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SF Chronicle Top 100 2008

Robert Lauriston Apr 5, 2008 09:06 AM


  1. Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 11:00 AM

    One general inconsistency here:

    The Chron's reviews include ratings from zero to four stars. There are 138 restaurants with three, three-and-a-half, or four stars. Obviously not all of them can make the top 100, but how can any restaurant with less than three stars make the cut?

    The logical explanation would be that he's looking for a modicum of diversity in price and location, but one of the 2.5-star places is Bar Bambino.

    1. Morton the Mousse Apr 8, 2008 04:24 PM

      I don't understand why he likes Chow so much. Yeah, the prices are kind of low for organic fare, but the menu is boring and the execution is mediocre.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Morton the Mousse
        ML8000 Apr 8, 2008 05:06 PM

        Chow was a bit of a revelation...about 10 years ago. I still like it but I have to agree and wonder why it makes his Top 100. My guess is it reminds him of the midwest or something.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse
          Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 09:51 AM

          And voilà, Bauer's blog entry today, "Should Bo's and Chow be in the Top 100?":


          From that blog entry: "I agree that the chicken can be dry at Bo's and the service spotty, but the brisket and ribs are good enough that it makes the flaws seem like endearing blips."

          From the Top 100 capsule: "[Bo's] meat - whether it's beef brisket, pork ribs, links or chicken - is perfectly done with just the right amount of smoke from oak and applewood logs that enhances without dominating."

          1. re: Robert Lauriston
            ML8000 Apr 9, 2008 10:31 AM

            I can't fault Bauer for this:

            "However, I do try to create a list that has a broad appeal and cuts across price categories, which is becoming increasingly harder in today's economy."

            I can fault him for laziness of not looking elsewhere and not going beyond a specfic comfort zone (the middle western palette).

            1. re: ML8000
              farmersdaughter Apr 9, 2008 10:38 AM

              Yeah, but if you approach the list from a different point of view, it can have some value even if it's not something that a lot of Chowhounders would find valuable. Just look at the list and say, "where would be a good place to eat [take someone to eat] if the diners had Bauer's palate?" Unfortunately his palate is not representative of a lot of ours, but maybe it is of the people living in the Bay Area generally.

              1. re: farmersdaughter
                ML8000 Apr 9, 2008 10:47 AM

                I think the list has value. I read it and I use it as a reference and I understand how to read between the lines and a critics biases. You can't please everyone but the Bay Area is way more diverse and sophisicated then what he likes.

                At one point the list was much more diverse and open, if not a bit uneven but hey, that's the Bay Area. A little funk and weirdness has always been part of the deal...or maybe that died with the dot com boom and bust and the real estate prices. Oh well...so it goes.

                1. re: ML8000
                  farmersdaughter Apr 9, 2008 11:14 AM

                  I agree with you, I was just trying to point out that if you look at the list a different way it can have some value. It's unfortunate that it doesn't represent the true diversity of the Bay Area food scene (other than Bauer's artificial diversity by including restaurants like Chow on the list in an effort to show economic diversity), but other than either not buying the Chron or writing a letter to the editor, there's not a whole lot one person can do. Which is why I take the list (and other critic's reviews) with a huge grain of salt.

                  1. re: farmersdaughter
                    ML8000 Apr 9, 2008 11:30 AM

                    Okay, I get it. Sorry if I misread. I do agree...a huge grain or a pound of salt. On a wider note, the list points to a trends in the Bay Area. Read over a few years and how the list evolves is interesting.

                    1. re: farmersdaughter
                      Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 11:34 AM

                      The Top 100 list is mostly the same usual suspects you'll get from most other guidebooks.

                      The arbitrary cutoff at 100 means he's leaving out places that are just as good. The Chron's advanced search gives a more complete list.

                  2. re: farmersdaughter
                    Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 10:52 AM

                    The editor of the Chronicle's food section didn't force out Stan Sesser and Patricia Unterman in order to hire Michael Bauer because he believed that Bauer's much narrower taste was more representative of the average Chronicle reader's.

                    He did that because he is Michael Bauer.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                      farmersdaughter Apr 9, 2008 11:16 AM

                      I don't understand. Who was Michael Bauer before he became the food critic at the Chron? I don't have any clue as to where he came from - am I supposed to know?

                      1. re: farmersdaughter
                        uptown jimmy Apr 9, 2008 11:32 AM

                        Michael Bauer was the editor of the food section and fired two really good critics so that he could be head critic.

                        At least that's my impression of what RL is saying.

