The Michelin Guide awards 3 stars to all of Tampa’s restaurants

MIAMI — Some Tampa restaurants finally got their stars.

For the first time ever, the esteemed Michelin Guide has awarded stars to three restaurants in Tampa: Roca, Coya, and Lilac, which each received one star.

The coveted ratings were announced Thursday night at an invitation-only party at LoanDepot Park in Miami, to celebrate the guide’s 2023 release in Florida. This is the second year that restaurants in Orlando, Miami and Tampa have been eligible, and it’s part of the new International Guide’s entry into the state.

Only four new Stars were distributed this year in Florida, and three of them went to Tampa restaurants. The other was given to Tristan Brandt’s Tambourine Room, in Miami Beach.

The guide also awarded several restaurants on Thursday with Bib Gourmand status, awarded to restaurants that “deliver a good quality meal at a good value.” These include Gorkhali Kitchen, a Nepalese restaurant that specializes in Himalayan-inspired cuisine; Psomi, a Greek restaurant in North Hyde Park; And two restaurants that also earned Bib Gourmand ratings last year are Rooster & The Till and the recently closed Ichicoro Ramen.

Four special awards, including the Michelin Young Chef Medal awarded to Tampa Christina Theofilos, chef and owner of Psomi, and the Distinguished Service Award to Matthew Braden, were awarded by Lilac.

Although many of the culinary world’s Oscars are considered James Beard Awards, the Michelin Guide is arguably the most popular and respected restaurant rating system, known for awarding international accolades and recognition for restaurants that earn star ratings. The maximum number of stars a restaurant can receive is three. The process is known to be top secret. Inspectors visit restaurants anonymously and judge restaurants based on the following criteria: product quality, mastery of flavours, excellence in technique, distinct character of the kitchen and consistency of the restaurant between visits.

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Since the guide’s launch in Florida, local chefs have hoped that the additional stars and accolades will help bring more widespread recognition to the Tampa Bay area.

Thursday’s announcement let out a collective sigh of relief in the Tampa culinary community, still aching from the two years James Beard and Michelin’s shocking debut last spring, when restaurants in Miami and Orlando netted a combined total of 15 stars but not a single Tampa restaurant made the cut.

Modern Tampa Italian restaurant Rocca was one of three Tampa restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star Thursday. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Thursday’s star was a welcome surprise for trendy Italian restaurant Rocca chef and owner Bryce Bonsack after last year’s gala, when the Tampa Heights outpost earned Bib Gourmand status. In a press release announcing the stars, Michelin inspectors praised the restaurant for its authenticity and pastas, all made “skillfully” in-house, “showcasing classic flavors and subtle techniques.” (The restaurant was also the first in Tampa to get this critic’s perfect rating when it first opened in 2019.)

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“I’m speechless,” Bonsack said after the ceremony. “I think after last year we really wanted to bring a star home. We’ve got a talented team that has been working hard all year.”

What made the evening even better, Bonsack said, was watching other Tampa restaurants receive stars.

“It’s a big step for the city,” he said.

Others echoed that sentiment at Thursday’s event.

“Three out of four, this is just exceptional,” said Adriana Fralick, who with her husband Eric runs the modern Japanese restaurant Koya in Hyde Park. “You never know what to expect, but we are so excited.”

In their notes, the inspectors praised Koya’s “unique interpretation of Japanese cuisine” and the “exquisite seafood” courses. The couple opened the intimate eight-seater-a-night omakase in the summer of 2019, and it was named one of the best new restaurants of the year by the Tampa Bay Times.

Thursday’s reveal marked a third Michelin star for Lilac executive chef John Fraser, whose New York restaurants Dovetail and NIX have each earned one Michelin star in the past. The Mediterranean-leaning restaurant, which was named one of the Times’ Best New Restaurants of 2022, opened last fall at the Edition Hotel in Tampa’s new Water Street development. Helmed by Fraser and Head Chef Josh Werksman, the contemporary four-course menu ($140 per person) impressed Michelin inspectors with its “Mediterranean influences, Florida-focused ingredients, and French techniques.”

Lilac Restaurant at the Tampa Edition Hotel from Executive Chef John Fraser was awarded a Michelin star Thursday.
Lilac Restaurant at the Tampa Edition Hotel from Executive Chef John Fraser was awarded a Michelin star Thursday. [ Courtesy of the Tampa Edition ]

Originally founded by brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin in 1900 in Clermont-Ferrand, France, the Michelin Guide—from the French tire company of the same name—was initially designed to help motorists plan their trips. The guide began issuing stars in 1926 for upscale restaurants, and by 1936 a three-star rating system was in place, with three stars being the most popular and recognized of the many.

For many years, the Europe-focused publication only focused on a few American cities, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently, the company has started expanding its presence, with significant financial investment from the cities where it lands. Guide Florida’s new approach is the result of a partnership between Guide Michelin, the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, and the tourism marketing councils of Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

Koya, a modern Japanese restaurant, has received high praise from Michelin inspectors for its offering
The modern Japanese restaurant, Koya, has received high praise from Michelin inspectors for its “unique interpretation of Japanese cuisine” and its “exquisite seafood” courses. [ Courtesy of Koya ]

Only four restaurants welcomed new stars Thursday, but all Florida guide stars and Bib Gourmand recipients were celebrated at the event. The Complete Florida Guide now includes 19 all-star restaurants, with Miami’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon earning the only two-star rating. An additional 33 restaurants have achieved Bib Gourmand status.

The guide also lists 92 additional recommended restaurants, 18 of which are in Tampa and include, among others, Ponte, Bern’s Steak House, and Cena.

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