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SF Chronicle's 2006 Top 100 Restaurants list

  • r

Changes from last year:

Bar Crudo
Citizen Thai and the Monkey
Coco 500
Medicine Eatstation
Olema Inn
Pizzeria Picco
Tres Agaves

Bounty Hunter
Campton Place
Domaine Chandon
Kabuto A&S (closed)
La Suite
PlumpJack Cafe
Zax Tavern

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

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  1. n
    Niki Rothman

    Mazel Tov to Robert Lauriston! Way to go...getting mentioned in this week's SF Bay Guardian restaurant column as a "foodie" and crony of the resident restaurant reviewer!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Niki Rothman

      Close! It was SF Weekly, not the Guardian. And he wasn't mentioned as a
      "crony", but "colleague". She used that word because Robert's now one of
      the freelance reviewers for the Weekly.

      It's great to see a lot of hard work here turning into a professional
      gig. But "foodie"?!? Oh the shame! :)

      1. re: Attaturk
        Robert Lauriston

        Actually I've been a full-time professional writer for 15+ years.

        I hadn't done any restaurant reviews recently, but only because the right gig hadn't come along. Bill Wyman offered me full-time jobs several times when he was editing that section, but at the time I couldn't afford the cut in salary. The 15 columns a year of this gig are about as much as I can handle on top of my day job and still have a life.

    2. Sad that Chapeau isn't on there.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Cary

        No Chapeau! but Dosa???

        1. re: CH Addict

          Dosa is not the best south indian place in the bay area by any means. It might be -by default- the best one in SF, as it is the only in the city, but it is average at best. Bauer is so wrong on that one.

          1. re: cedichou

            Bauer doesn't know anything about non-European cuisines. He just chooses restaurants that are Westernized enough to put him in his comfort zone.

            1. re: cedichou
              Robert Lauriston

              Dosa's the only South Indian place I know of with cocktails.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Does that qualifiy it for this list?

                1. re: bob
                  Robert Lauriston

                  If you're judging the overall restaurant experience, cocktails are arguably a plus: "A meal at Dosa is elevated further by a well-executed wine list and a selection of cocktails made with soju, a Korean rice-based spirit that tastes similar to vodka."


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    then you rule out authentic south indian places, the ones which actually serve the good dosas. Dosa also serves lamb curry, another no-no for a south indian restaurant. The south indian gimmick is a marketing ploy, and Bauer fell for it.

          2. re: Cary
            Melanie Wong

            When I glanced through the list this morning, Chapeau! was the glaring omission that jumped out at me too.

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              Robert Lauriston

              Bauer's last review of Chapeau probably explains that:


              Contrast his last review of Clementine :


          3. f
            Frosty Melon

            Thanks for the in/out status. A bit surprised Pizzeria Delfina's not on there as MB's such a fan of the restaurant.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Frosty Melon
              Robert Lauriston

              There's only a hundred slots, so inevitably lots of well-reviewed places don't make the cut. If one restaurant's a spinoff of another, it's an easy cull to drop one.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                Frosty Melon

                That makes sense...yet Chow takes three slots (Church, Park, Lafayette)? And I am a Chow fan so I guess I am playing devil's advocate.

                1. re: Frosty Melon
                  Robert Lauriston

                  Counting the Chows separatlely, there are 102 restaurants on the list.

              2. re: Frosty Melon

                I am a new follower of Bauer and SF food reviews (though not new at eating out and loving food). Are his articles to be considered as food only reviews? I am younger, in my early 20's, and when I think about food and dining I think about so many other variables than noise level, banquet capacity and the taste of food. Service is very much integrated in my thoughts as well as value. A high price meal would not be an issue if I knew the money were well worth it.

                I feel as though the top 100 is nothing more than citysearch's home page with a bit more info. I do love that the best dishes are included in the write up, but I need more information about these restaurants. It is almost unhelpful this article.

                I hope I do not come off as too critical. I do love it and love having these areticles, I just personally need more info.

                1. re: lauren
                  Morton the Mousse

                  If you go to the on-line list that Robert linked and click on the restaurant's name it will link you to Bauer's review history. In some cases the comprehensive review is pretty old but it would be a lot of work to rewrite full reviews for all 100 restaurants every year.

                  Best to use the top 100 as a starting point, and then search the web, chowhound, food blogs and other publications for more information.

                  1. re: lauren
                    Robert Lauriston

                    Michael Bauer quite definitely takes a broad focus in his reviews. He likes upscale decor, fancy linens, and polished service--wrote a whole article once on the decor and furnishings at Michael Mina.

                    A place with consistently great food and so-so service etc. can still get fairlyhigh marks, but he tends to let the other reviewers handle those places.

