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Dec 7, 2012 08:18 AM

Michael Bauer's efforts to remain anonymous

The Chron continues to claim in every restaurant review that "Chronicle critics make every attempt to remain anonymous," but Michael Bauer seems to have dropped the pretense. In a single blog post he reports having attended two industry benefits and going to Cotogna with a New York critic, where they got special dishes from Michael Tusk.

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  1. Just following your lead.
    Mi Amor
    Let him count the ways this unique Italian restaurant won his heart
    By Robert Lauriston Wednesday, Feb 14 2007
    "This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, I offer this love letter to my favorite restaurant, Incanto. Full disclosure: A normal, anonymous review of the place would be impossible. I've been a regular customer since before this column led me to start dining pseudonymously, and so I am usually greeted by name when I walk in. However, I recommend the place constantly and, based on reports back, feel safe in sharing my enthusiasm."

    1. The owner/chef of a new restaurant which opened in my neighborhood a few years ago told me he knew who Michael Bauer was and even knew when he coming in. It wasn't that big a secret to those in the business.

      3 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        Indeed, Bauer's been around for so long that virtually everyone who has worked for a few years in the kind of restaurants he covers has seen him. When he came to my short-lived restaurant the host spotted him before he even got in the door. The few employees who hadn't seen him before could have recognized him from the photos we had posted in the back.

        That's been a problem for quite a while. Places that recognize him can adjust their service and food so as to spare him the inconsistency that other diners experience. Tres Agaves and Jocylyn Bulow's La Suite are a couple of extreme examples.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          At the mom-and-pop-eatery level, not so sure everyone is so tuned in. I ate regularly in a Vietnamese place in SF once where the owner had no idea who Julia Child was, even though she had just had lunch there. I told him he should spread the word, because every foodie in town would be lining up at his front door. The word got out. The lines started, and the place was famous for years because Julia ate there.

          1. re: emu48

            Bauer doesn't review low-end places.

            Tu Lan was well known before the 1985 Herb Caen column that mentioned Julia Child eating there. Patricia Unterman or Stan Sesser reviewed it in the Chron and it was in their 1984 guidebook.

      2. The idea that any restaurant in town doesn't know what Bauer looks like is patently ridiculous, both because of his distinctive look and frankly, because San Francisco is a pretty small city with one major newspaper and one major newspaper critic, so I find that note pretty disingenuous.

        I read any of his reviews with the understanding that he's recognized as he walks in the door, if not when the reservation is made, and receives service and extras that befit the restaurant's best attempts to impress him.

        24 Replies
        1. re: pane

          Except at restaurants run by recent arrivals or people otherwise disconnected from the fine-dining scene, where he gets treated like anyone else, putting those places at an unfair disadvantage.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Agreed. I grew up here and I've known what he looks like since I was a teenager. Every new restaurant I have worked in has a picture of him up. There is actually a new and more accurate picture of him(now that he has the long hair) from SF Chefs this year.

            Alot of servers are scared of serving him. He does not engage the server. He remains virtually silent whenever the server is near the table, and lets his boyfriend or DC do most of the talking. Ive seen him get upset when his guests order the same item he did.

            The last restaurant I opened, we got a call from a restaurant a block away letting us know he was on his way. He had stopped in there for a drink on his way to our place.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Yes, that's a good point. One wonders what's happening at the old-guard restaurants where even he complains of bad service. Wasn't there some kind of SNAFU at La Folie or an equivalent a couple years back?

              1. re: pane

                was there? I remember his scathing review of Fog City Diner.

                I dont know if his problem is that we all know what he looks like.

                I have many more problems with his reviews, especially having watched him dine several times.

                One of my biggest gripes is that he uses an App on his iPhone to measure the vollume. Does he not have ears? can he not hear how loud it is? Especially given his bell rating are things like "Can talk only in raised voices "

                1. re: smatbrat

                  huh. i'd think an app would be a good thing in this instance--which is to say, if you're going to rate something as subjective as noise level, a more objective measure would be welcome.

                  my husband and i sometimes disagree re whether a restaurant is too noisy; and the difference can often be tagged to how much we like other aspects of the restaurant (eg. the Wood Tavern noise level makes me nuts, while my husband, who's also asking me to repeat things and shouting to be heard, feels like it's not that loud--and he's a huge Wood Tavern fan; and I like but don't love the place--and not just because of the noise!).

