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Jan 26, 2011 10:46 AM

Critic pans Robuchon

The SF Chronicle restaurant critic visited Robuchon in the MGM and did not enjoy the experience. Posted the link for those interested in reading about it.

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  1. Not living in SF I am not familiar with this critic; however, that being said, he reads like much more like a neophyte blogger than someone well versed with the cuisine(s) he samples and the foods he eats.

    Contrast with, say, a Johnathon Gold who is not only extremely knowledgeable but who also writes wonderfully gripping and reviews, and Bauer really pales.

    Throw in the pics and that seems exactly like something a blogger would post, not something a well-established critic would write. I'm curious to know the impressions his standard readership has of him.

    17 Replies
    1. re: a213b

      Michael Bauer has been the much-respected critic at the Chronicle for some while. You don't have to care for his style, but he is in no way an amateur.

      1. re: ChefJune

        Shows you what ignorance and a lack of effort in researching him gets you -- a bit of egg on my face!

        I thought I had read him before when looking into places in SF. It looks like this is more of a "musing" than a full on review (e.g.

        That being said, while Joel Robuchon would handle this just fine, posting/printing something negative like this for a smaller or less notable restaurant would seem to be poor form from such a well-established critic such as Bauer.

        1. re: ChefJune

          Hmm, I wouldn't really say that Michael Bauer is much respected -- he has been the Chronicle critic for a really long time, but most people on the SF board as well as in the general SF food community find him kind of a joke. His writing style is awful, which is clear from that really poorly written blog post. He says that the food would be 0 stars, but he barely mentions what was wrong with the food, other than to say that they offered to warm his bread and that there was a spill, both of which seem like service issues and not food ones.

          1. re: JasmineG

            You did a better job of stating at what I was driving -- he doesn't even discuss the food!

            Interesting the feelings of the SF board and SF in general ... would you please elaborate (other than the awful writing style, which I've certainly already noted)?

            1. re: JasmineG

              Never thought I'd feel compelled to defend Michael Bauer, but here goes: He's the Chronicle's executive food & wine editor, which means he runs a department that has about 15 writers. In addition, he writes two reviews per week and a blog entry every day. No wonder that his blog writing gets sloppy at times. I don't always agree with his reviews, but most of the time I find them to be in the ballpark.

              As for Joel Robuchon, other food critics are piling on.
              The Times Picayune:

              1. re: nocharge

                Well, that first link was from someone who was dining with Bauer, and didn't go into much more detail. The second one, was that a food critic?

                1. re: donovt

                  He is the New York food critic for Bloomberg News. (Not that I would think of Bloomberg as my primary source of restaurant reviews.)

                2. re: nocharge

                  Too me these just further emphasize the point ... these are barely writings worthy of being published by a reputable paper, much less legitimate food critics.

                  I'd say both are on par with what I would expect to find on Yelp -- if that is what passes for food-writing these days, then heaven help us.

                  And as I said earlier, JR will be fine despite negative "reviews" such as these ... but I really must hope neither would write such a flippant, negative musing about any lesser well-known restaurant, as that could greatly impact whether said restaurant makes it.

                  1. re: a213b

                    I don't think they would write anything like that about local restaurants. At least Bauer claims that he never writes a negative review unless the restaurant is sufficiently high profile to merit a review regardless of whether it's positive or negative.

                    And, of course, no one would mistake his blog musings about JR in
                    Las Vegas for one of his formal reviews of a San Francisco restaurant.

                  2. re: nocharge

                    I know who Bauer is and what he does, but that doesn't excuse this blog post. If you're going to tell me that a 3 star Michelin restaurant deserves 0 stars for food (which is perfectly plausible, I have plenty of problems with Michelin), please tell me what's wrong with the food. This review complained about the decor and the service, but said almost nothing, good or bad about the food, other than one dish was salty, and another was too rubbery. But the bulk of the review was about the tacky decor and the bad service (which didn't seem all that bad to me -- one spill?), and his complaint about the bread service was not that there was anything wrong with the bread, but that someone offered to warm the bread for him.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      I think people are taking that blog musing far more seriously than it deserves. Bauer has taken upon himself to crank out one per day in addition to all his other duties so of course the quality of the writing is going to be uneven. If you go through the archives, I'm sure there will be enough examples of sloppy writing that you could spend weeks criticizing them. But that would probably be a waste of time.

