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Michael Bauer's efforts to remain anonymous

Robert Lauriston Dec 7, 2012 08:18 AM

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.


  1. wolfe Dec 7, 2012 08:55 AM

    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. g
      GH1618 Dec 7, 2012 09:20 AM

      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
        Robert Lauriston Dec 7, 2012 09:31 AM

        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
          emu48 Dec 7, 2012 11:08 PM

          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
            Robert Lauriston Dec 8, 2012 10:13 AM

            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. pane Dec 7, 2012 09:28 AM

        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
          Robert Lauriston Dec 7, 2012 09:34 AM

          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
            smatbrat Dec 7, 2012 09:41 AM

            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: smatbrat
              Robert Lauriston Dec 7, 2012 12:33 PM

              That new hairdo's quite distinctive.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                Glencora Dec 7, 2012 09:18 PM

                He looks like my father circa 1972.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston
              pane Dec 7, 2012 09:41 AM

              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
                smatbrat Dec 7, 2012 09:51 AM

                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
                  sundeck sue Dec 7, 2012 11:22 AM

                  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
                    nocharge Dec 7, 2012 11:47 AM

                    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
                      pane Dec 7, 2012 05:38 PM

                      I had the French part right but the neighborhood wrong: it was Fleur de Lys http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Ac...

                      1. re: pane
                        Ruth Lafler Dec 7, 2012 10:00 PM

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

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          Robert Lauriston Dec 8, 2012 10:14 AM

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

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            Ruth Lafler Dec 9, 2012 10:27 PM

                            I don't remember seeing enough to mix!

                      2. re: smatbrat
                        stanbee Aug 15, 2013 10:10 PM

                        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
                          Robert Lauriston Aug 16, 2013 08:54 AM

                          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
                            sundeck sue Aug 16, 2013 09:14 AM

                            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
                              bbulkow Aug 16, 2013 09:58 AM

                              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
                                Robert Lauriston Aug 16, 2013 10:19 AM

                                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
                                  bbulkow Aug 16, 2013 11:00 AM

                                  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
                                    Robert Lauriston Aug 16, 2013 12:07 PM

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

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      bbulkow Aug 16, 2013 12:49 PM

                                      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
                                        Robert Lauriston Aug 16, 2013 01:22 PM

                                        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
                        Robert Lauriston Dec 7, 2012 12:41 PM

                        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
                      nocharge Dec 7, 2012 11:55 AM

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

                      1. re: pane
                        stanbee Aug 15, 2013 10:04 PM

                        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. s
                        sundeck sue Dec 7, 2012 09:41 AM

                        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. v
                          vulber Dec 7, 2012 11:31 AM

                          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
                            Ruth Lafler Dec 7, 2012 01:35 PM

                            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
                              vulber Dec 7, 2012 03:33 PM

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

                          2. d
                            dunstable Dec 7, 2012 12:36 PM

                            Was he ever truly anonymous? I mean he's anonymous in the sense that a random host or server doesn't know what he looks like, but it seems like most established restauranteurs know who he is. At the restaurant I once worked at, they knew exactly who Bauer was, and blamed/attributed their level of business on how well they treated him. It's not like I was working for some Bay Area restaurant titan, either.

                            1. Ruth Lafler Dec 7, 2012 01:40 PM

                              I think Robert's point is that in the very blog post he cites, Bauer says: "Tuesday at lunch I met a New York colleague, who doesn’t have to remain anonymous for lunch at Cotogna, where chef Michael Tusk created some special dishes."

                              The very fact that he mentions the lack of need for his colleague to be anonymous certainly implies that he thinks he should remain anonymous to have lunch at Cotogna. Implying that people at Cotogna thought he was just some guy who happened to be tagging along with the NY critic for a special meal and no one knew who he was strains credulity far past the breaking point!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                bbulkow Dec 7, 2012 05:06 PM

                                If no one has seen him in disguise, then no one can comment on how good it is. In all cases here, it sounds like he was recognized in non-disguise.

                                The internet works two ways: if the disguise isn't working, M will probably learn about it through board postings ("hey, look at this scromulous wig!" posting).

                                1. re: bbulkow
                                  Ruth Lafler Dec 7, 2012 05:14 PM

                                  As far as I know, Bauer doesn't use disguises -- the number of people who have recognized him when he was dining out for the purposes of review would seem to confirm that.

                                  "Anonymous" is not the same as "disguised" -- it simply means the reservation isn't made in his name or paid for with his credit card.

                                  Even then, the names and faces of his regular dining companions are also well-known. And besides, it's kind of silly to say you're reviewing anonymously so as not to get special treatment when you're dining with someone else (e.g. Marion Cunningham, until she passed away recently) who is well-known in the restaurant community and would get special treatment in her own right.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                    Robert Lauriston Dec 8, 2012 10:18 AM

                                    When Bauer came to my restaurant, he reserved under the name of Lee Klein, the Miami New Times reviewer he beat the previous month in the Association of Food Journalist awards.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                      bbulkow Dec 9, 2012 07:41 PM

                                      Got it. That's lame. He shouldn't claim any form of anonymity.

                                2. Scott M Dec 7, 2012 01:50 PM

                                  Bottom line in San Francisco Michael Bauer is about as anonymous as Willie Brown.

                                  1. w
                                    waldrons Dec 8, 2012 12:16 AM

                                    I read a book a few years ago about restaurant critics (who all have the same problem). In it, they say that they don't just look at the service at their own table, but watch what's happening at tables around the restaurant.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: waldrons
                                      nocharge Dec 8, 2012 01:13 AM

                                      Of course they do. Every single time Bauer writes about the issue of being recognized, he brings up how he also watches surrounding tables. And every restaurant manager with more than a single digit IQ knows that and makes sure that the surrounding tables are well taken care of as well.

                                    2. c oliver Dec 9, 2012 08:20 PM

                                      I'm confused. Are y'all saying that if he reviews a place with good food, service, etc. but he's not recognized and given special treatment, then he'll trash the place?

                                      45 Replies
                                      1. re: c oliver
                                        Robert Lauriston Dec 10, 2012 08:40 AM

                                        No, I don't think he expects to be recognized. He's just deluded or dishonest in claiming that he makes every attempt to remain anonymous.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          Ruth Lafler Dec 10, 2012 08:50 AM

                                          From the example we've been talking about: showing up at Cotogna for a special meal with a famous NY critic, I'd have to go with "delusional."

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                            Fine Dec 11, 2012 07:06 PM

                                            Twice in the past few weeks the Chron's society pages have noted his presence at parties, along with his partner who was mentioned by name. I don't recall ever seeing that before. Surely every guest doesn't sign an oath promising not to ID either of them the next time he or she is in the same restaurant as Bauer and partner!

                                            When I read those items, I took it that Bauer had abandoned anonymity altogether.

                                            1. re: Fine
                                              c oliver Dec 11, 2012 07:17 PM

                                              If reported in the Chron, then I assume THEY don't have a problem with it.

                                              1. re: c oliver
                                                Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 08:35 PM

                                                The Chron's not a monolithic "they." Different departments have different editorial policies, and last I heard they had around 800 employees.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            c oliver Dec 10, 2012 02:18 PM

                                            I remain confused. Sorry. Does his being recognized effect the review he writes? Do you find that you seriously disagree with his reviews on a regular basis and you think the reason is his special treatment?

