What does it mean when four Michelin-rated restaurants receive C grades from the NYC Department of Health? There’s really only two options: Either a slew of prestigious, high-end, pricey eateries aren’t sanitary, or the grading system is fucked.

Data-driven news site Vocativ just uncovered that one Michelin star restaurants Sushi Azabu, Tori Shin, Aldea, and Dovetail all received the low C grade for failing to meet basic cleanliness standards, according to agency records.

Michelin stars are meant to indicate that you’re getting “skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality.” (This is the actual Michelin guarantee for a two star restaurant.)

Yet the four Michelin-starred restaurants mentioned above were awarded C health grades—which can only imply that health standards are not up to snuff—and if you count those restaurants in the Grade Pending category, the number of Michelin-starred restaurants with C’s actually doubles to eight. And then there are the five Michelin-starred restaurants that got B’s.

Although, “carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality” doesn’t really have anything to do with health standards, does it? Regardless, let’s take a closer look at each of the four restaurant’s health violations:

Tori Shin

Michelin Star: One
Violation points: 44
Last inspection date: Oct. 24, 2012

The restaurants had “evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” and “live roaches present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas,” according to the DOH inspection.

Sushi Azabu

Michelin Star: One
Violation points: 30
Last inspection date: May 30, 2013

According to the DOH, there was evidence of rats or actual live rats and improperly washed surfaces at the TriBeCa sushi restaurant.


Michelin Star: One
Violation points: 30
Last inspection date: October 15, 2013

Among 30 of Aldea’s violations were: inadequate personal cleanliness, improperly labeled food, badly stored utensil[s], soiled garments and lack of hairnets.


Michelin Star: One
Violation points: 35
Last inspection date: May 28, 2013

The Health Department served up violations for contaminated or cross-contaminated food and not cleaning food-contact surfaces.

If you’d like to know exactly how DOH grades work, take a look here. Surprisingly, things like three cooks preparing dishes without gloves and one cook drinking coffee from a coffee cup during prep is enough to get a restaurant a B grade. Other seemingly unalarming things that can get you a bad grade?: Cutting boards with nicks in them (3 points deducted), unmarked bags of lettuce (3 points deducted), tongs hanging on an oven door (7 points deducted). And it only takes 28 points deducted to get to a C.

Here’s how the health inspection routine went down when I was cooking at a popular, reputable SoHo restaurant run by a well-known chef:

  • Before the DOH inspector’s arrival, I was told to label everything in the fridge, wrap foods that were usually kept unwrapped, and completely rearrange my work station.
  • The DOH inspector walked in and I was immediately told to “stop working entirely.” “If we’re not doing anything while they’re here, they can’t mark us down for anything,” said the chef.
  • Afterward, we gave confused customers who had waited 30 minutes for their appetizers complimentary Prosecco. No one complained and the restaurant received an A.

Earlier on, when I was working at a cheese and charcuterie counter at an upscale tapas bar in Los Angeles, I was similarly trained on “how to deal with a DOH inspector visit.” Put all the cheese (that we normally kept on the counter at the temperature it was meant to be served) in the fridge, and wrap it in plastic. Wrap all the charcuterie in plastic wrap and don’t take it out or use the meat slicer until the inspector was gone.

After my personal experience “prepping for the D.O.H.,” I have to wonder: are the restaurants that get A’s simply the restaurants that know how to play the D.O.H. game? Are they the ones wise enough to get a tip off as to when the inspector is coming, and then tell their employees to stop working once the inspector arrives?

Obviously, I’m not comfortable being told that a restaurant has a rat infestation, but when I see a C grade on a restaurant, that’s definitely not the first thing I assume. For all I know, the “C” restaurant could have had too many unmarked boxes of arugula and too many nicked cutting boards. Plus, I like my cheese served at room temp, and I don’t give a damn if a human without gloves on their hands preps my food.

Nevertheless, here’s a breakdown of health grades given to every Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC:

Photo: Vocativ

Photo: Vocativ

[via NY Post, Vocativ]