March 20, 20007 - When Michelin's famed red guide to Restaurants and Hotels came out earlier this year, restauranteurs and connoisseurs of French cuisine were shocked to find that Taillevent, the venerable Paris culinary shrine, had been demoted from three to two stars. That news was sobering enough to send the International Herald Tribune's food editor, Patricia Wells, sobbing into her mousseline. "I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach", she wrote.

After all, Taillevent had been at the top of Mount Olympus since 1973, and is considered by many to be the best run restaurant in the world thanks to its attentive and polished owner, Jean Claude Vrinat. The dining experience has, through the years, attracted more than a sprinkling of gourmands, including the unlikely Richard Nixon, who according to the caption placed beneath an empty bottle in the window of Caves Taillevent located around the corner, consumed a fine bottle of Romanée-Conti circa. 1975.

Still, none of that was good enough for Michelin. Jean-Luc Naret, who oversees the Michelin & Co. guides, told Alan Katz of,"To be a three-star restaurant, you need to be perfect every day. We felt there was a drop in that regularity."

Taillevent, Inc. has taken the news stoically, and has even started a support group on its website. Vrinat vows to come back, and that it is no small undertaking once the stars begin to fall.

The same fate overtook the once-fabled La Tour d'Argent, now reduced to a set of expensive forks, with not a twinkle to be found. The lesson there is that pressed duck alone won't save you, whether or not, Edward VII dined on number 1 in 1890, and Queen Elizabeth, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and countless other celebrities held succeeding numeration.

Le Cinq, the restaurant of the Hôtel Georges V on the avenue of the same name, was also stripped of its third star. One wonders if should have ever held three to begin with.

Of the elevations, the most noteworthy and long overdue, was to Yannick Alléno at Le Meurice, whose elegant, modern style has put the Rue de Rivoli address on the gastronomic map.

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