                                            1. re: c oliver
                                              Robert Lauriston Dec 10, 2012 02:23 PM

                                              Yes, I believe Bauer frequently overrates inconsistent restaurants due to special treatment. I posted about two of the more egregious examples above, La Suite and Tres Agaves.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                c oliver Dec 10, 2012 02:41 PM

                                                Okay. Thanks.

                                              2. re: c oliver
                                                Ruth Lafler Dec 10, 2012 04:25 PM

                                                Remember Ruth Reichel writing about how her experience at a restaurant could be completely different based on how she was disguised? I want to know what kind of experience I'm likely to have, not the one Bauer is likely to have!

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                  plaidbowtie Dec 10, 2012 04:39 PM

                                                  I would say your best bet for that is to go to the restaurant yourself.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                    nocharge Dec 10, 2012 11:30 PM

                                                    You might be asking for the impossible. I think it might be helpful to read Bauer's reviews as what a "super VIP" might experience as opposed to an "average customer". The exception would be the few hapless restaurants where he isn't recognized and where he is indeed reviewing an "average customer" experience -- from the perspective of someone who is used to the "super VIP" experience.

                                                    But, in general, what is the likelihood of a longtime influential reviewer not being recognized? (Bauer has been with the Chronicle for over 25 years.)

                                                    Maybe the idea that any influential reviewer's review of a restaurant represents the "average customer" experience is a charade that deserves to be abandoned. In that respect, Bauer would actually be doing the world a favor by being less anonymous. But then he should make his presence known upon entering every restaurant so not to punish the ones that would be at a disadvantage by not recognizing him and therefore providing him with just the "average customer" experience. And, of course, given how widely recognized he is, blurbs like "every attempt to remain anonymous" are misleading to the very consumers his restaurant reviews are supposed to guide.

                                                    1. re: nocharge
                                                      Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 08:55 AM

                                                      The increasing likelihood of a reviewer being recognized is one reason few publications let people stay on that beat for 25 years.

                                                      1. re: nocharge
                                                        Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 11:17 AM

                                                        Exactly. The solution is to just admit upfront that the restaurant saw you coming and that might have influenced the reviewer's experience.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                          bbulkow Dec 11, 2012 03:38 PM

                                                          Sorry, Ruth, I agree with RL's unstated remark. The obvious solution is to change out your reviewers more often. Move Bauer to "emeritus" and rely heavily on one or two "cubs" until one proves themselves. Recruit from the farm teams of free newspapers, like J Gold's relationship with LA times.

                                                          1. re: bbulkow
                                                            calumin Dec 11, 2012 03:44 PM

                                                            The only way a publisher would change out a reviewer in this context is if he doesn't help readership.

                                                            A lot of foodies don't really like him, but he has attracted a broad following and I don't think anyone is going to rotate him out anytime soon.

                                                            The question of Michael Bauer's relative anonymity isn't relevant unless it directly ties to readership.

                                                            1. re: calumin
                                                              bbulkow Dec 16, 2012 02:26 PM

                                                              Other newspapers manage getting the public through transitions from a well known but perhaps under performing reviewer. As RL points out, it's common to move reviewers along more promptly than the Chron does, which is usually is of long-term benefit to the paper's credibility and readership. Doing it at the right time, the right way, not too fast, not to slow, is why the editors "get the big bucks" - or drive leading papers into obscurity.

                                                            2. re: bbulkow
                                                              chezwhitey Mar 26, 2013 02:22 PM

                                                              J gold already had a Pulitzer when he joined the times so it wasn't really mining the farm team talent. He had an interesting discussion about anonymity as a food writer when the s Irene virbila incident happened but to paraphrase he basically said most restaurants already know who is who so in the end trying to guard ones anonymity is pretty pointless.

                                                              1. re: chezwhitey
                                                                Robert Lauriston Mar 26, 2013 03:00 PM

                                                                Jonathan Gold started at the LA Weekly, moved to the LA Times, moved to NY to work for Gourmet, moved back to LA and returned to the Weekly, got the Pulitzer, and went back to the LA Times.

                                                              2. re: bbulkow
                                                                Robert Lauriston Mar 26, 2013 02:59 PM

                                                                When Bauer at the Chron he encouraged the two far superior critics they had (Stan Sesser and Patty Unterman) to leave so that he write both the Thursday and Sunday reviews.

                                                                These days they may not have the budget to hire anyone.

                                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                            PeterL Mar 24, 2013 08:05 PM

                                                            Reichl also wrote that before she got to NYC, someone told her every restaurant there already had her photo posted in their kitchens.

                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                          plaidbowtie Dec 10, 2012 03:22 PM

                                                          Out of curiosity, for those many restaurants that he visits where it is just him and his boyfriend, or other staffer, what additional steps would be suggested to retain anonymity? Disguises? Funny accents?

                                                          1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                            Robert Lauriston Dec 10, 2012 03:26 PM

                                                            At this point, it seems impossible.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                              plaidbowtie Dec 10, 2012 03:29 PM

                                                              So the delusion is on whom, then? Short of showing up to a restaurant in drag, or something else silly like that, there's only so much he can do to remain anonymous. Whether or not that's enough is never addressed by the paper.

                                                              1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                Robert Lauriston Dec 10, 2012 04:40 PM

                                                                Bauer claims he "makes every attempt to remain anonymous," and then does things that are wildly incompatible with that policy, such as going to industry benefits.

                                                                If he weren't the boss of his own department, he'd probably be taken off that beat.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                  c oliver Dec 10, 2012 04:53 PM

                                                                  He DOES have a boss, however. Has anyone tried reporting him for this behavior?

                                                                  1. re: c oliver
                                                                    Robert Lauriston Dec 10, 2012 05:32 PM

                                                                    Who knows who his boss is? Ward Bushee?

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                      c oliver Dec 10, 2012 06:27 PM

                                                                      Sounds right to me. I believe when I'm upset about something as much as you are, I go straight to the top.


                                                            2. re: plaidbowtie
                                                              sundeck sue Dec 10, 2012 04:20 PM

                                                              I'm more empathic with the bind critics find themselves in, given a genuine wish to get the real deal, as opposed to special treatment, when they dine, and the difficulty being anonymous in 2012. Pete Wells' recent comments in a NYT Q&A speak to this point:

                                                              "Q. Do you actually wear a disguise when you go into a restaurant for review?

                                                              A. As they say in debates, I'm glad you asked that question. There's probably no part of my job that has captured the popular imagination more than disguises. For some reason, people seem to want me to spend a lot of time in wig shops. But the sad truth is, I can't rock a wig like Dolly Parton. I've looked into it, and quickly discovered that hairpieces that are even remotely convincing cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Sure, I could amble down to the Fulton Mall and pick up a cheap rug, but they tend to look as if they were pulled off the back of a diseased raccoon. Anybody can spot one of those from across the street. The whole point of a disguise is to make you inconspicuous.

                                                              I do fool around with my appearance in less dramatic ways sometimes. I won't get into any specifics of tradecraft, but I will say that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. No matter what I do to my face, it's still my face, unfortunately. And I've seen my picture hanging on kitchen walls (don't ask me how I got into the kitchens), so restaurants know who to look for. If they're looking for me, they'll almost always spot me -- not necessarily on the first visit, but often enough by the time I've been in for three meals.

                                                              I wish I could eat all my meals in anonymity. But many of the restaurants I review put more time and energy into spotting me than I could ever put into going unspotted."

                                                              1. re: sundeck sue
                                                                calumin Dec 10, 2012 08:48 PM

                                                                I agree with you. Of all the things to criticize Michael Bauer about, the fact that some people recognize him is low on the list.