                        1. re: farmersdaughter
                          ML8000 Apr 9, 2008 11:35 AM

                          Michael Bauer has noted in his reviews that he's from the Midwest and the son of a butcher. I think this explains part of his perspective and likes and his palette reference. It's also been noted he enjoys the company of men and if a restauranteur sees him at his place, having young and freshly scrubbed male waitstaff serve him often helps the review. Apparently most in the restaurant biz know what he looks like.

                          1. re: farmersdaughter
                            Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 11:51 AM

                            Michael Bauer grew was the food editor and restaurant critic for the Dallas Times Herald before the Chron hired him to head its food section in 1996.

                            To me, Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser were two of the three best critics who have worked around here in my adult life. (The third is Jonathan Kauffman, who left the East Bay Express for Seattle Weekly.) Bauer's not as bad as, say, Jim Wood, but San Francisco deserves better. As a critic, he has improved somewhat on the job, but I think his narrower taste has been bad for the local restaurant scene.

                            Bauer's recent update review of Michael Mina, in which he gave it four stars, is a classic example of what's wrong with his work. In his 830 words, he finds room to name the designer, gloss the chef de cuisine's résumé, count the number of restaurants the eponymous executive chef has opened in the last three months, and describe the color of the waiters' outfits, but, except for one sentence, the descriptions of the food could have been written by someone who sat at the table without eating.


                            Full disclosure, for the past two years I've been a part-time reviewer for the SF Weekly, so sort of a competitor. But I don't think my opinion would be any different if I weren't.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              chemchef Apr 9, 2008 12:09 PM

                              Then why do you guys give this guy so much credit?

                              Personally, I find regular people's opinions much more valuable. Thank you Chowhounds!

                              1. re: chemchef
                                Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2008 12:38 PM

                                Unfortunately, whether or not chowhounds approve of Bauer, he has a tremendous amount of influence on the local dining scene, down to the fact that restaurants put dishes on their menus that will appeal to his known tastes. And since San Francisco food trends often spread to other parts of the country, he's influencing what almost anyone who is eating in a contemporary American restaurant is eating. The ubiquity of beet salad with goat cheese (which I've seen on menus all over the country) is apparently due to the fact that when that combo was first introduced, Michael Bauer liked it.

                                Here's link to the archived article "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town" which provides some insight: http://web.archive.org/web/2003061805...

                              2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 02:13 PM

                                Too late to correct a typo in my post above: Bauer was hired by the Chron in 1986, not 1996.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  sugartoof Aug 10, 2008 03:39 AM

                                  It's getting better, but I find that problem fixating on the non-food descriptions to be pretty much across the board with reviews in SF. The shorter the review, the less the talk of the food. Why someone would waste their word count talking about the industrialized rustic interior is beyond me.

                                  Whenever I grab a publication for help picking out a dinner spot, I routinely find myself breaking into laughter from the flowery prose about the hue of the walls, followed by some travel anecdote from the cuisines region. It's as if the restaurants publicist phoned it in, or they secretly wish they were a travel reporter instead.

                    2. Robert Lauriston Apr 8, 2008 02:22 PM

                      Some more explanations from Bauer on why certain restaurants didn't make the cut:


                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        Ruth Lafler Apr 8, 2008 03:11 PM

                        I'd be more interested in his justification for some of the places that did!

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 09:47 AM

                          His reviews usually make it pretty clear.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2008 10:27 AM

                            Not comparatively, though, which is what matters when you're making decisions about what does and doesn't make it on the list. In other words, it's not clear to me why he dropped La Taqueria (which he considered good enough for the list before, regardless of anyone else's opinion) and left on some places as ordinary as, let's say, Rivoli.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                              Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 10:47 AM

                              Look at the star ratings:

                              Rivoli: 3 food / 3 service / 3 ambience / 3 overall

                              La Taqueria: 2 / 1.5 / 1.5 / 2.5 overall

                              As he noted, La Taqueria's on their Bargain Bites list, so it's not like he's banishing it to obscurity by removing it from the Top 100.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2008 12:26 PM

                                Well then, I'd have to disagree with him about Rivoli. :-)

                                Maybe it was an exceptional restaurant 20 years ago, but it's pretty humdrum these days. Bauer claims to have revisited it every year (although I find it odd that he apparently goes the same week every year), but he hasn't actually re-reviewed it since 1996.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                  Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2008 12:56 PM

                                  The Chron doesn't usually publish updates unless a place goes uphill or downhill. Makes sense since there are so many new places to cover. Top 100 capsules get updated annually.

