Monday, May 21, 2012

Can a Michelin Star be a Curse?

When the Michelin Guide came out last year, I (and likely many others) was surprised to see that La Costanera in the oceanside town of Montara had been awarded one star.  (If you are not familiar with the system, one star means the restaurant is excellent.  Three stars is the top award and only two restaurants in the entire Bay Area received this rating.)  I had driven by this large restaurant many times and it looked like a nice, casual restaurant with a view.  I also have eaten at La Costanera's sister restaurants in San Francisco, Mochica and Piqueo's, so I thought the food would likely be good.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, I could see that this restaurant should not have been awarded a star.  The place is large and noisy.  The tables were not covered with cloths and the staff were hustling everywhere.  When we were seated, we were greeted by our server who said, "My name is _ and I'll be serving you tonight."  This is not done in restaurants with fine dining.

Then the service broke down.  Our appetizers came out way too quickly, before our drinks and wine arrived.  The drinks came shortly thereafter, but the server had to ask whose drinks they were.  The wine took an eternity to come and then the wrong wine was brought to us.  Once the correct wine finally arrived, and the restaurant thinned out a bit, the service improved.  It was not the type of service one expects in a starred restaurant but it was attentive and timely.

I mention all of this to point out that the Michelin star raised my expectations.  I envisioned a certain type of dining experience, which La Costanera is not attempting to provide.  Last night the service was flawed, but even if it had been a perfectly served meal, La Costanera provides a casual - not a fine - dining experience.

By the way, the food was terrific.

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