                                                                1. re: calumin
                                                                  c oliver Dec 10, 2012 08:55 PM

                                                                  Sorry there's no "like" here cause that's how I feel.

                                                                  1. re: calumin
                                                                    sundeck sue Dec 10, 2012 10:21 PM

                                                                    I actually don't agree with the criticisms of Bauer in this link, including and beyond the business of anonymity.

                                                                    I think the role of critic is tough; and people are going to disagree about restaurants on a whole lot of levels for a whole host of reasons. Bauer's take on the food world doesn't always map onto mine. But as I say above, I'm not sure it's fair to nail him for the anonymity issue. And I think that differences of opinion and approach to the Bay Area food scene are what make reading the Chronicle Food Section--and Chowhound--interesting.

                                                                    1. re: sundeck sue
                                                                      Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 09:00 AM

                                                                      I'm complaining about Bauer making false claims. It's fair to nail him for claiming to "make every attempt to remain anonymous" when he takes part in industry events. At SF Chefs, he did a live interview on stage, announced in advance. So what if he did the interview behind a screen? He hung around before and after, and got photographed.


                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                        Spatlese Dec 11, 2012 11:01 AM

                                                                        Until SF gets a viable competitor to the Chron in terms of reader #'s (print or online), I can't imagine much changing here. Many of the other professional food reviewers in the area (Sens, Hirsch, etc) may have their respective followings, but I doubt that combined those #'s approach those that read Bauer's prattle. He's got no competition and his pronouncements still, I imagine, carry a lot of weight in the local restaurant-going community. Why should he expend any extra energy being anonymous?

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                          sundeck sue Dec 11, 2012 11:08 AM

                                                                          I guess I'd want to hear more about how Bauer thinks of all this and how the standards of restaurant critics have been evolving, given the impossibility of being anonymous in the internet era.

                                                                          Pete Wells seems to be saying that he makes some effort to be anonymous, but he doesn't make a big effort. I could imagine that Bauer would say the same--that is, that given the impossibility of being anonymous, he goes some distance to that end but is realistic about the limits.

                                                                          I realize you could read "make every effort" in a literal way--never do anything counter to that, so stay away from any industry event. But it's a phrase that can also be read as just promising less than some ideal of anonymity.

                                                                          I'm not sure why I'm so intent re holding up the other side of this conversation.

                                                                          Partly the tone. I understand that any restaurant critic--really any critic--inevitably steps on toes. But the pitch or intensity of some of the anti-Bauer comments is what feels unfair, given the real pickle in which every restaurant critic finds himself/herself these days.

                                                                          And to say someone shouldn't stay in a job for a long time rankles this graying writer! Hiring a newbie won't solve the anonymity problem: a critic who's been on the job for one minute in 2012 will have his/her photo up in restaurant kitchens. And experience is arguably worth something. That's not to say that there aren't cases where a new or different perspective isn't a good thing. But just because someone's been at a job for a long time doesn't mean he or she hasn't grown and changed and stayed fresh.

                                                                          1. re: sundeck sue
                                                                            Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 11:24 AM

                                                                            How could you read "make every attempt to remain anonymous" in such a way as to allow Bauer to make an announced public appearance at an event like SF Chefs and then hang around before and after, virtually inviting bloggers and paparazzi to photograph him?

                                                                            Or to blog about and post photos of what he ate where on an almost daily basis, so that chefs and owners at places where he had previously dined anonymously will know he was there and Google to find his photo so they can give him special treatment on his next visit?

                                                                            Or to re-review restaurants where he knows he's known instead of sending one of the Chron's several other lower-profile reviewers?

                                                                            Or to accept an invitation to a society event at a restaurant under his own name? http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/a...

                                                                            1. re: sundeck sue
                                                                              bluex Dec 11, 2012 12:08 PM

                                                                              I don't think it's unfair to expect that a critic who does not make any attempt to remain anonymous, will not have the statement "reviewers make every attempt to remain anonymous" included with every single review. It is misleading to readers who are not aware that he is very well known in the local restaurant industry and who might believe that they can reasonably expect to receive the same treatment from a reviewed restaurant that he does.

                                                                              (And I think that's really the only point people are trying to make.)

                                                                              1. re: bluex
                                                                                Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 12:25 PM

                                                                                Yup. That would be the point we're trying to make. A fairer statement would be "Visits for the purposes of reviewing are unannounced; however, reviewer may be known to the restaurant."

                                                                                1. re: bluex
                                                                                  calumin Dec 11, 2012 12:43 PM

                                                                                  A double-agent's definition of "every attempt to remain anonymous" is different than a food reviewer's definition.

                                                                                  Seriously, the line isn't really that fine. Any restaurant that focuses on this will know who he is anyway. He should be allowed to have a life.

                                                                                  1. re: calumin
                                                                                    Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 12:46 PM

                                                                                    We aren't saying he shouldn't have a life, we're saying that he needs to make a choice between having a life and being anonymous, and not claim to be the latter while actively seeking out the former. It's the falsity of the disclaimer that's at issue.

                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                      Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 12:49 PM

                                                                                      Bauer has already made the choice, he just needs to stop kidding himself and/or lying about it.

                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                        calumin Dec 11, 2012 12:52 PM

                                                                                        Well I think some people are saying that it's a problem that restaurants can tailor their food and service for him if they know who he is. Some people are saying that he needs to be more anonymous.

                                                                                        If it really is about the disclaimer, then I think we'll end up having a Clintonian discussion about the meaning of the word "every."

                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                          c oliver Dec 11, 2012 02:37 PM

                                                                                          Maybe the fault lies with the Chronicle. All they need to do is remove that one line, right? Easy peasy.

                                                                                          1. re: c oliver
                                                                                            Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 02:39 PM

                                                                                            Right. See the alternate line I suggested above.

                                                                                    2. re: sundeck sue
                                                                                      dunstable Dec 11, 2012 01:00 PM

                                                                                      I think what makes it worse is that his claim of anonymity is not only plainly false, but dishonest on his part. He knows as well as we do that he is not anonymous, and should not claim that he is (and that is the difference between Wells and Bauer; at least Wells admits he is not anonymous). The fact that Bauer attends media events just makes his claim more absurd. Does he attend THOSE in wigs?

                                                                                      1. re: dunstable
                                                                                        Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 01:02 PM

                                                                                        It's hard to tell if that's his real hair or a wig.

                                                                      2. Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 12:37 PM

                                                                        Not only did Bauer go to that lunch at Prospect last Friday under his own name, he documented that by taking a photo of his place card:


                                                                        9 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                          plaidbowtie Dec 11, 2012 03:10 PM

                                                                          I'd imagine the Chron knows all about what Michael does that is food related in SF, it would then go to follow that it's continuation implies approval from them. Your issue is with the paper, not the critic.

                                                                          1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                            Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 03:21 PM

                                                                            To my knowledge, the Chron's other restaurant critics follow the stated rules.

                                                                            Bauer is in charge of the food and wine department, which has its own building. I believe there's only one editorial staffer with a position higher than Bauer's, who may not have the power to rein Bauer in. Above that, it's all publishers, and they usually care only about ad revenues, virtually never about the finer points of professional ethics.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                              plaidbowtie Dec 11, 2012 03:26 PM

                                                                              So again, I would say your issue is with the paper, who is aware of, and condones what he does. I

                                                                              1. re: plaidbowtie
                                                                                Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 03:55 PM

                                                                                No, my issue is his own personal lack of ethics; if he had any, he wouldn't need to be "reined in."