                                  I'm not sure what you mean by "same week every year," the dishes in the capsules sound like different seasons to me:

                                  2008: slow-braised pot roast with wild mushrooms ... chopped romaine with crisp bits of pita, dollops of feta and shavings of cucumber; and a ragout of crab and shrimp with a shallot and thyme souffle

                                  2007: slow-braised lamb shank with eggplant, feta and tomato gratin, and green beans with mint aioli

                                  2006: grilled leg of lamb is served with garlic and mustard butter and bacon and shallot jus; blue nose bass is enhanced with gazpacho vinaigrette and a scallion and olive aioli

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2008 01:04 PM

                                    Ah. I think I misunderstood what the dates referred to under "revisited." At any rate, I find it hard to believe that he revisits well over 100 restaurants a year in addition to the ones he visits multiple times for reviews (not to mention all that pizza). For all we know, he's taking the names of the dishes off the menu on the website.

                      2. Robert Lauriston Apr 7, 2008 09:52 AM

                        Bauer discusses the ins and outs in his blog today.


                        Re the Dining Room, "Is Ron Siegel in or out? It looked like he was taking over Myth, yet he's still cooking at the hotel. But for how long?" In that case, why he didn't drop Pescheria, which had already announced it was closing?

                        Re Tres Agaves, I don't think the "food quality ... plummeted." By the time Bauer revisited, Joseph Manzare and his core staff had moved over to Pescheria. My guess is that none of the B-team left at Tres Agaves recognized Bauer when he revisited, so he got the same erratic food and service the rest of us had been getting since it opened.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          farmersdaughter Apr 7, 2008 10:54 AM

                          He did drop Pescheria, he says so in the blog:

                          "As I mentioned in my introduction to the 2008 Top 100 restaurants, I was faced with a dilemma: I actually wrote up 107 restaurants, all of which I thought deserved a place on the list. My life was made a little easier when I discovered that Pescheria closed on Saturday night, leaving only six. One went back into the Top 100, leaving five to stew over."

                          And Pescheria is not on the Top 100 list.

                          1. re: farmersdaughter
                            Robert Lauriston Apr 7, 2008 11:41 AM

                            Pescheria was on the online list when I looked at it Saturday, and his intro said 18 new places, which the blog updated to 19. Is it in the print edition?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              farmersdaughter Apr 7, 2008 12:09 PM

                              No, not in the print edition - I checked the newspaper and it's not there. Very weird.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                farmersdaughter Apr 7, 2008 12:14 PM

                                Looks like the "Sorted by Cuisine" list was not updated properly online - probably an earlier version got onto the website by mistake. http://sf.eater.com/archives/2008/04/...

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston
                              Robert Lauriston Apr 7, 2008 12:21 PM

                              Another place I disagree with Bauer: Cesar (Piedmont) vs. Laiolo, I think Cesar wins on every count: food, wine list, service, price. Laiolo's the nice neighborhood spot, Cesar's worth a detour.

                            3. Eugene Park Apr 6, 2008 09:52 PM

                              As usual, the Japanese places known primarily for their sushi that made the list are not the best in the Bay Area.

                              1. steve h. Apr 6, 2008 06:13 PM

                                jardiniere gets some love from the chron. i haven't been back since the renovation but i do recall good service, good food. the potato gnocchi was superb. maybe the best i've ever had.

                                1. n
                                  Nina Apr 6, 2008 11:03 AM

                                  I really have to get busy...I've been to only 10 of the 100 (although I have been to one of them approximately 1500 times).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Nina
                                    ML8000 Apr 6, 2008 05:27 PM

                                    You can't keep up. I was once at around 45 one year...and then the next year, not so much. I once really thought about going for 100 but then even knocking off 45, you'd still be eating out once a week...doable except for location and then I realized, I didn't really want to eat at some of those places regardless.

                                    I mean Matterhorn?

                                    The list is what it is...still the drop off of reasonably price places is a bit of a drag. It's understandable given the rise in restaurant quality. Still the range of what use to be covered has been flattened. It would be interesting to get a break down of the list on similarities, full bar, palette range, etc. From first glance it seems there's a fat part of the curve there that's semi-similar or within range.