                2. I see everyone's favorite Ton Kiang is listed.

                  1. c

                    i know of many people in the restaurant industry who consider him a joke - and very publicly so. There was an article written about him a number of years ago in San Francisco Magazine about his lack of credentials, bad writing skills and long list of enemies in the business.

                    he has been known to make reservations under his own name - a huge no-no, as well as making his presence very known when he is eating. Sitting in the front room with a large group of people, wearing loud clothing and going with other "celebrity" friends in the business. Whereas other well-reputed restaurant critics will go to restaurants under pseudonyms and in disguise.

                    I mean -- just read his articles! They are written in the narrative voice that a first-time writer might have -- certainly not one that is possessed by the head of the food section in the Sf Chronicle. Compare and contrast an article written by him - and an article written by Frank Bruni. As a San Francisco resident, i find his position in power insulting!

                    As far as his choices for the Top 100 - i agreed with some, and others angered me.

                    Limon - i had an absolutely horrible experience there, and i've read many accounts in this forum about their disappointments as well.

                    Cesar - i personally don't like the restaurant - due to its "small plates" which tend to be very overpriced for what you're getting.

                    Mr. Bauer has repeatedly clamined that "Chow" is one of the best restaurants in the city - but i find the menu spreading itself too thin and trying to please everyone, but not really doing anything well.

                    there are many restaurants which he has written scathing reports about, and not quite specified what it was that he disliked about them other than minor decor issues and bad reactions to service.

                    Everyone in the industry knows that Michael Bauer LOVES chicken and mashed potatoes - so restaurants have been known to have both of those items on during their first few opening menus - when all critics flock to restaurants.

                    Although i do agree with some of his picks, i think he tends to veer towards trends and will like certain restaurants because they treat him like a star.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Chefinthecity
                      Frosty Melon

                      Not defending Bauer, but I seriously doubt he ever called Chow one of the best restaurants in the city. Again, I'm a Chow fan and I wouldn't say that.

                      1. re: Frosty Melon

                        Well, all three Chows made this year's top 100.

                        And there's this from his 1997 review:

                        "That oven turns out some of the best pizza anywhere."
                        "The food, with the price factored in, is some of the best in the city."
                        "The thick hamburger ... also rivals the best in the city"
                        "I remember fondly one of the best dishes I had at Stars on a recent
                        visit, and I found something similar at Chow for far less than half the price"

                        Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                      2. re: Chefinthecity
                        Robert Lauriston

                        People in the restaurant business spread rumors like that about all high-profile restaurant critics.

                        I'm sure Bauer is occasionally recognized and given special treatment as a result--seems likely that happened at La Suite, which he dropped from the list this year.

                        I don't find the stories of his making reservations under his own name creditable. That would be a blatant violation of the paper's policy, "Chronicle critics make every attempt to remain anonymous."

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I work in the business and can say that the times Bauer has come into our restaurant it has been under another name. The thing is most restaurants have his photo and keep an eye out for him. M. Bauer is also pretty consistent in mentioning if the people in the restaurant recognize him, which seems pretty fair of him.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Could have been me. I reserve using the name "Mike Bauer" all the
                            time. As far as I know, it's neither helped nor hurt, but I'll keep trying.

                        2. is there a reason the ritz carlton's dining room hasn't been on this list since 2000? it was one of seven bay area restaurants he gives four stars to, but it doesn't crack the top 100?

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: huh?

                            Bauer didn't have room for both the Ritz-Carlton and Swan Oyster Depot.

                            1. re: Jim H.

                              ok. thanks. i guess all three chows were important to include, too. competition was tough this year.

                              but i feel like i'm just overlooking it on the list, especially since he mentions it in his introduction when talking about raw fish dishes. maybe i'm just blind.

                            2. re: huh?
                              Robert Lauriston

                              Presumably Bauer doesn't think the Ritz is the best in its price range. "In the Top 100, I strive to include restaurants in all price ranges ..."

                              Of the seven restaurants he currently gives four stars, Chez Panisse, Fleur de Lys, French Laundry, La Folie, and Manresa made the top 100, Campton Place and the Dining Room at the Ritz didn't.

                              On the other hand, in his review of those seven places last September, he said, "Both Gary Danko and Acquerello are excellent values--if Consumer Reports were doing the rating, they'd be considered Best Buys--and the food at both places is pristine; however, the results are a bit too predictable." And both those places made the list, as they have every year.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                campton place is in transition, which might explain why it's not on the list. it was last year.

                              2. re: huh?
                                Caitlin McGrath

                                At the top of the writeup (follow the link in the original post), it's noted that the Ritz Carlton was (presumably mistakenly, it doesn't really explain) left off the list, so the list is actually 101 this year. Sounds like Bauer realized, after the magazine was set to print, "Oh shit, duh, the Ritz!"