                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Dec 11, 2012 04:37 PM

                                                                                  Lack of ethics or ample capability for self-delusion. I'm inclined to think he's sincere.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                    Ruth Lafler Dec 11, 2012 05:06 PM

                                                                                    Could be -- self-delusion is a disease of the 21st century, where it's too easy to find like-minded people and only listen to people who agree with you.

                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                      PolarBear Dec 11, 2012 05:13 PM

                                                                                      as someone said, truer words were never spoken

                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                            GH1618 Dec 12, 2012 07:33 AM

                                                                            Are you saying that "Bauer" is his own name? I thought restaurant reviewers used pseudonyms.

                                                                            1. re: GH1618
                                                                              Robert Lauriston Dec 12, 2012 08:41 AM

                                                                              Some reviewers use pseudonyms, e.g. the late Naomi Wise, but most, like Bauer, publish under their own names. They virtually all use pseudonyms for reservations and credit cards.

                                                                          3. cosmogrrl Dec 16, 2012 01:35 AM

                                                                            I once ate at a restaurant when Bauer was there to review it. The whole place seemed electric, bus boys and waiters buzzing, some with look of fear in their eyes.

                                                                            Our service was not disrupted much, but the servers seemed nervous. I did ask the waiter what was going on (I wasn't aware that Bauer was there), and he told me that Bauer was there to review. I was happy when he left because the atmosphere became a lot less tense. Service was still good, you just felt the whole room take a deep breath and relax. And no, I couldn't see him from where I was sitting.

                                                                            1. Robert Lauriston Mar 24, 2013 09:46 AM

                                                                              I wonder how much Bauer's influence will diminish now that the the Chronicle's charging $144 a year for online access?

                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                PeterL Mar 24, 2013 08:00 PM

                                                                                Regular SFGate is still free.

                                                                                1. re: PeterL
                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Mar 25, 2013 08:57 AM

                                                                                  They're not updating that with Chron stories any more:


                                                                                  The only free content is the blogs.


                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                    calumin Mar 25, 2013 09:02 AM

                                                                                    Those people must not be very bright. How could they possibly succeed with a strategy to spend years building up audience at one site, then to cut it off and try to mass-migrate everyone to a totally different (and likely inferior) site?

                                                                                    Why didn't they just do what the NY Times does and upsell users on a single site?

                                                                                    I bet in a couple months they will change their mind once they see that they're losing readers across the board.

                                                                                    1. re: calumin
                                                                                      Glencora Mar 25, 2013 09:05 AM

                                                                                      They're trying to get people to go to print. Haven't you noticed that they've been throwing a free mini-paper on the weekends to non-customers? Maybe not bright, but that's the plan.

                                                                                      1. re: calumin
                                                                                        Robert Lauriston Mar 25, 2013 10:49 AM

                                                                                        The Chron's imitating the NY Times, which charges for the online edition of the print edition but also has lots of free blogs.

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                          wally Mar 25, 2013 11:38 AM

                                                                                          And if you subscribe to the print, you get the online version as well.

                                                                                          1. re: wally
                                                                                            smatbrat Mar 25, 2013 12:01 PM


                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                            Spatlese Mar 25, 2013 12:59 PM

                                                                                            Shame that the Chron has perhaps 1/100 the quality of the NYT - I subscribe to the Times, but as for the Chron, they're collectively high if they think I'm shelling out bucks to read that drivel.

                                                                                            1. re: Spatlese
                                                                                              Glencora Mar 25, 2013 01:55 PM

                                                                                              If it's drivel, why read it for free?

                                                                                  2. d
                                                                                    DavidT Mar 24, 2013 07:32 PM

                                                                                    I get the feeling a certain chowhounder thinks he should be the Chron's head food & wine guy!

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: DavidT
                                                                                      Robert Lauriston Mar 25, 2013 09:04 AM

                                                                                      Me? No way. I don't like being a manager, let alone the big boss.

                                                                                      My impression is that Bauer's good at that part of his job.

                                                                                    2. bbulkow Apr 9, 2013 10:32 AM

                                                                                      To throw a little fuel on the fire, today's review of Saison


                                                                                      Reading the section about "accommodating", I had trouble thinking anything other than "you poor, poor guy". He had to wait until the rest of his party arrived (true in quite a few restaurants). He had to consider parking his car --- would have have expected bicycle parking?

                                                                                      I almost get the feeling that he got a true diner's experience (instead of head reviewer's experience) for once, and he didn't like it.

                                                                                      I'm not saying he's not being unfair. He's holding Saison up to the standard of "most expensive restaurant in the bay area", and expects a high level of creature comforts. A reasonable position.

                                                                                      The section about the minimalist menu: I consider that simply wrong, from a reviewer perspective. The point of that style is to push the eater into a curious and thoughtful position: what's coming next? And Bauer doesn't like that. ("poor, poor guy"). How you experience the meal is directly related to the expectations the menu sets up, and from Saison 2.0 I thought it worked. Dishes were always well announced.

                                                                                      Bauer says the kitchen modified the menu for a non-meat eater, but says "that's not a big deal", which I think ungracious. Some restaurants modify tasting menus poorly, and I would have preferred a deep discussion of whether the modifications "worked".

                                                                                      But given the discussion here --- is it just me, or is the "atmosphere" part of the review peevish?

                                                                                      58 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                        Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2013 10:52 AM

                                                                                        I agree that what would be more useful would be a discussion of whether the vegetarian menu was comparable in terms of quality and sophistication with the regular menu.

                                                                                        As for the menu -- one perfectly legitimate reason to want to see the whole menu at the beginning is to help you make decisions about your wine choices.

                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                          Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 11:05 AM

                                                                                          Saison doesn't have a vegetarian menu.

                                                                                          As Bauer notes, while the menu's vague about food, it's specific about which wines are paired with each course, and the co-owner who bought them is there to give you advice if you don't want the full pairing.

                                                                                          The menu doesn't change that much from day to day, so if you look at a report from some obsessive food blogger who was there recently, you'll have a good idea what to expect.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                            Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2013 11:41 AM

                                                                                            Actually, it doesn't have a menu at all in the conventional sense -- just a vague listing of what you will be served. When it provided a vegetarian meal for one of the diners that's as much a "menu" as what the other diners got.

                                                                                            If the "menu" doesn't change that much, that's even more reason to print it up. Not having a menu is an affectation in these days of computers and printers.

                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                              Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 12:28 PM

                                                                                              At tasting-menu places, it's more common than not these days for the printed menu to give you only the vaguest clue what you'll get. Saison's is far from the least informative:




                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2013 05:15 PM

                                                                                                The fact that it's common doesn't make it any less affected.

                                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 05:48 PM

                                                                                                  It's just the menu. Who cares? For me, with a meal like that, it's more of a memory aid anyway. I'm not making any decisions or plans. If I wasn't in the mood to go wherever the chef wanted to take me, I wouldn't go to that kind of restaurant.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                    Ruth Lafler Apr 9, 2013 08:18 PM

                                                                                                    You don't care. That doesn't mean other people don't care.

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                      Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 08:55 PM

                                                                                                      People who don't like that kind of menu shouldn't eat at the 0.005% of restaurants that have them. Unless they like to spend lots of money to have experiences they can complain about.

                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                        bbulkow Apr 9, 2013 11:13 PM

                                                                                                        If there was exactly one restaurant in san francisco, it should have a menu.

                                                                                                        Saison isn't the only restaurant in san francsico.

                                                                                                        Let them eat foccaccia.