                                  2. farmersdaughter Apr 5, 2008 01:03 PM

                                    Here is the entire list:

                                    MICHAEL BAUER'S TOP 100 RESTAURANTS OF 2008:
                                    A Cote
                                    Ad Hoc
                                    Amber India
                                    Bar Bambino
                                    Bar Crudo
                                    Bay Wolf
                                    Bistro Aix
                                    Bistro Don Giovanni
                                    Bistro Jeanty
                                    Bo's Barbecue and Catering
                                    Buckeye Roadhouse
                                    Cafe La Haye
                                    Cafe Majestic
                                    Chez Panisse
                                    Chow/Park Chow
                                    Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
                                    Foreign Cinema
                                    French Laundry
                                    Gary Danko
                                    Hog Island Oyster Co.
                                    Jai Yun
                                    Koi Palace
                                    Kokkari Estiatorio
                                    La Folie
                                    Martini House
                                    Michael Mina
                                    Nick's Cove
                                    O Chame
                                    O Izakaya
                                    One Market
                                    Picco/Pizzeria Picco
                                    Plumed Horse
                                    Poleng Lounge
                                    Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar
                                    Shanghai 1930
                                    Slanted Door
                                    Slow Club
                                    Sushi Ran
                                    Swan Oyster Depot
                                    The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant
                                    Ton Kiang
                                    Town Hall
                                    Va de Vi
                                    Vik's Chaat Corner
                                    Wood Tavern
                                    Yank Sing
                                    Yoshi's San Francisco
                                    Zuni Cafe

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: farmersdaughter
                                      wineguy7 Apr 6, 2008 12:29 PM

                                      I can't understand why Matterhorn is included in the top 100.

                                      1. re: wineguy7
                                        Robert Lauriston Apr 6, 2008 05:11 PM

                                        Bauer loves the place:


                                        1. re: wineguy7
                                          sugartoof Aug 10, 2008 03:15 AM

                                          I used to go frequently, and always wonder if it's any good these days when I drive by. I think they've received other decent reviews as well. The names started popping up again.

                                      2. c
                                        chemchef Apr 5, 2008 12:51 PM

                                        What does "IN" and "OUT" mean? And, why is Bocadillos on both?

                                        1. u
                                          uptown jimmy Apr 5, 2008 11:40 AM

                                          This thread should defnitely be on the SF board.

                                          And I'm glad to see Farallon dropped from the list. That place has no business in any discussion of the best restaurants in SF.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: uptown jimmy
                                            Robert Lauriston Apr 5, 2008 05:07 PM

                                            Discussion of restaurant reviews goes on this board. It's off-topic for the SF board.

                                          2. steve h. Apr 5, 2008 09:48 AM

                                            i was pleased to see silks included in the list. food is very good, the room is gorgeous and the service outstanding. when last there, we had the chef, the sommelier and the head waiter spend some quality time at the table with us. we'll be back.

                                            1. Robert Lauriston Apr 5, 2008 09:07 AM


                                              Bar Bambino
                                              Cafe Majestic
                                              Nick's Cove
                                              O Izakaya
                                              One Market
                                              Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar
                                              Shanghai 1930
                                              Va de Vi (Walnut Creek)
                                              Wood Tavern


                                              Antica Trattoria
                                              Cesar (Berkeley)
                                              Cetrella (Half Moon Bay)
                                              Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton
                                              Dry Creek Kitchen(Healdsburg)
                                              Fleur de Lys
                                              La Taqueria
                                              Mantra (Palo Alto)
                                              PlumpJack Cafe
                                              Scott Howard (closed)
                                              Tres Agaves

                                              15 Replies
                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                Robert Lauriston Apr 5, 2008 09:21 AM

                                                Most dubious inclusions:

                                                Bay Wolf should be better than it is.

                                                Buckeye Roadhouse is just eh.

                                                I love Flora, but the service is often amateurish. Unless, I suppose, they recognize you as Michael Bauer.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                  susancinsf Apr 6, 2008 11:50 AM

                                                  I haven't been to Buckeye, but of the restaurants on the list I've been to, I'd have to agree on Bay Wolf and Flora being dubious (I didn't really even like the food at Flora)...and you may not agree with me on this, but it did make me sad to see Dopo on the list and not La Ciccia...for that matter, La Ciccia would rank well above Firefly (and Pescheria) in my opinion...oh well, it is crowded enough already...

                                                  Bauer did say that most have full bars, and La Ciccia doesn't, which is probably a point or three against it...but Firefly is also beer and wine only.

                                                  Someone mentioned that Mexican food didn't do well this year....I think that reflects as much on the lack of good Mexican food in the bay area as anything.

                                                  1. re: susancinsf
                                                    farmersdaughter Apr 6, 2008 11:57 AM

                                                    I would be willing to bet that La Ciccia was one of the last 7 that got cut to take the list from 107 down to 100, but agree with you that it should've been included. Pescheria is not in the published list in the magazine so perhaps there is an error online. Pesce is on the list.

