Three stars mean “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey," and are so rare that in the entire Bay Area there are only two - The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood.
Two stars mean "excellent cooking, worth a detour", while one star means "a very good restaurant in its category" – something to be very proud of, given the incredible competition. Then, there are Bib Gourmand honors, for “good value, excellent food and top-notch service.”
The Bay Area always does very well, reaping accolades for some 540 restaurants, representing more than 40 different cuisines in the Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country 2014. Sonoma and Napa counties made a fine showing all on their own, too – starting with those coveted Two Star gems.
The French Laundry
How special is it? Reservations are accepted strictly two months ahead, to the exact calendar date of the desired day of dining. There’s simply too much demand for the 62 seats inside and dozen seats in the courtyard with its thermally heated floors. Since the palace of fine dining first opened in 1994, chef Thomas Keller has stayed true to his painstaking, tweezers-perfect cuisine, presented as two nine course prix fixe menus daily. Stars on the $295 tasting include “Oysters And Pearls,” a sabayon” of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar; and Wolfe Ranch white quail “Cervelas de Lyon” with creamed collard greens, compressed pears, petite turnips and sauce mignonette.
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, 707-944-2380, frenchlaundry.com.
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Leave the choices up to chef Christopher Kostow. He prepares a tasting menu each evening of nine or ten courses for $225 per person. Wine pairings are offered for each course for an additional $225 per person, drawing from the cellar of more than 1,200 labels. But rather than fixed options, the chef creates bespoke menus for guest's individual preferences and sense of adventure, then serves them with white glove precision in a formal dining room where servers wear classic black-and-white and silver gleams in hand-polished elegance. Plates might include pine-cured venison with tuna and assorted sorrels; turnips over house-cured roe and fermented rice, and delicate crescenza angolotti decorated in crispy broccoli.
900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, 707-531-4788, meadowood.com.
Auberge du Soleil
The ultra-luxury resort and spa embraces a world-class restaurant from chef Robert Curry. Set on a hillside, the dining room features warm gold colors accented with abstract paintings, exposed beams and rich wood furnishings, while the patio showcases spectacular views of the Napa Valley below. Menus change with the seasons, so expect the freshest ingredients in innovative recipes like poached Maine lobster with apple, almond milk, avocado and orange vanilla vinaigrette; toasted rye noodle with pastrami spiced carrots and fermented brussels sprouts; or Paine Farm squab atop apple purée, cauliflower, raisins, almonds and pancetta.
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, 707-963-1211, aubergedusoleil.com.
This elegant Parisian café welcomes with sophisticated wood, candlelight, plumes of flowers, European art and a mouthwatering menu from chef-owner Thomas Keller. The raw bar is always a delight of seasonal seafood, while basic “plats” get royal treatment for dishes like Poulet Rôti Grand-Mère of roasted chicken with sautéed chicken livers, button mushrooms, cipollini onions, new crop potatoes and savory chicken jus.
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, 707-944-8037, bouchonbistro.com.
Chef Ken Frank aims to impress with an extensive core menu, a chef’s tasting menu with nine courses, or a six course vegetable tasting menu, plus a wine cellar of more than 1,700 selections. Set in sleek black and gray environs with white tablecloth finesse, the experience offers dishes like Pacific King salmon tournedos a la plancha with oyster mushrooms, pearl onions and beurre rouge; and slow cooked pork cheek with roasted root vegetables, lemon parsley root espuma and crispy brussels sprouts leaves.
1314 McKinstry Street, Napa, 707-257-5157, latoque.com.
The concept is creative California Soul Food inspired by locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Chef Brandon Sharp puts an innovative twist on the idea, too, updating the menus daily through breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some unique statements include the sol-pe of crispy masa cake with chorizo, black beans, jack cheese, scrambled eggs, chile verde and sour cream; and a “completely nude” New York strip with Yukon gold potatoes, sautéed rapini, oxtail marmalade and sauce bordelaise. The tree-shaded patio is one of the hottest spots in town.
755 Silverado Trail N., Calistoga, 707-226-0800, solagecalistoga.com.
Chef Hiro Sone is one of Wine Country’s most innovative chefs, as proven by dishes like burrata cheese on cardoon salad with bottarga and green olives; grilled hokkaido scallop on a stew of tripe and Rancho Gordo beans; and malasada doughnuts with Meyer lemon fool. The ambience is enough to melt the soul all on its own, done in gracious brick and stone, with moody lighting, contemporary art and lots of fresh flower displays.
1345 Railroad Avenue, St Helena, 707-963-8931, terrarestaurant.com.
The historic 1881 Victorian mansion which houses the restaurant is also an Inn, lovingly restored by Manor owners Bill and Trudi Konrad. The eight acres of meticulously landscaped gardens and wooded grounds are home to 18 rooms/suites with fireplaces, and some with large balconies or decks. So the restaurant itself is nearly a secret, run by executive chef Jesse Mallgren in an exquisite setting of crisp white linens, fine silver, china and candlelight in 5 intimate, parlor-style rooms. The New Californian-Global cuisine changes with the seasons, but some signatures include roasted brassica with estate persimmon, pickled cippollini and charred onions sauce; pumpkin risotto with Alba truffles; and roast squab breast and confit thigh with barley and kale. The wine list is exceptional.
1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 800-258-4003, madronamanor.com.
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
If the typical farmer lived this well, we would all be farmers. This rural property is a ravishing mix of gorgeous guest rooms, an elegant new “barn” of suites, a restaurant fed by farm-fresh food, and a seasonally inspired spa. Yet the owners, siblings Catherine and Joe Bartolomei, actually do come from fifth generation farmers. There is a Master Sommelier on staff, to pair with chef Steve Litke’s luxurious Cal-Mediterranean creations. The menu changes nearly daily, but a longtime standard is the Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, offered as a petite roasted rack, loin cut into thick coins then wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and leg confit draped in velvety whole grain mustard sauce alongside Yukon potato.
7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com.
Terrapin Creek Café
This charming, Slow Food style destination comes from chef-owners Andrew Truong (formerly sous chef at Bacar), and his wife, Liya Lin (previously a cook at Ducca and Michael Mina). Set in a relaxed but stunningly chic space in the quiet ocean town of Bodega Bay, the cuisine wows with the finest ingredients in inventive pairings. That might include artfully arranged cold crab salad with the seafood plucked straight from the sea outside, or panko crusted crab over green lentils and sautéed cabbage with roasted mushrooms, currants and curry oil. Simplicity shines, for recipes like a Fuyu persimmon and prosciutto salad with mixed lettuces, toasted almonds and goat cheese in tart cherry vinaigrette, yet the kitchen revs things up, too, with more complex dishes like homemade pappardelle pasta tossed with braised beef oxtail, Swiss chard, caramelized onions and Parmesan. In a friendly touch, the restaurant also serves lunch.
1580 Eastshore Rd., Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700, terrapincreekcafe.com.
Tip: If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting any or all the Michelin restaurants, a private Pure Luxury limo or Town Car can make it an easy, chauffeured experience.