                                                                                                        1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 12, 2013 04:21 PM

                                                                                                          I suppose. It just seems silly to me to annoy customers (or potential customers) for no reason except ... what reason is that, again? Anyway, the more I read about Saison, the more I feel that next time I do spend that kind of money on a meal, it will be elsewhere. I don't buy Apple products, either, because I don't want Steve Jobs (or his followers) dictating *my* user experience (and charging me a premium price for the privilege).

                                                                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                      vulber Apr 9, 2013 11:27 PM

                                                                                                      but when manresa gets 4 stars all around and saison doesn't, then it is an issue.

                                                                                                      1. re: vulber
                                                                                                        Ruth Lafler Apr 12, 2013 04:25 PM

                                                                                                        I'm not sure what comment of mine you're responding to. BTW, I don't mean to suggest that I think Bauer was right to knock Saison down for such trivial reasons. It's one thing to say "I personally don't care for this" and other thing to objectively say it's a serious flaw.

                                                                                                        1. re: vulber
                                                                                                          calumin Apr 12, 2013 06:13 PM

                                                                                                          vulber -- I wouldn't agree with that. on an "all around" basis i think there are a lot of people that would rate manresa higher.

                                                                                                          1. re: calumin
                                                                                                            Robert Lauriston Apr 12, 2013 07:13 PM

                                                                                                            I've been to both and find it ridiculous to try to rank restaurants that cook at that level.

                                                                                                            Though by my standards La Ciccia's better than either.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                              calumin Apr 12, 2013 08:17 PM

                                                                                                              The only other thing I'd say about Saison is that the last time I was there I had pretty much an identical experience to Michael Bauer's. Meaning that I thought the food was really well done, extremely high level. But the hostess was absolutely horrid -- without going into details, I couldn't believe the rules that she absolutely stuck to. It was as if they wanted to create rules for rules' sake, even if they were illogical and with no consideration at all for what customers are thinking.

                                                                                                              To have Michael Bauer say essentially the same thing made me think that it wasn't just the service, it was that the service was based what the owners wanted.

                                                                                                              The other interesting thing ss that I did see Josh Skenes during the dinner that night and brought up the things that happened. He didn't make any apology for the service -- but as accommodation he did open up a great vintage bottle of wine and gave us pours -- that was actually the highlight of the evening. So I've come to the conclusion that this is his style -- all about the food, unpredictable service (possibly great, possibly terrible). Which was not that different from what Michael Bauer wrote.

                                                                                                              1. re: calumin
                                                                                                                nocharge Apr 12, 2013 08:49 PM

                                                                                                                I can agree with Bauer that the restaurant is not particularly accommodating and one could argue that the chef has some soup-naziesque tendencies (which some high-end chefs have), but two stars for service is misleading. I found the service highly polished, professional and in line with the level of the food. That was in stark contrast to the level I experienced in their Mission location a long time ago, which was characterized by well-meaning cluelessness, but still rated three stars by Bauer.

                                                                                                                And the space is nice, no way the ambience is just two stars.

                                                                                                                1. re: calumin
                                                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Apr 13, 2013 10:11 AM

                                                                                                                  Diners often don't understand policies that make a lot of sense from the restaurant's point of view. Without details it's impossible to know if your criticism is valid.

                                                                                                2. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 10:53 AM

                                                                                                  Bauer has a constant problem with inconsistency.

                                                                                                  The way the ratings are set up, he should use standard criteria for food, service, atmosphere, prices, and noise, and factor any judgment about the place falling short of what he expects for the price into the overall rating.

                                                                                                  Instead, if he's disappointed, he'll downgrade any of the individual ratings subjectively. I don't think his niggling about valet parking or a missing cannelé comes close to justifying two stars for atmosphere or service given what those ratings usually mean.

                                                                                                  Years ago he denied Masa's (in its Ron Siegel era) four stars because, as far as you could tell from the review, some other customers were "content to wear wrinkled Dockers" and looked "as if they came from a $50-a- night hotel," and to get to the bathroom you had to go through the "frayed" hotel lobby.

                                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                    nocharge Apr 9, 2013 07:49 PM

                                                                                                    Whether you like the ambience is obviously very subjective, but I certainly like the Saison space far better than the Bourbon Steak space in the St. Francis that Bauer thinks is worthy of four stars. Two stars for Saison is ridiculous.

                                                                                                    This review is just one of those spoiled-child-throwing-a-tantrum reviews that Bauer will generate once in a while when not getting seated according to his preferences. Happened before to Bar Crudo and Ozumo.

                                                                                                    1. re: nocharge
                                                                                                      Robert Lauriston Apr 9, 2013 08:59 PM

                                                                                                      Bauer gave Ozumo three stars for atmosphere in the update where he dropped them from the top 100, though I guess he didn't have much choice since the space was unchanged.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                        nocharge Apr 9, 2013 09:28 PM

                                                                                                        I get the sense that when he and his seating preferences are not immediately recognized by the hostess, he gets offended and takes it out on something, whatever is the easiest target. Arguably, being treated as a normal customer gives him a lesser experience than when he is recognized, which is probably the treatment he is accustomed to. The problem with this is that he has a tendency to take it out on the hapless places where he isn't recognized rather than realizing that there may be an issue with his reviewing methodology. Kokkari is another example of the pitfalls of not recognizing Bauer.

                                                                                                    2. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                      hyperbowler Apr 10, 2013 06:58 AM

                                                                                                      Bauer lays into the "nasty" comments made on the Internetz. LOL :


                                                                                                      For purely nomenclature reasons, I don't understand why some of the tasting menu places listed above present lists of ingredients as the "menu." Why not call it a "list of ingredients" or a "black box," a term used in culinary schools and on reality TV.

                                                                                                      1. re: hyperbowler
                                                                                                        dunstable Apr 10, 2013 08:35 AM

                                                                                                        Ha! But I do agree with him here almost completely -- why are they even reading a review for Saison, if they are already so philosophically opposed to it? Is there perhaps not something on the entire Internet they might actually enjoy? Are their lives that boring?

                                                                                                        This isn't restricted to the Bay, or even the Internet. Probably nearly everyone on this board has been dismissed as a snob at some point for expressing fondness for high-end food or wine, especially when the cost of entry is relatively low compared to other interests (e.g., sports cars, fashion, sporting events). I don't need to rehash it, but it does seem unfair that I probably don't spend half as much money on expensive meals per month as the average twentysomething does on alcohol and marijuana, yet somehow I get called a sybarite. I'm 99% too, you know.

                                                                                                        1. re: hyperbowler
                                                                                                          Robert Lauriston Apr 10, 2013 08:40 AM

                                                                                                          He was talking about comments on his own blog post. Somebody often moderates the worst of the comments on Inside Scoop. For unfiltered Internet sludge, try Eater.

                                                                                                        2. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                          Robert Lauriston Apr 13, 2013 10:22 AM

                                                                                                          What were Bauer's complaints, exactly?

                                                                                                          1. They wouldn't seat his party until everyone arrived. Standard practice at many restaurants.

                                                                                                          2. They didn't seat his party immediately when they were late. Ditto.

                                                                                                          3. They don't offer valet parking. There are a couple of parking garages in the same block.

                                                                                                          4. There are no substitutions and you don't know in advance what you might be served. This is just the nature of the restaurant. That's what Skenes wants to do, if you aren't into it, don't go there.

                                                                                                          5. Somebody screwed up and a cannelé was missing from their to-go box. Legitimate complaint.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                            dunstable Apr 13, 2013 02:24 PM

                                                                                                            #3 is a little tacky for a restaurant at that price level. Especially if the meal is a special occasion and my party is dressed to kill, I don't want to have to walk over from a parking garage. I know it's not cheap to hire a valet service (it can cost the restaurant over $1000 a month), but people expect certain services when they spend a certain amount.