                                                    I think inclusion of some that you point to, such as Bay Wolf, Flora, Buckeye Roadhouse, has to do with maintaining some geographic diversity on the list. I haven't been to Flora, but think Bay Wolf and Buckeye are OK, nothing fabulous though.

                                                    1. re: susancinsf
                                                      Robert Lauriston Apr 6, 2008 05:07 PM

                                                      Dopo doesn't have a full bar either.

                                                      Bauer called La Ciccia cramped and noisy, which it is, and gave it only 1.5 stars for atmosphere and 2 stars overall. I doubt there are any two-star restaurants on his top 100.

                                                      1. re: susancinsf
                                                        Ruth Lafler Apr 7, 2008 10:55 AM

                                                        Yeah, but is La Taqueria any worse than it was last year?

                                                        Despite his claims to cover the whole spectrum, he definitely went "upscale" on this list. There's not a single "ethnic" restaurant for which he didn't choose the most upscale (or expensive, if you don't count Jai Yun as upscale) representative. Bodega Bistro is a lot better Vietnamese restaurant than some of the mid-range Cal/American/Italian places, for example. I have trouble believing that Flora is better than Dona Tomas, since it's the same people.

                                                        I guess what I'm saying is that the list is biased toward Euro-American food, since an "ethnic" restaurant has to be outstanding or loungey-fusiony to make the list (that hip, full-bar factor), while there are a lot of just ordinary Euro-American places on the list.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                          Robert Lauriston Apr 7, 2008 11:57 AM

                                                          The bias is indisputable. Bauer doesn't go to many non-upscale restaurants, so he doesn't eat much ethnic food, so he doesn't have the background required to evaluate many cuisines. To give him credit, the people he assigns to do those reviews are generally well-qualified. (He's both the main critic and the boss of the food section.)

                                                          Flora is much more of a Bauer-style place than Dona Tomas: more upscale, nicer decor, somewhat more formal service, very serious full bar. Comparing his star ratings (Dona Tomas / Flora):

                                                          Food: 2.5 / 3
                                                          Service: 2.5 / 2.5
                                                          Ambiance: 2 / 3
                                                          Overall: 2.5 / 3

                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                      farmersdaughter Apr 5, 2008 01:03 PM

                                                      Bocadillos is on the IN list - they did not get deleted.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                        farmersdaughter Apr 5, 2008 01:06 PM

                                                        Plumed Horse and Ubuntu are also on newly on the IN list.

                                                        1. re: farmersdaughter
                                                          bradluen Apr 5, 2008 01:14 PM

                                                          Pescheria is on the "by cuisine" list but is replaced by Plumed Horse on the alphabetical list.

                                                          Bocadillos and Va de Vi are on both the 2007 and 2008 lists.

                                                          Myth is also on the OUT list.

                                                          Not a good year for Mexican restaurants, according to Bauer. Not that I think La Taqueria is one of the top 100 Bay Area restaurants, but the list doesn't feel the same without them.

                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                          Lindarita Apr 6, 2008 11:04 AM

                                                          The Dining Room at the Ritz is an out? Huh? If that's not one of the Bay Area's 100 best (I would put it in the 10 best), then this list makes no sense.

                                                          1. re: Lindarita
                                                            Robert Lauriston Apr 6, 2008 11:22 AM

                                                            That really doesn't make sense. If he gives a restaurant four stars, how can it not be in the top 100? Maybe it was just a mistake.

                                                            Conceivably he left it out because he believes the chef is going to buy Myth and move over there. But by that reasoning he should have left out Pesceria, since it's closing (or has closed) and won't be reopening in its new location for a while.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                              susancinsf Apr 6, 2008 11:45 AM

                                                              Do you mean Pescheria on Church, or are we talking about another place? I drove by Pescheria last night, seemed to be folks inside. Where is it moving?

                                                              1. re: susancinsf
                                                                farmersdaughter Apr 6, 2008 11:50 AM

                                                                Pescheria on Church closed this weekend - building was sold.


                                                                1. re: farmersdaughter
                                                                  susancinsf Apr 6, 2008 11:53 AM

                                                                  Thanks! I missed that...guess it would be too much to hope for a good Chinese or Thai restaurant to move into that space....

                                                                  1. re: susancinsf
                                                                    Robert Lauriston Apr 6, 2008 05:08 PM

                                                                    Per the Chron, it's going to be a branch of Henry's Hunan.

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