Haute Dining: Jean-Luc Naret of the Michelin Guide

The Michelin Guide, the world’s most prominent food criticism publication, has released its 2011 New York City restaurant ratings. Michelin’s stars can affect the path of many restaurants new and old. The star system is defined in terms of driving: one star means “a very good restaurant in its category,” two stars is “excellent cooking, worth a detour” and the definition of three stars is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” I conversed with the dapper sharp-suited Frenchman in charge of the Michelin guides, Jean-Luc Naret.

What criteria do your inspectors look for when rating a restaurant?

First thing we do is rate the “classification” of the restaurant; this includes the ambiance, the service and the table setting. The other part is everything about the plate. Our inspectors look at the choice of ingredients, the flavors, the chef and the cooking technique. You can have a restaurant that has a three-star signature dish, but that’s only one dish. Most importantly we’re looking for consistency throughout the menu during different visits. People around the world know that when we give three stars to a restaurant in New York City, it is at the same level as a restaurant with three stars in Paris.

What characterizes a three-star restaurant?

When you’ve been to a three-star restaurant, it’s somewhat of a memorable experience. It has to be consistent and perfect in every aspect, which is something that many try to achieve but only very few are successful. A three-star restaurant has the ambiance and food (from the appetizer to the dessert) of being equally impeccable.

Where do you see the Michelin Guide in the next 10 years?

The Michelin Guide was originally given away with tires before it became the famous food critique bible. Ten years ago it was in France and Europe. Seven years ago it came to New York City where it has been such a success. There are so many places to develop around the world within the next 10 years.

What is your favorite restaurant in New York City?

I don’t have a favorite; there are so many restaurants in New York City. This year the highlight is the kitchen at Brooklyn Fare. It’s a small grocery store with a chef’s table run by Cesar Ramirez. The experience in itself is quite beautiful. You cross the bridge to arrive in Brooklyn to go into a grocery store to walk into a table only open to 15 seats. It shows that fine dining can actually be done in a kitchen. We gave them two stars, meaning it’s one of the top 15 restaurants in New York City.

What is your favorite restaurant for brunch in New York City?

I’m not a big brunch fan but I would recommend Blue Ribbon Bakery.

What is your favorite restaurant for lunch in New York City?

If I needed to pick a lunch to impress, I would go to Jean Georges in Columbus Circle. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s also the best value for your money; you can have a three-course lunch for $20.

What about the most romantic date restaurant in New York City?

To impress the lady I would take her to Per Se. It has the most beautiful dining room and an impressive food and wine selection.

If you could take a date anywhere in the world for dinner, where would you choose?

Today, it’s Tokyo. Tokyo is a great place to dine — there are 160,000 restaurants in Tokyo with very talented chefs. You have so many options for fantastic food — you can eat in a beautiful restaurant in a castle or have the best sushi in the world at one of the top sushi restaurants.

Is there a specific restaurant you would pick?

There are so many! I would recommend everyone to take a look at the 2011 Michelin Guide for choices. You really can’t go wrong with any of our star-rated restaurants.