                                                                                                            1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                              nocharge Apr 13, 2013 02:48 PM

                                                                                                              Totally agree. A lack of valet parking is a negative for any upscale restaurant and Saison's price point certainly reveals an ambition to be upscale. And finding street parking during a Giants home game can be challenging. But, speaking of missing features, at least they have a full bar now, which they didn't before.

                                                                                                              1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                                Robert Lauriston Apr 14, 2013 10:01 AM

                                                                                                                I think valet parking is gross and creepy. Making some poor guy sit around all evening just to park and retrieve rich people's cars? Ugh. If it keeps out people who think it's beneath them to park their own car and walk a block, so much the better.

                                                                                                                Valet parker would be a particularly horrible job at Saison since the place is so tiny. They have 18 seats so nine parties plus maybe a few turns if they have 6pm and 10pm reservations so we're talking about maybe a dozen cars. No responsible person who orders the wine pairing is going to drive anyway. So you've got some poor guy sitting on the sidewalk all night for zero to five cars.

                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                  dunstable Apr 14, 2013 02:43 PM

                                                                                                                  Dude, seriously? We are already talking about one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. It beggars belief that you can defend a $500 meal while simultaneously lobbing accusations of elitism towards those who lament the absence of a service that is readily available at many far less expensive restaurants.

                                                                                                                  At least for me, a place like that is a special occasion meal, for which I would prefer higher levels of service. Would you similarly advise a wedding party to find their own parking spaces and walk over, scuffing everyone's finest footwear along the way? I'm not saying that all meals at Saison have that level of importance, but neither is valet parking such a grand extravagance. If they can offer it at Cha Cha Cha, they can offer it at Saison. Sure, it's not cheap, but that's not the diner's problem.

                                                                                                                  You can also spare your pity for the valet; I've been a valet in my lifetime, and it's a pretty chill gig for a college kid. It's actually less fun when you're working some private function (which usually involves all the cars arriving and leaving at about the same time), because then you are running around to retrieve cars, like literally running and panting for breath, for large portions of the night. A restaurant job is far more relaxed, and you still get paid -- and often fed, to say nothing of getting to drive exotic cars that I'll probably never set foot in again in my life. Valeting in the rain admittedly sucks, but that's true of all outdoor jobs.

                                                                                                                  1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                                    Robert Lauriston Apr 15, 2013 08:01 AM

                                                                                                                    Fancy weddings and the overbearing aspects of stereotypical Michelin restaurants are similar in that they're both about aping the conspicuous consumption of 19th century British rich people, the Victorian era for weddings and the Edwardian for Michelin.

                                                                                                                    If you're going to a >20-course meal with a wine paired with every course, leave the car at home and wear sensible shoes. Save the 19th century dress-up and play-acting for the Dickens Fair or the Edwardian Ball.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                      dunstable Apr 15, 2013 08:55 AM

                                                                                                                      Your personal philosophy regarding etiquette notwithstanding, the fact remains that valet parking is a very common service provided by many restaurants, and its absence will be a demerit for many diners. The fact that you have no use for it is irrelevant, and Bauer is justified in his criticism. Similarly, loud noise doesn't bother me in restaurants, but I understand why Bauer comments on it.

                                                                                                                      1. re: dunstable
                                                                                                                        Robert Lauriston Apr 15, 2013 09:08 AM

                                                                                                                        When I am paying top dollar for a restaurant meal, I expect them to kiss my ass in exactly the same ways that every other very expensive restaurant has. If they have the gall to withhold some of the services I'm used to, why, that casts a pall on the whole evening. The nerve of them, forcing me to ruin my special fine-dining shoes by bringing the soles into contact with a public sidewalk.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                          GH1618 Apr 15, 2013 12:07 PM

                                                                                                                          Is this self-parody, or are you serious?

                                                                                                                          1. re: GH1618
                                                                                                                            Melanie Wong Apr 16, 2013 01:50 PM

                                                                                                                            You might enjoy this emailed comment I rec'd yesterday from a shy 'hound:

                                                                                                                            “I don’t care whether there’s valet parking or not. All that matters to me is that the people bickering with each other in that thread are not eating at Saison when I’m there.”

                                                                                                                            1. re: GH1618
                                                                                                                              ML8000 Apr 16, 2013 02:47 PM

                                                                                                                              Actually I think he's on to something. The next big thing in SF dining will be the "CATC" (crap at the curb). 3-star Michelin chefs will create outstanding dishes but will only serve curb-side, while you lay in the gutter. They'll use giant gruel ladles and fling the stuff at/on you. $450 p/per, 12 course curbside. The big thing is, sometimes you will be served actual crap. Hipsters love the irony. The Chefs love the revenge. Everyone wins!

                                                                                                                              1. re: ML8000
                                                                                                                                bbulkow Apr 16, 2013 06:57 PM

                                                                                                                                They call that a food truck. Last time I was at a food truck event with my GF, she spent over 45 minutes waiting for a dish that was inedible.

                                                                                                                                Chairs, available at many lower priced restaurants, were not available for waiting during the 45 minutes. Some people consider chairs an amenity familiar with hospitality, but more broad minded individuals suggest that chairs can be considered optional, if the food is good enough.

                                                                                                                                1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                                                  ML8000 Apr 16, 2013 07:51 PM


                                                                                                                                  I never warmed to the gourmet food trucks. They certainly make sense in many applications, just never liked the mob scene and wait.

                                                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 15, 2013 12:44 PM

                                                                                                                          Well, obviously everyone should feel the same way you do. How dare people have different expectations!

                                                                                                                          You're actually doing the same thing Bauer did: declaring that what you want from the experience at Saison should be what everyone wants from the experience. He thinks the customers needs and expectations should be taken into consideration, you think the restaurant should have absolute control over "orchestrating" the experience. Same attitude, just from different sides of the spectrum. Maybe you should consider that neither one of you represents the typical diner, who is (a) not a professional reviewer, and (b) doesn't eat out several times a week.

                                                                                                                          I, for one, when I save my pennies for a once-in-a-decade meal, would like the whole experience to be special. Furthermore, when I'm paying 20 percent of a huge bill for service, I expect more and better service than I do from "standard" restaurant.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                            Robert Lauriston Apr 15, 2013 01:08 PM

                                                                                                                            Saison provides a unique experience that, to me, was much more pleasant than the typical stuffy Michelin tasting menu endurance test. They can't do that and also please everyone. People who want a different experience should go somewhere else.

                                                                                                                            I'm certain the average diner at Saison is someone who eats out a lot. Few other people would even consider spending that much on one meal, and if they were making an exception for a special occasion they'd probably pick somewhere more conventional.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                              Ruth Lafler Apr 15, 2013 03:30 PM

                                                                                                                              Yes, well, as I've noted, I would go somewhere else. But I'm sure that the average diner who eats out a lot has expectations of basic amenities -- like valet parking -- typical of restaurants in that price range.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                ML8000 Apr 15, 2013 05:24 PM

                                                                                                                                If I'm going to drop close to $1,000 bucks for two (you know, wine, tip, tax) and the parking isn't easy (like in SOMA), yes I'd want valet parking or some kind of reasonable solution.

                                                                                                                                I think the operative word here is: hospitality.