                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                                  Robert Lauriston

                                  Definitely a mistake. The Web version was up for several days before they added that.

                              3. I believe Budo[in Napa] is also closed.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Jimbo
                                  Melanie Wong

                                  Yes, Budo's closed.

                                  I've heard that the chef has been approached by some investors to open the same concept in SF. One of several options under consideration.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Well ms Wong you are wrong The chef is going to be the new executive chef at "Le Cirque " in New YorK.

                                    Check your sources Ms Foodie ...

                                    1. re: Massimo

                                      That would be "one of several options under consideration" wouldn't it?

                                      Check your reading comprehension before you post.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        how can there be "several options under consideration" if he accepted a position at le cirque? And I have almost a tank full of reading comprehension, I just checked.

                                        1. re: cedichou
                                          Melanie Wong

                                          Always happy to have up to date information, I wasn't aware that McDevitt had made a final choice yet among his offers. The press release of last week, dated 3/28/06, from Le Cirque states that the Executive Chef will be Pierre Schaedelin. If this changed over the weekend, then an option has been chosen.

                                          THE RINGMASTER RETURNS Sirio Maccioni to Open Le Cirque at One Beacon Court in May 2006

                                          New York, NY – March 28, 2006 – Heralded as the year’s most highly anticipated restaurant opening, owner Sirio Maccioni will once again welcome friends and guests at his renowned Le Cirque when the restaurant opens its doors on May 30th at its new home within the prestigious One Beacon Court (151 East 58th Street). Under the leadership of the Maccioni family including wife Egidiana, sons Mario, Marco, and Mauro, the legendary restaurant will entertain and attend to patrons with its hallmark service and exciting atmosphere as it has done for over thirty celebrated years.

                                          “Le Cirque has always been a place where the worlds of food, fashion, art and culture converge,” said Maccioni, who has wined and dined high society in New York for nearly half a century. “We are excited to once again welcome our friends and customers as we move from one of the city’s oldest landmarks to one of its newest landmarks.”

                                          Sirio Maccioni first opened the original restaurant in 1974 at the Mayfair hotel, and in 1997 relocated it to a larger space in the New York Palace Hotel under the name Le Cirque 2000. On May 18th, the restaurant, designed by architect/designer Adam D. Tihany and architect Costas Kondylis, will celebrate with a grand opening party at its new location in One Beacon Court. Le Cirque will be located in the impressive rotunda of the shimmering glass and steel tower, developed by Vornado Realty Trust, which is also the new headquarters of Bloomberg L.P. Le Cirque attracts a host of celebrities, politicians and royalty including Robert De Niro, Oprah Winfrey, The Rolling Stones, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Bono, Rudy Giuliani, Cindy Crawford, Michael Jordan, Donatella Versace, Bill Clinton, Ron Perelman, Elle Macpherson, and Roberto Cavalli. In addition to maintaining its status as a favorite among such luminaries, Le Cirque and Sirio Maccioni have helped launch the careers of many illustrious chefs – Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Alain Sailhac, Rick Moonen, Jacques Torres, Sottha Khun, Sylvain Portay, Michael Lomonaco, and Geoffrey Zakarian among them.

                                          The 16,000 square foot restaurant will feature a main dining room, a separate bar area and private event mezzanine suspended above the bar. The 27 foot-high semi-circular main dining room with polished ebony panels and a giant abstract “big top” light shade, will comfortably seat 95 people. The all glass bar, which appears and disappears like a magic circus box, serves as a commanding architectural element anchoring the 65 seat bar area and balances the custom designed 27 foot steel and glass wine tower. The wine tower visually connects the 80 person private dining mezzanine with the first floor. The restaurant walls, adorned with bent wire framed art pieces inspired by Alexander Calder’s magical circus installation will capture the whimsical and playful spirit of the original Le Cirque. The restaurant’s tables will feature Reidel stemware, Villeroy & Boch china, silver by Greggio and Ricciarelli and the restaurant staff will be outfitted with custom designed ties from Stefano Ricci.

                                          Executive Chef Pierre Schaedelin, who began his career with Le Cirque in 1999, and mentored under two of the world’s finest chefs, Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV and Paul Haeberlin at Auberge de l’Ill, returns to the restaurant after a brief period working as Martha Stewart’s private chef. Drawing upon the history of the restaurant, Schaedelin will create an extensive menu for Le Cirque incorporating original favorites with new culinary creations. The wine list includes nearly 700 varietals that will be showcased within the two-story wine tower unparalleled in a New York City restaurant. Maccioni, of course, legendary for his love of all things beautiful, will have an all female team of sommeliers.

