Fine dining is in a state of flux: Tasting menus are out; food is more expensive; and diners are increasingly prioritizing fun experiences over staid standbys. Some longtime fine-dining fans are even forgoing upscale, Michelin-starred spots altogether.
That’s particularly true in the Bay Area, Eater SF reported on Thursday. There, the difficulties of running a business, along with the rising cost of living, has led to less creativity and risk-taking among fine-dining chefs, as Bon Appétit noted back in April. As such, residents who used to regularly eat at highly lauded restaurants are bemoaning the options now available to them.
“It’s mostly a breakup,” Jasmin Arneja, a local gastronome, told Eater. “I mostly don’t go to fine dining establishments. If they’re not just right, they feel like torture.”
While Arneja used to go out to acclaimed restaurants several times a year (she particularly loved Corey Lee’s Benu), she’s no longer as inspired by the Bay Area’s culinary scene. The same is true for people like Jason Hung, who previously ran a coding project that allowed him to snag coveted reservations as soon as they became available, and Andrew Cheng, who thinks that international restaurants are providing food and experiences more aligned with their high price tag.
In SF, these local food lovers are largely jaded with the upscale spots that have been garnering Michelin stars and James Beard Award nominations for years. Cheng said that he’s tired of restaurants all sourcing from the same farms and serving dishes that use similar techniques. “I like sea urchin, but I don’t need to see it everywhere,” he told Eater. “Don’t do it because you think you need to do it.” Hung shared that perspective, saying of Thomas Keller’s the French Laundry, “There weren’t any dishes that I wanted on replay … It was cookie cutter.”
Still, there are restaurants in the Bay Area that are exciting these local food lovers. They name-dropped places like Srijith Gopinathan’s Copra (our Best New Restaurant of the Year), which opened earlier this year, and Mijoté, which opened in April 2022. At spots like these, they see the individuality and creativity that they think is missing from older classics. If more and more restaurants are able to cultivate that sort of experience, perhaps San Francisco’s culinary scene will be alright.