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Michael Bauer on Chinese Food

So today Bauer puts on his "I'm going to opine about Chinese food even though I'm too busy reviewing every fine-dining place in the Bay Area to know anything about it" hat:

http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

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  1. The article is a mish mosh of criticisms of Bay Area, and American, Chinese food. Lots of generalizations with a surface treatment of a topic covered at length elsewhere.

    But he's right in his criticism that "there’s no one treating Chinese food the way Charles Phan did Vietnamese." Even our own community has been limited in the discussion of innovation in Chinese cuisine: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890106 . Even Charles Phan's Wo Hing, which presented more or less traditional dishes, missed an opportunity to innovate and failed in about a year.

    12 Replies
    1. re: hyperbowler

      I think what Bauer's talking about is not innovation as much as serving uncompromising diverse Chinese cuisine like in China, similar to Bayless's complaint about Mexican food in SF. Sometimes you can find that in the suburbs, though first-rate chefs come and go.

      I'm not sure Slanted Door did anything very innovative. In large measure it serves Phan's mom's Chinese-Vietnamese dishes. What's different about it is mostly the use of ingredients from the alternative distribution system and a first-rate wine list and cocktail program.

      Phan's Out the Door on Sutter serves Chinese dishes in a similar context, as did / will Heaven's Dog. There's also Chu in Oakland.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        He's actually not very specific, or at least focussed, about what he is talking about. Is it the diversity of traditional Chinese food (vs. the 99% generic and Americanized quote of Chang), is it the refinement and adherence to traditions(e.g., his discussion of Chang), is it the innovation (e.g., Danny Bowien)?

        Oh, I didn't realize Slanted Door didn't have any innovative dishes--- too much advice of it being overrated has kept me from sampling their food! I've liked what I've eaten for breakfast on Out the Door though.

        1. re: hyperbowler

          Slanted Door actually does have some innovative, fusion dishes, for example: five-spiced duck confit, treviso, frisée, orange-shallot vinaigrette, pomegranate hoisin. I'd actually order them over the more traditional ones.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          If there were a restaurant near me serving "traditional" Chinese food (or better, dim sum) using organic and sustainable ingredients I'd be there several times a week. What set (especially the original) Slanted door apart was how it managed to pay homage to tradition while simultaneously being absolutely current and a perfect fit for its neighborhood.

          1. re: bdl

            Do you live near Mill Valley -- there's Harmony serving the dim sum (and more) you want.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            I disagree with your characterization of the food at Slanted Door. I doubt very much his mom cooked food like that. It's clearly a modern interpretation of Chinese-Vietnamese food through a Western lens.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              "Most recipes come directly from or are inspired by Phan's mother."

              http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/art...

              The food seemed much the same last time I ate there, though maybe not executed as well. The food at Out the Door on Sutter a few weeks ago had the old sparkle.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                There's a big difference between "directly from" and "inspired by"! I think Out the Door offers a higher percentage of "directly from" dishes than Slanted Door, although two of the four sandwiches (Poached Ahi tuna salad sandwich with dill, celery, fennel and red onion; Grilled eggplant sandwich with avocado, fresh cilantro, cucumber and pickled carrots) are more "inspired by" than "directly from"

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  We started with the question of what Bauer might have intended by saying "there’s no one treating Chinese food the way Charles Phan did Vietnamese."

                  If he thinks the food is innovative, I think he's clueless. It's minor twists on dishes from his mom, Vietnamese street food, and so on.

                  http://www.slanteddoor.com/food#dinner

                  The Out the Door I'm talking about is the one on Sutter, which is a full-service restaurant with I think more Chinese dishes than Slanted Door.

                  http://www.outthedoors.com/downloads/...

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Well, we're going back to the idea that what was "innovative" was that it's in a Westernized setting with a cocktails and an good wine list.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              is there another OTD on Sutter?

              Out the Door
              2232 Bush St
              San Francisco, CA 94115
              (415) 923-9575

              1. re: Cynsa

                Bush, right. My memory was a block off.

                There's another in the Ferry Building that has very little in common with the one on Bush, which is similar to the now-closed one that was in the mall at 5th and Market.

          3. Interesting that he didn't mention the new MY China and Hakkasan, which are certainly doing "Chinese" in an upscale, modern environment, similar to Slanted Door.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              He didn't like them all that much: MY China 2.5 stars for food and overall, Hakasan 1.5 stars for food and overall two.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                My point was not whether they're good or not, but whether they're the type of restaurants MB is claiming we don't have. There's a difference between saying "we don't have any X restaurants" and saying "we don't have any good X restaurants."

