "5 star", "4 star", or "Recommended"
AAA - 1 to 5 diamonds

I should note that AAA only lists 4 & 5 diamond restaurants online, so lack of a rating may mean AAA reviewed it < 4 diamonds.

Restaurant Michelin Zagat Gayot Forbes AAA
The French Laundry *** 28 19 5 Star *****
The Restaurant at Meadowood *** 27 18 5 Star *****
Atelier Crenn ** 27 15
Baumé ** 26 16
Benu ** 27 16 *****
Coi ** 27 17 ****
Manresa ** 27 17 5 Star ****
Quince ** 26 16 4 Star ****
Saison ** 27 18 ****
Acquerello * 28 15 ****
All Spice * 26 14
Ame * 26 14 4 Star ****
Auberge du Soleil * 27 17 4 Star
Aziza * 26 15
Bouchon * 26 15
Boulevard * 27 16 ****
Campton Place * 26 15 4 Star ****
Chez TJ * 23
Commis * 27
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant * 27 16 ****
Gary Danko * 29 17 *****
Keiko à Nob Hill * 27
La Folie * 27 16 4 Star ****
La Toque * 27 16 ****
Luce * 21 15
Madera * 23 15 4 Star
Madrona Manor * 27 15 ****
Michael Mina * 27 16 4 Star ****
Plumed Horse * 25 16 ****
Solbar * 26 15
Sons & Daughters * 14
SPQR * 25 14
Spruce * 26 16 4 Star ****
State Bird Provisions * 26 14
Terra * 27 16
Terrapin Creek * 27 14 4 Star
The Village Pub * 25 16 4 Star ****
Wakuriya * 28

Some interesting points pop up when you look at this table.

The very upper echelon of these ratings, 3 stars for Michelin, >= 28 for Zagat, >= 17 for Gayot, 5 Star for Forbes, and 5 diamonds for AAA are relatively consistent.  There are a few oddities.

For example, the highest rated restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area by Zagat is Gary Danko with a score of 29, however it received only 1 Michelin star.  Their rating surpassed even The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood on Zagat's guide.  Several other restaurants such as Wakuriya, Acquerello, and several others got scores of 28, surpassing the Restaurant at Meadowood and all of the other 2 Star Michelin restaurants.  Zagat also gave relatively low scores to Chez TJ, Madera, and Luce.  For some reason, they didn't even review Sons & Daughters.

Gary Danko is the most interesting restaurant on this list.  In addition to it having the highest score from Zagat, it also received 5 diamonds from AAA.  However, it didn't even get a recommendation from Forbes.  Gary Danko's has been around long enough (according to their website, atleast since 1999) that it can't be the case that Forbes hasn't gotten to it yet.

Although it can't be seen from this table, Zagat appears to be far less picky than Michelin.  Zagat lists 6 additional restaurants with a grade of 28 that Michelin didn't give a star and a whopping 37 restaurants with a grade of 27 that Michelin didn't give a star.

So that's 38 restaurants that got a Michelin star vs 62 that Zagat gave a grade of 27 and up (they gave only 10 restaurants a 28 and up).

Gayot and AAA on the other hand appeared to be about as picky as Michelin.  At the 16 level and up, Gayot only lists 8 additional restaurants that Michelin did not give a star.  AAA lists only 13 that Michelin didn't give a star.  That gives Gayot a total of 27 restaurants graded at 16 and up and AAA gave 33 restaurants a 4 diamond and up.

The Forbes listing on the other hand is the most interesting as it appears to be the most picky.  It lists only TWO other restaurants that Michelin didn't give a star.  That's a total of only 15 restaurants to receive a grade from Forbes.  They amazingly didn't even recommend five of the 2 Star Michelin restaurants (four of which got 27 from Zagat and 2 got >= 17 from Gayot).

So I was naturally curious, for these non-Michelin starred restaurants that the other guides loved, were there any restaurants they all really seemed to like?  Here's an additional table with the non-Michelin starred restaurants with 16 and up from Gayot, 4 diamond and up from AAA, ranked by Forbes, and rated 28 and higher by Zagat.  There are so many restaurants at the grade 27 from Zagat I decided not to list them.

Restaurant Zagat Gayot Forbes AAA
Sara Sushi Bar 28
Kappou Gomi 28
Cafe Gibraltar 28 15
Kiss Seafood 28
Kokkari Estiatorio 28 15
Evvia 28 13
Chez Panisse 27 16
Commonwealth 26 16
Delfina 26 16
One Market 24 16
231 Ellsworth* 23 16
Le Papillon 27 16
Redd 27 16
Sante 25 16 ****
Meritage 23 4 Star
Parallel 37 24 15 4 Star ****
Alexander's Steakhouse 26 14 ****
Quattro Restaurant & Bar 22 14 ****
Navio 24 ****
Dry Creek Kitchen 24 14 ****
The Duck Club Restaurant* 22 14 ****
Etoile 26 15 ****
Murray Circle 23 ****
Big 4 Restaurant 24 ****
Fifth Floor* 24 15 ****
Fleur De Lys* 27 15 ****
Jardiniere 26 15 ****

[* - Closed as of this writing ]

From this table we're able to see a few interesting things.

Zagat appears to have much different grading criteria than the others as none of the other grade 28 restaurants got a Forbes or AAA rating and Gayot didn't even bother to review three of them.  Gayot didn't give any of them higher than a 15 grade and Gayot gave Evvia a relatively poor grade of 13.

Gayot's grades seem to be similar to that of Zagat, although 231 Ellsworth got a relatively poor grade of 23 from Zagat.

As picky as Forbes seems to be, the Meritage didn't do too well against the others.  It had a relatively poor 23 from Zagat and didn't even bother to get reviewed by Gayot.

AAA's grading criteria seems to be much different than the others, as only three of the thirteen got a grade of 26 and up from Zagat and only one got a grade of 16 and up from Gayot.  Four of the restaurants even got a grade of 14.

Only one restaurant was at least graded on all four lists, Parallel 37.  Based on this, it's probably worth checking out.

An interesting note is that a number of the restaurants listed here used to have Michelin stars (Alexander's Steakhouse, Chez Panisse, One Market, Redd, Murray Circle, etoile, Sante, Fleur De Lys, Parallel 37**).  So it could be that they just missed the cut for Michelin again.

** - Parallel 37 is the renamed restaurant at the Ritz Carlton, which did formerly have a Michelin star.

Editorial Note: Michelin and Zagat review restaurants in the "San Francisco Bay Area", which is a region they define of their own accord.  Gayot's regions are smaller, so I combined the San Francisco, San Jose, and Napa regions in this writeup.  Forbes lists restaurants by state and AAA lists by city, so I had to judge a bit what "San Francisco Bay Area" meant.  The most borderline locale were restaurants in the Half Moon Bay region, which I decided to include as part of the "San Francisco Bay Area".  I did not include restaurants that were part of the Monterey region, Carmel region, Sacramento region, or anything beyond Tracy/Modesto in the central valley.

Update: See new post of comparison of Michelin vs SF Chronicle vs Yelp
Update: See new post of comparison of Michelin Bib Gourmand vs SF Chronicle vs Yelp

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