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Plat du Jour Tuesday May 1, 2012: On The World’s “Best” Restaurants, Foie Gras, Formality, and Foolish Protesters

Happy May Day everyone, as the calendar has now turned to spring. Whether celebrating by dancing around the May Pole or occupying some street or unable to go somewhere because that street has been occupied, hopefully you’re having a great start to the month!

We start this Tuesday with Monday’s much-awaited announcement of the World’s Top 100 Restaurants, as voted by 800 international restaurant industry experts and organized by the U.K.’s Restaurant Magazine. We should of course also mention the awards are presented by such worldwide Italian corporations as San Pellegrino, Acqua Panna, Birra Moretti, Lavazza, and the not so Italian Veuve Clicquot.

It had already been announced that Thomas Keller would be this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and Elena Arzak of Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain is this year’s best female chef.

Congratulations go out once again to the reigning champion Noma and its chef-owner the brilliant René Redzepi, for the third year in a row was named the world’s best restaurant. El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain near Barcelona again received the silver and also once again Mugaritz in San Sebastian received the bronze. Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New york’s Time Warner Center was the top American winner in at sixth. By my calculations, the U.S. wins with eight restaurants, France with seven, and Spain closely follows with five restaurants in the Top 50.

The famed truffle artichoke soup at Guy Savoy, Paris, named the 78th best restaurant in the world

This is riveting excitement, isn’t it?

We’re not going to go into deep ESPN style analysis here, but here is what jumps out initially after hearing the results.

Noma as the winner is no surprise at all. Much of the drama coming into yesterday was whether or not somebody could overtake Noma or if Noma had possibly gone slightly downhill. Nobody can truly say this restaurant is absolutely, no doubt about it the best restaurant in the world because restaurants change every night. Really what this ranking shows is who is the most influential. Who is changing the way we think about food and prepare food the most? Who has been consistent at doing that, while having an world class restaurant experience every visit? As shown by winning again and the recent inclusion of René Redzepi into the Time 100, that answer certainly is Noma.

Per Se the top American at sixth…French Laundry at 43rd? I haven’t been to the French Laundry, but it’s very surprising to see 42 restaurants above it, especially its New York sibling so much higher.

No France restaurants in the Top 10. And the top restaurant in France is L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, a restaurant with no tables.

Great to see Sweden with three entries: two new and one re-entry. Also great to see Portugal with its first ever entry.

Especially when you look at the 100 restaurants listed, a very big year for small, chef-driven European bistros with chefs who used to be chefs at the mega-restaurants of Europe.

This list loves modernity. That means classics such as the haute cuisine of Roanne France’s Maison Troisgros and the pure, honest Northern California cuisine of Chez Panisse shouldn’t be on the list? Wrong.

Big year for the San Francisco Bay Area: Chez Panisse, the French Laundry, Coi, and Manresa…and Meadowood, Benu didn’t even make the list.

Surprising to see nobody from Los Angeles and some of the classic “destination restaurants” such as The Inn at Little Washington, Willows Inn, and Blueberry Farm not make it.

None from Canada.

Two from Japan and neither is a sushi specialist. Clearly this list and Michelin stars don’t allign together.

To take away from this, debate is pointless because on a good night, all of this restaurants are at the peak of gastronomy and the restaurant experience. You will have a meal you will never forget at any of them except on rare, very disappointing occasions. It’s certainly happened to me at some of these places unfortunately, but more often than not they are absolutely worth the splurge. The list shows an appreciation of science, sense of place, sense of creativity, and using all of your senses in these meals. There needs to be something thought-provoking about the experience and something whimsical or theatrical, yet also nourishing because food after all, is meant to be consumed, and not read or watched.

Speaking of these restaurants, I don’t know the answer, but it would be fascinating to count how many of the hundred mentioned have kitchens viewable from the dining room and how many have tablecloths on the tables? Formality certainly is not mandatory to be one of the world’s “best” restaurants.

Then again, what is formality? We’ll have that James Joyce-ian debate another day.

Speaking of formality, foie gras is an ingredient always associated with luxury and formal dining. Beginning this July 1st, California soon will be banning the sale of foie gras on the basis of animal cruelty with the force-feeding of geese in the production of foie gras.

Mark Pastore, who with chef Chris Cosentino, run the restaurant Incanto in San Francisco that specializes in offal and whole hog cooking and does serve foie gras, wrote this eloquent and very thoughtful piece on the foie gras issue.

I agree fully with Pastore and the hundreds of chefs in California who have signed a petition against this bill. Nobody supports animal cruelty here. We all support the production of foie gras, while safely feeding the geese without torture and brutality. As Pastore points out, there are no problems these people have with any other animals that are very likely treated in brutal ways much like the geese. A slaughterhouse doesn’t seem to peaceful for the cows.

Foie gras is the target because this being 2012, foie gras represents the elite, the 1%. Pastore mentions how maybe two to three dozen people any given night may eat foie gras in San Francisco. It is not a mass commodity, which means it is much easier to restrict animal cruelty in its production. Yet, the government chose to bypass any intelligent legislation to implement new rules to insure the geese are treated humanely. They just decided, like Chicago did in 2008 and then repealed two years later, to just flat out ban foie gras.

It’s a moral issue for Senator John burton and the anti-foie gras advocates. It’s an understandable side. It is best to understand all sides to an issue, though. Not all foie gras production is bad. To really make an impact for animals, ban the production of meat. Ban the practice of deep sea fishing for endangered fish.

There are bigger issues at hand than foie gras in the food world. Instead of a flat out ban, let’s continue to support and practice the humane raising of these geese that many farms already practice.

Lastly today, shame on the protesters in San Francisco’s Mission District last night who went several steps beyond peaceful in attempting to occupy…can you even figure out what they really are aspiring to occupy? Here’s The San Francisco Chronicle article from this morning detailing the route of pointless destruction by these protesters. Many restaurants were among the businesses paint-bombed, including some of the city’s best: Bar Tartine, Tartine Bakery, Farina, Locanda, and Four Barrel Coffee. Luckily it doesn’t appear anybody was seriously hurt, even when trying to hold back protesters from crashing windows with crow bars. Reports are uncertain who and why these protesters were even causing this chaos in the first place. There are hints of anarchy for certain and the continually failing but trying to stay alive Occupy Movement appears to have a part as well.

Obviously, these senseless acts achieve nothing other than to shatter innocent people’s businesses, cars, and homes, along with wreaking havoc simply because they are angry with something or someone. As the Chronicle article mentions in a quote by Adam Kosskoff, the manager of Locanda Restaurant who was paint-bombed by the protesters and who himself was egged by one, the businesses in this district are exactly the types of small, humble enterprises…who the protesters support! That being said, to say these protesters have common sense would be impossible. After all, they even tried to occupy the Mission District police station.

For those of us who have parked often on these particular streets and dine at these restaurants, it’s scary and ludicrous that such protests and chaos can exist. Shame on these protesters who accomplished nothing except making all of us continue to shake our heads at them.

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