                  1. re: smatbrat

                    Sometimes he mentions his noise readings.
                    However, smart phone apps for measuring volume tend to be pretty unreliable in my experience. Usually, you can set a calibration offset, but even if you have a calibration reference, a single offset may not work right for the entire range of volumes. You'd really have to get a reading in a restaurant, go home and crank up the stereo to get the same reading and then measure that volume with a real sound-level meter. I hope Bauer does that.

                    1. re: smatbrat

                      I had the French part right but the neighborhood wrong: it was Fleur de Lys

                      1. re: pane

                        Oh, I remember that review. Fleur de Lys -- does anyone except celebrity chef groupies eat there any more?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Reports here on Fleur de Lys have in recent years been mixed at best.

                      2. re: smatbrat

                        Friends of his sent him a glass of their prized old Viognier at a new temple of gastronomy. Upon asking how he enjoyed he said, "I don't really care for over-oaked Ca. Chard. CHARD? Big difference bet chard and viog. This points to a blind palate -at least for wine.
                        Everyone knew what he looked like 20 years ago.

                        1. re: stanbee

                          Which Viognier? Not that Bauer knows or claims to know much about wine, but many Viogniers made outside of Contrieu are virtually unrecognizable as being made from that grape.


                          Plus, too much oak can obscure the differences between grape varieties.


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I appreciate your suggesting a correction that makes Bauer look less ridiculous.

                            I have to say, Bauer-bashing is one of the tropes on this Board that makes me wince.

                            Of course, as a public figure with enormous power, he's fair game. And I understand that much of the heat is in response to that power.

                            I just find that the threads can degenerate into ad hominem anti-Bauer hits that feel mean-spirited. I'm not knocking the arguments. But I wish there were a different consensus about tone.

                            1. re: sundeck sue

                              My suggestion of tone is: "We deserve better."

                              There's a number of reasons Bauer is still writing, when major cities have a shorter half-life for reviewers. It's poor form to blame Mr Bauer - he is what he is - but Our Fair City could become stronger with better food writing.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                I think there are at most three reasons Bauer's still writing reviews: he doesn't want to stop, there's no one to make him stop (since in his role as executive editor of the food section he's his own boss in his role as critic), and at this point the Chron may not have the money to hire anyone else.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  1. Sometimes - often - the needs of the employee and the needs of the organization diverge
                                  2. There must be someone running the chronicle
                                  3. Usually the young hungry talent is cheaper

                                  leading us to

                                  4. Management fear of change

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    Have you ever worked in a publishing company large enough to have duchies?

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I hear the problem is severe at the NYT, but somehow they manage to instigate some change now and then. The dukes still report upward to princes or kings or emperors or something.

                                      Unless you mean a Dutchie, that might explain a few things:

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        The NY Times is doing fine. They have 700,000 paid online subscribers and their profits have been going up despite declining ad revenues.


                                        The Chronicle has been losing money for a long time and often ends up at or near the wrong end of lists of major newspapers' circulation or profits. One theory is that the Hearst Corp. keeps it alive only to influence city approval of a huge development they want to build on its 4.5-acre site.

                      3. re: pane

                        I think one thing that happens with restaurants that have been around for a while is that the old-timers who opened the place move on to new places, especially when the chef / owner is opening one place after the other.

                        I'm pretty sure that happened with Tres Agaves. In 2005, they pulled the wool over his eyes, on his revisit a year and a half later Manzare and his A-team had moved on to Pescheria and Bauer got the same inconsistent food and bad service the rest of us did.



                    2. re: pane

                      Occasionally, you read a review where you get a sense that he wasn't recognized. Usually, the outcome is not pretty.

                      1. re: pane

                        I read Bauer only so far as the name of the venue. Even his bell rating system for noise disagrees with what I hear.

                      2. The claim of anonymity or attempt at same is the problem, yes?

                        In NYC, people in the restaurant biz know what NY Times restaurant critic Pete Wells looks like; and he doesn't do wigs/fake facial hair/etc.

                        Pre-internet, critics had a shot at invisibility/anonymity. No longer.

                        That said, it's a real issue in fair/accurate reviewing, as Robert et. al. have pointed out.

                        1. you should get his take on it. despite my issues with him, he's always been extremely responsive to e-mails that i send him, whether it's critical, neutral, or congratulatory to him.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: vulber

                            Really? In the past I've gotten nasty emails from someone on his behalf (his boyfriend, I think -- same initials in the email address) when I've said critical things about him on Chowhound.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              can't comment on that; has never happened; can only comment on when i initiate e-mails with him.