                                          Sirio Maccioni opened Le Cirque in 1974 and as his three sons have grown older, they have followed their father into the restaurant business. Maccioni recently shared the culinary career of his family in his 2004 autobiography, SIRIO: The Story of My Life and Le Cirque (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; $29.95; cloth; ISBN 0471204560; June 2004), co-written by Peter Elliot. The book chronicles the ringmaster’s journey from Tuscany to New York and honors those that helped him along the way to becoming the owner of one of the world’s most celebrated restaurants.

                                          In 1996, the family opened a casual version of Le Cirque called Osteria Del Circo in New York City. This was soon followed by the 1998 opening of Circo and Le Cirque in Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel, which are consistently two of the top grossing restaurants in Las Vegas. In 2002, the Maccioni family opened their first international Le Cirque located in Mexico City. Sirio Maccioni and his family reside in New York City and also maintain a home in Montecatini, Italy, Maccioni’s birthplace.

                                      2. re: Massimo

                                        Since this thread's been bumped up again, I'll add a correction. James McDevitt, formerly of Budo, is the new executive SOUS chef at Le Cirque. As noted in the press release posted earlier, Pierre Schaedelin, is the executive chef.

                                  2. I haven't been to aqua in about a year, is it seriously downhill. From what I remember, I'd go there before myth or ame, did something go wrong? Or is hype included in the bauer rating?

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: cedichou
                                      Robert Lauriston

                                      Not making the cut doesn't necessarily mean that a place went downhill. Bauer added 16 new places (many in Aqua's price range), only two on last year's list closed, so he had to drop 14.

                                      Reports on the SF Chowhound board suggest that Aqua's still good.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I would consider ame and myth in aqua's price range, and if aqua hasn't gone seriously downhill, then I don't understand why ame/myth are in the top 100 and aqua is not. Last I've seen of aqua, it was better than those two. But that's just my opinion.

                                        And still in the same price range, even cheaper, and even better than aqua: winterland. Why in the universe is winterland not in the top 100 places? When will Bauer wake up?

                                        1. re: cedichou
                                          Robert Lauriston

                                          Re Ame vs. Myth vs. Aqua, any editor who's been involved in choosing a big list like that knows there are some arbitrary selections. The first 50 or so are easy, the next 30 or so are hard, for the final 20 or so you might be looking at a 100-way tie.

                                          Personally, if I were in his place, I'd consider switching to a top 200 or 250. But he may simply not have enough pages for that to be practical.

                                          Bauer didn't have great times at Winterland, so it's no surprise it didn't make the cut:


                                          1. re: cedichou
                                            Chris Rising

                                            Aqua's price point ($68 prix fixe) is higher than Myth ($12 app, $29 main, $8 dessert- $50), so I would not think of them as substitutes. To me, Myth, which I enjoy very much- with its a la carte menu, half portions, pizza etc, is more of a grand cafe, i.e Gotham Bar and Grill. The French and Italian languages do a much better job of describing the different kinds of dining establishments.

                                            I also had a very indifferent meal at Winterland, and would struggle to put it near the top.

                                            1. re: Chris Rising
                                              Robert Lauriston

                                              In the podcast, Michael Bauer said that he left Aqua and Masa's off just because there were just too many high-end places. Also sounded like all else being equal he goes with new places over old.

                                            2. re: cedichou

                                              Echo re: Winterland. IMHO, the best restaurant in San Francisco--bar none.

                                        2. r
                                          Robert Lauriston

                                          The Web version includes a podcast with Amanda Byrne interviewing Michael Bauer about the selection process. Some interesting info:

                                          First decision, decide what to put in. Usually new restaurants that got 3 or more stars, get more from other reviewers. Then have to eliminate that many.

                                          Anyplace on the list should be worth the drive from anywhere in the Bay Area. If you have 100 days to eat, you want all price ranges, all locations. Best of each class of restaurant, diverse as far as location.

                                          Visits all 100 every year for a check-in review. Sometimes he'll do two meals in a day.

                                          The 16 that weren't included, why? Ten had lost their chef. Other places are wonderful but because of the mix dropped out. Aqua, love Aqua, also didn't put in Masa's. Both high end, need to balance the list.

                                          Marche, prices so high, $30 for a piece of chicken, quality-value ratio not there. Service didn't really come up to the price.

                                          Plumpjack, chef change, prices have gone up, wine list quite a bit.

                                          Zak's, little off last year, kept on the list, still off this year, so dropped.

                                          Zarzuela, wasn't as good, dropped it, checked it out this year, back on.

                                          Link: http://www.streamload.com/sfgate/chro...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Michelin Guides has just announced that they will publish a guide on San Fran Bay Area in October.