                      1. re: nocharge

                        Then, oughtn't he perhaps remove such a "heavy" mantle from his neck and stop posting these? Really, it's incredibly poorly written, reeks of "beginning food blogger", and only serves to diminish his credibility (at least for this reader).

                        I agree that his more formal reviews are better written, so why self-impose this ridiculous notion of "I must post one of these musings per day" when it can only serve to detract from his credibility and the overall level of writing that he can offer his readers?

                        I mean, for goodness sake even the pictures are bog-standard terrible food-blogger pics!

                        1. re: a213b

                          I think that's very much a valid point although the extent to which the musings diminish his credibility depends a lot on your expectations. Are you expecting them to be more like formal writing appearing in the print edition or more like twitter tweets? In any case, I think he could improve the quality of his musings by cutting back a bit on quantity. And it's not just about the writing. It must be pretty tough to come up with a fresh topic to blog about every day and his blog demonstrates that. The blog is often interesting but there is probably an entry or two a week that could have been left out without any major damage to our society.

                          You have to give him credit for trying, though. Supposedly, he is one of the hardest workers in the food writing business.

                          1. re: nocharge

                            That's the thing: if Robuchon was really bad, I would want to know why -- was there something really wrong with the food there? Was it that it wasn't as good as The French Laundry (the Michelin 3 star that Bauer is most familiar with)? Or was it that he didn't get the special treatment that he does at TFL, since he's very well known there?

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              Whether it's a good or bad dinner at a three Michelin star restaurant, i think it deserves a well written review not a blog post.

                              1. re: SDGourmand

                                Why would he write a formal review of a restaurant that isn't in the area where he lives and writes? There's a lengthy process that constitutes publishing a review, and the time factor alone prevents that from happening when he's on the road. His blog posts are very informal, and he doesn't always even post when he travels, just when something noteworthy catches his attention. I think he was just acknowledging that there's a standard that JR is supposed to have (according the Michelin) and he didn't think that standard was met. Yes, some more specifics would have been nice, but that's not what he uses his blog for.

                              2. re: JasmineG

                                If you look at Bauer's first review of The French Laundry, I think its simply that this critic doesn't really like these more formal style of restaurants striving to get three Michellin stars and all the bells and whistles that come with it.

                                He didn't even give TFL four stars, and it kind of sounded like it took Keller's immense talent for Bauer not to ding him too much on that Michellin excessiveness and formality. Bauer wrote that TFL's 'food was out of place' and was obviously alleviated with the lighter, more casual touches of TFL.

              2. Such a poorly written review.. Even if this dinner truly was "zero stars" you should be able to describe why much more articulately than he did.. This would be a poor review even for Yelp.. My two experiences at JR were nothing short of perfection..

                1. After reading the piece I think he was trying to discus the ambiance of the place. What constitutes as three star atmosphere? As opposed to writing about the food he had tried.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Withnail42

                    I guess but the space is beautiful and shouldn't bring down the experience from 3 to 0.. The only thing I agree with is the photos of random D list celebs.. I always questioned that myself..

                  2. I read this with interest, as we have a relatively new reviewer in our city (about 400k) but who has good culinary experience and I have been finding his reviews lacking. And was just pondering what was wrong. In a smaller market reviewing a newer restaurant i realized I was missing background on the place, as well as sampling more than one entree and salad for their "reviewing group"

                    This review kind of hit me the same way. Granted this location doesn't need much background but it hardly seemed to be about the food at all. Nothing in this review would have dissuaded me from eating there, which is obviously the object based on the headline. Other than the price, ofc, but if I was paying that much I'd be focused on the food, not what picture is on the wall.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Firegoat

                      I'm not too familiar with Chronicle's restaurant reviews, even though I do read their Taster's Choice column.

                      But, I have a foodie friend in SF who doesn't like Bauer because he blames him for the monolithic tyranny of the farm-to-table-figs-on-a-plate food in SF. His argument is that when the Chronicle is biased so much towards ingredients-driven restaurants, then that is what the restaurants in SF will serve to get good reviews instead of being more innovative or, at least, chef-driven.

                      Maybe, that's what was at play with review with Robuchon- not enough farm to table simplicty to appease Bauer?