My Michelin Star experience—is it worth it?
Hundreds of dollars for a meal? Maybe if there's homemade goat milk mozzarella.
The kind of dining I’m about to describe is a privilege. I understand that it is not accessible to everyone, neither is it of importance to everyone. In no way am I trying to convince you that an eight-course tasting menu, politely priced at $200, should be on the itinerary of your next outing, nor am I contending that such a dining experience is affordable, especially to university students.
The little red guidebook by Édouard and André Michelin was initially published in 1900 by the two founders of the Michelin Tyre Company to encourage French motorists to take the road. The Michelin guidebook boosted car and tire sales by providing travelers with maps, shelter options, gas, instructions on how to change a tire, and now most famously, dining recommendations. In the 1920s, as the guide’s restaurant section gained influence, the Michelin brothers employed mystery diners (now known as restaurant inspectors) to anonymously visit and review restaurants. Starting in 1926, the guides began awarding Michelin Stars. Today, there are over 3,370 restaurants across six continents that have been awarded a Michelin star.
The occasion was my mom’s birthday. We were in Rome and were invited to dine at Zia Restaurant in the Trastevere neighbourhood—the one Michelin star restaurant of Chef Antonio Ziantoni. Since opening their doors in 2018, Zia has not lost sight of their objective: fusing love, passion, and perseverance in a unique dining experience with a focus on ingredients researched by Ziantoni for their quality and taste.
My experience at Zia was a powerful triad of flavour, ambiance, and artistry. The dining room was woody, dim, and romantic, while the eight courses surprised me in flavour and creativity. The portions were small, but the plates were thoroughly explained in both approach and origins of ingredients. The young staff worked in perfect sync, replacing one arrangement with the next. The wine pairing was immaculate—as someone who thinks all red wine tastes like wet socks, whatever maroon liquid was poured in my cup changed my take on red wine, although also changing my budget for any future tastings.
The first course was an amuse bouche composed of three parts, but what stood out was a ball of homemade goat milk mozzarella that exploded in my mouth after breaking its outer layer—a unique cheese experience. The next savoury course was a cured pork belly, lightly tapped to the grill, with a piece of bell pepper, grilled and pickled. The pork belly was buttery, with a hint of oaky smoke. The subsequent courses of smoked fish, tortellini, bison, pomegranate shaved ice, and a fleur-de-lait homemade ice cream were incredibly memorable, creating an inspiring combination of flavours while preserving the Italian culinary traditions foundational to the country’s cuisine.
For dessert, Ziantoni gifted us a Brioche Sfogliata baked by Zia’s pastry chef, Christian, and served with a home-made English custard.
The experience made for a memorable birthday dinner, but it also served as a reminder that the culinary arts use flavour as a medium with which to open and expand horizons. Unless I come back to Zia, I doubt I’ll ever taste that myriad of flavours in a strip of pork belly or feel the texture of the pomegranate dessert—neither of which I would be able to recreate at home. And neither would you. That’s the power of the experience, and the reason why these restaurants are awarded their stars for engaging our sense of taste in novel ways. Michelin Star restaurants, and their price-tags are worth it—not for everyday dining, but for those special occasions.
If you’re looking for an experience close to home, on September 13, 2022, 13 restaurants in Toronto were awarded with one Michelin star, while Sushi Masaki Saito received two stars. These were the first stars welcomed by Canadian restaurants. The tire company also awarded 17 “Bib Gourmands”—more affordable, but nonetheless unique dining spots. While Sushi Masaki Saito’s $680 18-course omakase menu might not be your next dinner in town (it definitely won’t be mine), numerous Bib Gourmands restaurants offer fix-price menus for about $60 per person.
I came back from Rome with a new palate and a new interest in fine foods. Having visited many one-, two-, and three-star Michelin restaurants in my childhood (Thomas Keller’s three-star Per Se in New York being the most memorable), I regret not savouring or appreciating the flavours until now. This hasn’t been the most wallet-friendly realization, but I’ll be saving up and chasing my next culinary euphoria in Toronto this summer.
Editor-in-Chief (Volume 48 & 49) | firstname.lastname@example.org — Liz is completing a double major in Chemistry and Art History. She previously served as Features Editor for Volume 47, and Editor-in-Chief for Volume 48. Liz is extremely excited to have spent her time as an undergrad at The Medium, and can’t wait to inspire others and be inspired in her final year at UTM. When she’s not studying, working, writing, or editing countless articles, you can find her singing Motown hits at her piano, going on long walks by the lake, or listening to music. You can connect with Liz on her website, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Do not apologize to me because I am poor. I know I am poor; I am working on it.