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Seems like Bauer was not focusing on decor for once, especially given that he held up Mission Chinese Food along with Yank Sing as exceptions to whatever it is he's complaining about.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    But he's also clearly not including any of the many regional Chinese restaurants around the Bay Area, either. On the one hand, he seems to want "high-end" and traditional (like the former Mandarin or Yank Sing) and on the other he seems to want innovative, i.e. Mission Chinese Food. Oh and he also didn't mention Jai Yun.

                    The confusion is caused, of course, by the fact that as you originally noted, he knows less than nothing (because a lot of what he thinks he knows is wrong) about Chinese food and therefore can't clearly articulate on the subject.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Bauer's not such a big fan of Jai Yun any more. He probably thinks they need valet parking.

                      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/listing...

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        LOL. But the question appeared to be whether these restaurants exist, not whether they are good.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I don't think Bauer considered MY China or Hakasan to be the Chinese equivalent of Slanted Door. He gives SD three stars for food and overall and thinks Phan "continues to break new ground."

                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/listing...

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Hakkasan and MY China are, however, more like The Mandarin, which is what he was using as an exemplar. The fact is, quality of the food aside, he wasn't at all clear about what kind of restaurant he was looking for, and by leaving out some obvious examples of restaurants that are not like 99 percent of "Chinese" restaurants (two upscale, "modern" Chinese restaurants, one highly refined traditional Chinese in a non-upscale environment) while including Mission Chinese (neither traditional nor upscale), he made it even less clear.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Bauer's lede is "... really good Chinese food in the United States faces extinction," which suggests that the quality of the food is exactly his intended subject.

                              I imagine the Chinese food at that $288 banquet was as good as it gets around here:

                              http://www.sffs.org/content.aspx?page...

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                But he doesn't define "really good Chinese food" (nor would he recognize it if it bit him in the butt). Mission Chinese Food is not "really good Chinese food" -- since it's not Chinese -- but he includes it in the discussion. Jai Yun is really good Chinese food, but he doesn't mention it. Also, to say it "faces extinction" implies that at some time there was more "really good Chinese food" than there is now. Really? When was that? It appears that by "really good Chinese food" he means The Mandarin. Period.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  The inspiration for the piece was the $288 fundraiser banquet at Yank Sing he went to the other day, it includes a photo of the cold dishes, and he says it's his favorite Chinese restaurant in SF.

                                  From a writer's perspective, my guess is he picked his theme and dashed off 600 words in half an hour without worrying about whether he was clear, coherent, or contradicting himself.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Lousy Americanized Chinese is a problem in lots of places. I work in Davis which is basically full of mediocre and tame Americanized Asian cuisine. There is some truly wretched Chinese food in Davis. Part of the problem is that restaurateurs assume that Western palates can’t deal with Authentic Asian cuisines so the food ends up being dummed down.

                                    But in places like the Bay Area and around NYC there has been a resurgence of more authentic regional Chinese cuisine in recent years that is keeping Chinese food vibrant and relevant. As has been mentioned Bauer did not discuss any of these places (I am thinking of places like Z & Y and Beijing restaurant and Jai Yun as has been mentioned). Since trends often start in the coasts and slowly spread to the rest of the country there is some hope that regional Chinese restaurants will become more popular across the country (and I hope in Davis). So I don’t think there is any threat of the extinction mentioned in his article.

                                    The interesting thing about Mission Chinese is that it’s not really authentic BUT it’s really good. It shows that you can make inauthentic Chinese food that is really good if you don’t dumb down the food and use some creativity.

                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Oh yeah, I agree with all your points. With all due respect, Cecilia Chiang isn't the end all be all of Chinese food. The thing about Chinese food is that there are so many regions in China that the food isn't homogenized. There's also a difference with City and country cooking. A lot of stuff my folks make are considered country food that you can't get in a restaurant.

                                    My father wouldn't consider Mission Chinese as authentic either. He'd say it was Chinglish food.

                                    Bauer makes it sound like Chinese food all but disappeared in America. That is not true. There is more variety now than when the Mandarin was open.

              2. This seems like a relevant place to post this. I'm certainly excited to try it when it opens!

                http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/20...

                2 Replies
                1. re: possumspice

                  Me too. I felt that this is what MB was alluding to in his comments.

                  1. re: rubadubgdub

                    Even though I'm looking forward to it, I don't mean to imply that I otherwise agree with Bauer's position. If anything, what I miss most in SF proper is not a Charles Phan does Chinese food restaurant (we got that; it was called Wo Hing, and it wasn't very good) or more banquet-style dining...what I'm missing is the really great authentic street food and lower-end stuff that you can find in Taiwan, HK, and yes, even mainland China. Judging by the multiple requests on CH for hand-pulled noodles and jianbing, that's how a lot of others feel as well.