                                                                                                                                1. re: ML8000
                                                                                                                                  Robert Lauriston Apr 15, 2013 06:06 PM

                                                                                                                                  If you're spending $1,000 for two, you're getting the wine pairing. If you do that, and you should, you're going to want to take a cab home or the dinner could end up costing a lot more than $1K.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                    ML8000 Apr 15, 2013 06:16 PM

                                                                                                                                    You MISSED the point. If I'm dropping a lot of $$$, I expect some amenities/solutions. Nice dodge however.

                                                                                                                                    I mean why not have Saison relocated to a former McDonald's, if amenities don't matter.

                                                                                                                                    It's really not a difficult or foreign concept to understand, when people pay a lot for something, they expect service or product to be at that same level.

                                                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                            bbulkow Apr 16, 2013 07:08 PM

                                                                                                                            Having attended every edwardian ball, let me comment that the addition to Absinthe was initially a benefit, but turned sour. The recent balls have just had absinthe spritzed into drinks, where having a full fountain and the bizzare slotted spoon ritual was common just after absinthe went legal. As the entire point of the edwardian ball is dress up and great music, the play-acting ritual act was the best part --- now lost.

                                                                                                                        3. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                          pamf Apr 14, 2013 03:49 PM

                                                                                                                          Don't most SF restaurants contract with a valet service? So the cost and management of this is not really the restaurants problem.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                            nocharge Apr 14, 2013 04:07 PM

                                                                                                                            I never use valet parking since I live in a part of town where other means of transportation are usually preferable to driving your own car, but I still recognize valet parking as a positive restaurant feature along with the likes of
                                                                                                                            "takes reservations"
                                                                                                                            "good vegetarian options"
                                                                                                                            "full bar"
                                                                                                                            "wheelchair access"
                                                                                                                            I'd be more than happy to count a missing feature as a negative for an expensive restaurant even if it's a feature that I don't use myself. Missing features should be duly noted so that people can decide for themselves whether they are a concern.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                              sugartoof Sep 18, 2013 12:29 PM

                                                                                                                              Valet parking shouldn't be equated with rich people, it's about establishments making up for the lack of available parking at a comfortable distance. It also allows for greater accessibility to Seniors, and anyone with health concerns, or disabilities. You're talking about a place that aspires towards French Laundry levels, while slumming it in one of the last scuzzy pockets of the Mission, where parking isn't readily available and conducive to that experience. It's not a case of rich hedonists demanding more opulence.

                                                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                            calumin Apr 13, 2013 08:31 PM

                                                                                                                            These issues just don't come up at French Laundry or Manresa. These "standard practices" at many restaurants aren't standard at that level.

                                                                                                                            1. re: calumin
                                                                                                                              Ruth Lafler Apr 13, 2013 08:47 PM

                                                                                                                              Good point. The reasons restaurants don't seat incomplete parties don't really apply to a restaurant where all the tables are reserved and they only turn the tables once. The table has already been assigned and the time has been blocked out. Asking them to wait in the lounge because the kitchen prepares courses in batches made no sense at all to me -- what's the difference between waiting in the lounge and waiting at your table, except that when you start in the lounge, you then have to interrupt your conversation, your cocktail, gather your purse, coat, etc. to then move to your table.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                Robert Lauriston Apr 14, 2013 10:09 AM

                                                                                                                                A meal at Saison is a highly orchestrated affair. You sit down and the courses start coming in a carefully timed sequence.

                                                                                                                                I presume the rationale for not seating incomplete or late parties is that the cooks prepare dishes for more than one table at a time, so if you're not at the table when they start one cycle, they don't want you sitting there waiting for the next one.

                                                                                                                                I went as a party of one, but I guess I was early or the other two parties at the chef's counter were late, so they sat me by the outside fireplace with a glass of wine. That was very pleasant and only a troll looking for trouble would complain about it. Bauer thinks it's job to find fault. I go out to have a good time.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                  Ruth Lafler Apr 14, 2013 10:15 AM

                                                                                                                                  My point being, you have to wait somewhere, so why not at your table? In places where making people wait to be seated is standard, the rationale is that they don't want to tie up a table, when they could seat other parties and start serving, but at a restaurant like Saison, they're not going to be seating another party at your table. I'd rather be seated once than wait in a lounge and then have to be reseated. It's disruptive to my evening.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                    Robert Lauriston Apr 14, 2013 10:24 AM

                                                                                                                                    I presume they want you to have the experience as orchestrated.

                                                                                                                                    If you hate waiting, why not show the cooks the same courtesy and show up on time?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                      bbulkow Apr 14, 2013 12:00 PM

                                                                                                                                      Mr Bauer beleives, at that price point, that the experience should be about the guest (him). He is clear on this in the review.

                                                                                                                                      I believe to achieve food better than the 50,000 other chefs and cooks requires not just money, but also a different way of doing business - perhaps one that puts that chefs forward.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: bbulkow
                                                                                                                                        Robert Lauriston Apr 14, 2013 12:17 PM

                                                                                                                                        A lot of Michelin-starred places engage in class / status nonsense that has nothing to do with food, that's just about pandering to rich people's sense of entitlement. Saison choosing not to do that stuff is a big plus for me.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 14, 2013 02:59 PM

                                                                                                                                          We have different ideas about what constitutes class/status "nonsense" and "entitlement" -- in my view, if someone is paying for something, they *are* entitled to a certain measure of consideration. It's the restaurant that is acting entitled when it decides its right to "orchestrate" what it thinks your experience should be is more important than your actual feelings about the experience.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                        Ruth Lafler Apr 14, 2013 03:03 PM

                                                                                                                                        I didn't say I hated waiting, I very clearly said I hate being told to wait someplace and then having to pick-up and move to another place unnecessarily. It's awkward and disruptive. But if you choose to deliberately misunderstand me just so you can continue to argue your position and accuse me of discourtesy in the process, go right ahead.

                                                                                                                                        Maybe people are late because they expect expect a restaurant at this price point to offer valet parking and didn't leave time to find parking and walk to the restaurant.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                      calumin Apr 14, 2013 04:03 PM

                                                                                                                                      I think you're proving the point that Saison does what it wants to do, and asks customers to just accept that its policies make sense.

                                                                                                                                      They run the risk of having people like Michael Bauer and others think otherwise. When you're charging the highest prices in arguably the most expensive area of the country, this is what you get. They don't get to fallback to "standard policies" at that price level. The owners at French Laundry and Manresa don't seem to have this problem.

                                                                                                                                      I think this does come down to the philosophy of the restaurant. The owners focus on the food only, and say screw everything else. I have some respect for that.

                                                                                                                                      But when you're about to spend $800+ for a dinner for two, and before you've actually one bite of food, you've already decided that the people you're talking to are a bunch of jerks -- it can distract from the experience.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                  cosmogrrl Apr 27, 2013 01:03 AM

                                                                                                                                  Ok, my 2 pennies. They probably should have valet parking. But, if you are having the wine pairing effing take a cab home you dumb ass. Do NOT drive buzzed or drunk EVER. And, for some that could mean three drinks, for others, one. It's .08 in California, and I think the minimal fine is $10,000, or some thing like that.

                                                                                                                                  So, basically, nice night out? Having a drink and/or wine pairings? Cab it. Keep the rest of us, and you safe.

                                                                                                                                  The idea of "I'm fine to drive." rarely washes with me, you're buzzed and should not drive. It's just stupid.

                                                                                                                                  Sorry, but I had to rant, as I see way to many people driving after their "special occasions", and I've seen how much they've had to drink.

