PARIS (AP) _ The Michelin Guide, France's supreme arbiter of culinary excellence, promoted one restaurant to the three-star pinnacle Wednesday but elsewhere went on a star-shearing rampage.

The coveted third star, which in Michelin parlance means ''exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,'' went to Bernard Pacaud, the 40-year-old chef of Paris' L'Ambroisie restaurant.

The Auberge du Pere Bise in the Alpine town of Talloires was demoted to two stars, signifying ''excellent cooking, worth a detour.'' Another three-star restaurant was lost when Louis Outhier retired and closed La Napoule near Cannes.

The 1988 red guide, which went on sale Wednesday at $17, reduced the number of stars it awarded from 656 last year to 635. The number of three-star restaurants fell from 19 to 18, two-star establishments declined from 92 to 88 and one-star eateries, meaning ''very good cooking in its class,'' fell from 545 to 529.

The addition of a star, actually a squiggle with six round bumps, means fame for a chef and his restaurant and money in his pocket. Loss of the symbol can mean anguish and despair, particularly in a country that considers cooking an art form.

Pacaud, of Breton origin, established his restaurant in 1986 after a long apprenticeship in top kitchens, including La Mere Brazier in Lyon and under Marc Meneau at Vezelay and Claude Peyrot in Paris.

The red book, first published in France in 1900 by Andre Michelin, the tire manufacturer, is a complete tourist guide and basically is aimed at helping the motorist.

Though many tend to think of the guide in terms of gastronomy, it also contains a wealth of maps, information on hotels, repair services, sights, distances between towns, telephone numbers, prices and thousands of other useful tidbits for the traveler.

Keeping up with the times, this year's guide notes hotels and restaurants that have special rooms or a dining room specially reserved for non-smokers.

The Auberge du Pere Bise lost its third star once before, between 1983 and 1985, when the owner became ill. It was promoted again when his daughter took over, but appears to have run into trouble again. The Michelin folk are typically vague.

''It's part of the life of an establishment,'' said Bernard Naugellen, director of the guide. ''People sometimes reproach us for not taking away enough stars. When a house goes down, we take measures.''

Naugellen had nothing but praise for Pacaud, whose specialities include creme de homard and Florentine raviolis, turbot braised in spices and braised ox-tail.

''He is a young chef who is doing a classic cuisine, a traditional cuisine, but very intelligent, full of finesse and character,'' he said.

The chef himself refused comment.