                                                                                                                              2. Robert Lauriston Apr 19, 2013 09:31 AM

                                                                                                                                In the unlikely event the staff at Hutong didn't spot Bauer, he was the guy feeding fried chicken livers to his dog at lunch.


                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                  Ruth Lafler Apr 19, 2013 10:31 AM

                                                                                                                                  Now I need to know: did he take his dog to French Laundry, or did he bring home truffled chicken in a doggie bag?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                    hyperbowler Apr 19, 2013 11:31 AM

                                                                                                                                    I'm guessing the latter. The internet seems to suggest otherwise, but I'd imagine it wouldn't be easy to get a dog into a jacket and tie.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: hyperbowler
                                                                                                                                      Ruth Lafler Apr 19, 2013 12:40 PM

                                                                                                                                      Any dog that eats truffled chicken undoubtedly has its own tuxedo.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                        lakemerritter Apr 19, 2013 01:03 PM

                                                                                                                                        TWO tuxedos, one white-on-black, one black-on-white. You never know which will be called for, after all. Sheba also rides in a special modified doggy carriage that simply MUST be valet parked at all times. (Paws need to be kept clean.)

                                                                                                                                        1. re: lakemerritter
                                                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 19, 2013 07:12 PM

                                                                                                                                          I wonder if restaurants have pictures of his dog as well.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                    smatbrat Apr 19, 2013 02:51 PM

                                                                                                                                    Its better then him putting dirty dishes on the floor

                                                                                                                                    Bauer is currently reviewing a restaurant next to the one I work at. I can tell you that EVERYONE in this place has his pictures, as we expect to see him for a cocktail(the place he is reviewing does not take reservations) while he waits for his table at the new place

                                                                                                                                  3. smatbrat Apr 19, 2013 03:04 PM

                                                                                                                                    As a totally random side question to my fellow CHers: If you saw Bauer in public, eating in the same restaurant, would you say something to him?

                                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: smatbrat
                                                                                                                                      Ruth Lafler Apr 19, 2013 03:09 PM

                                                                                                                                      No. But I might say something snarky about him loud enough for him to hear.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                        smatbrat Apr 19, 2013 03:41 PM

                                                                                                                                        I have the fantasy, that if it was NOT my restaurant, and I saw him at another place, I would take pictures. very obvious pictures.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: smatbrat
                                                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Apr 19, 2013 03:50 PM

                                                                                                                                          If he's in your restaurant you could do that, and then say "we need to update the picture of you in our kitchen." ;-) [not serious, wouldn't want you to be fired].

                                                                                                                                      2. re: smatbrat
                                                                                                                                        Robert Lauriston Apr 19, 2013 03:53 PM

                                                                                                                                        I don't eat that early.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: smatbrat
                                                                                                                                          lakemerritter Apr 19, 2013 04:23 PM

                                                                                                                                          If I saw Bauer in public, eating in the same restaurant, I would pretend that I'd just won the lottery (the drawings are often right around dinner time, so it would make sense that I might discover this on my cellphone). I would go crazy in the restaurant and order drinks for everyone, all the while celebrating my good fortune in a really loud voice, all screaming and crying with joy, just a total scene all around. Whooping it up with my table, discussing all the hookers and blow I am going to procure with my millions, a real chest-pounding Sheen-winning display. Like one of those audience members on Oprah when she gave away those cars, but even crazier.

                                                                                                                                          Hopefully Bauer would be recording the decibel levels.

                                                                                                                                          Perhaps the staff of the restaurant would immediately ask us boisterous folks to leave and I would happily do so (then I wouldn't have to pay for all those drinks). But maybe they would let me have my revelry and we'll all drink some champagne, Bauer can have as many Corpse Reviver #2s as he likes, we'll all have a grand time and I will have a big bar tab. The kicker will be me discovering I've misread a number or something and have not struck it rich after all. I would, of course, buy the drinks anyway. Because I am that kinda guy.

                                                                                                                                          In either case, it'd be a night to remember. The eventfulness of the evening might even lead to a review that's worth reading.

                                                                                                                                          This is a good question and I look forward to reading the plans of others.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: smatbrat
                                                                                                                                            dunstable Apr 19, 2013 05:34 PM

                                                                                                                                            I would walk right up to him and shout, "TWO STARS? YOU DARE GIVE MY COOKING ONLY TWO STARS?" as I throw my glass of wine in his face. Then I would walk back to my table and finish my meal.

                                                                                                                                          2. Robert Lauriston Apr 23, 2013 09:06 AM

                                                                                                                                            "Last week I was invited to a special dinner at Benu hosted by Cecilia Chiang for five people."


                                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                              calumin Apr 23, 2013 10:02 AM

                                                                                                                                              That meal looks fabulous!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                                lmnopm Apr 23, 2013 10:48 AM

                                                                                                                                                Did he go with a bag or mask over his head?

                                                                                                                                              2. Robert Lauriston Aug 15, 2013 01:38 PM

                                                                                                                                                Did it really not occur to Bauer that the biggest difference between his two visits to Scala's was that he was recognized and got special treatment only the first time?


                                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                                  Glencora Aug 15, 2013 03:03 PM

                                                                                                                                                  That's not the same review that's in the Chronicle. Though the gist of it is the same, it's shorter and not as well-written. Strange. Even more strange is that the pay-wall is going away after just two months. Stupid, stupid, stupid. (Your comment is funny, though.)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Glencora
                                                                                                                                                    Robert Lauriston Aug 15, 2013 03:21 PM

                                                                                                                                                    That's just a blog post. The review is here:


                                                                                                                                                    The paywall seems to be gone already.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                                    nocharge Aug 15, 2013 03:58 PM

                                                                                                                                                    Reading his comments about the service on his second visit, it's virtually certain that he wasn't recognized. As for his first visit, he likely was since he usually is.

                                                                                                                                                    So he provides one interesting data point in his review: The difference between getting the regular customer treatment and getting the Bauer treatment at Scala's is well over a star for both food and service. If that's representative, it shows how screwed a restaurant could get merely for its staff lacking the necessary Bauer detection skills, skills that the regular dining public probably don't care about.

                                                                                                                                                    To top it off, he writes his review by averaging the Bauer and regular customer experience concluding that the restaurant is inconsistent. Of course, the only inconsistency may well have been in its staff's ability to recognize him.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: nocharge
                                                                                                                                                      Ruth Lafler Aug 15, 2013 04:29 PM

                                                                                                                                                      The inconsistency is in the way the staff treats normal customers vs. VIPs.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                        nocharge Aug 15, 2013 05:02 PM

                                                                                                                                                        That "inconsistency" may well be a "consistency" and it seems like Bauer is happy writing the VIP review rather than the regular customer review except on the few occasions when he is not recognized.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                                      sunnyside Aug 15, 2013 09:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                      That was my immediate thought when reading his post. At least acknowledge it in the review - yeah I was likely recognized the first visit which probably accounted for some of the disparity.

                                                                                                                                                    3. Robert Lauriston Sep 18, 2013 10:34 AM

                                                                                                                                                      A couple more examples of Bauer discussing inconsistency without recognizing how it gives an unfair advantage to any restaurant where he doesn't manage to eat anonymously:


                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                                                                                                                        sugartoof Sep 18, 2013 12:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                        Aside from his differentiating between a "dinner" and a "meal", I don't see evidence of much there.

                                                                                                                                                        Unless you're suggesting he's calling ahead, being recognized by the kitchen isn't going to give them a heads up to have the chef in house, or the magic ability for a staff that's slipping to cook a dish properly to the level he first tasted it.

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