                    Also, it's a bit dramatic to say the state of Chinese food is dismal all over the country: how much eating has he done in the SG Valley?

                2. I read his piece and all I can say is what an over-privileged snob and ignorant to boot! I don't live in SF any more so when I visit I don't pay much attention to his musings especially because most of his places just aren't in my preferred price range. I loved the comment about all the "white" people in the photo. I'm sure he was quite comfortable. Are there any Chron contributors who ARE knowledgeable about Chinese food? If so, perhaps they'll call him to task. Nah. Not going to happen.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    Agree, I don't even bother to read MB's reviews...let alone something out of his comfort zone or something he has little knowledge or interest in. Basically he'd be happy at PF Changs, with a twist, slab o' meat option, full bar and flirty waiters.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      Sorry to dissent.

                      I agree, almost completely, with Michael. IMHO, I find the Chinese food in SF to be totally boring, non inventive and not particularly healthy -- massive sodium matched with carb overload. Tragic.

                      So sad to have this opinion as I grew up in the Bay Area and adore Asian food, But, I find myself flying to Vegas for Raku or NYC for the Momofuku options. I'm going to Hong Kong in the fall and Singapore next year to venture further afield.

                      In SF, however, I've retired from Chinese food. Awful.

                      Thanks for any help and counseling you can add.

                      1. re: cortez

                        Sorry, I guess you didn't read the article. MB and this thread are about CHINESE food. Neither Raku nor Momofuku is Chinese.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          My apologies. You are right that the Asian restaurants I frequent now lean more towards Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese rather than Chinese.

                          However, this underlines rather than contradicts the Bauer criticisms of Chinese cuisine in SF.

                          1. re: cortez

                            the bay has really good korean and vietnamese - not as sure about japanese. are you blanket saying bay has bad asian food? think even MB would disagree with that

                            1. re: hungree

                              And I think SFBA has good to great Chinese food.

                              1. re: cortez

                                Also, if you like Raku, you might want to check out Ippuku in Berkeley.

                                1. re: cortez

                                  Of course!

                              2. re: cortez

                                No need to be sorry but yeah, helps to know the differences in Asian cuisines.

                                Any way, I get the point how Chinese food seems to have lagged behind in SF but when it comes from MB, it's baloney. For pete freakin' sake I bet fish eyes freaks the guy out.

                                His assertion is that there's a drop because there's no fusion type places stepping up. This only has merit IF you subscribe to his way of reviewing/liking restaurants. New fusion places doesn't mean they're automatically of quality or it's good, so it's just a theory.

                                The reason why Chinese food isn't as vibrant as say LA is because of the combination of a high real estate market, limited immigration, talent and limited ethnic enclaves, unlike LA. Ask anyone how much a new restaurant costs at start-up in SF. It is not cheap.

                                Also the high percentage of ethnic Chinese in SF proper (35%) who like their food traditional and are NOT willing to eat fusion cuisine for traditional situations also boxes out change. Do you build a new place for only mid-range non-Chinese clients, and expect to succeed? There can only be so many Slanted Doors and Tommy Toy's.

                                The same can be said about Mexican food between LA and SF. It's the immigration patterns and local economies that dictate things. The competition for space also kills many new places.

                                Instead for many Chinese places there's an eternal turn over and exchange of ownership at places...and part of that legacy is keeping every damn thing on the menu because someone just might want sweet and sour pork. It's pretty common for a chef or staff to buy out an existing place and not change much.

                                There are also issues of pidgen-holing, stereotypes and people unwiling to pay high dollars for certain Asian cuisines. This applies to Mexican food as well...few people are willing to pay mid-range prices for Mexican food.

                                Part of that is the restaurants but it's also driven by internal cultural realities - Chinese (and Mexicans) tend not to want to pop for $$$ for food they know, and know how it should be.

                                For things to change in the Bay Area, there needs to be a way for immigrants to come in, change the food scene but do so without having to drop $1.5m on a new place. Isn't this what all the pop-ups are about, a chance for the small guy?

                                If anyone is going to change things up, my guess is a hot shot Chinese American chef, or a hot shot chef from another part of the world with a lot of backing. Someone with a big vision who can sell both the existing Chinese market and the non-Chinese. Basically a new Koi Palace with exceptional quality...and it will not be cheap.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Good points. Charles Phan didn't start with a big, glossy, high-profile restaurant. For that matter, Mission Chinese Food (whether it counts as Chinese or not) is on a similar arc (only his glossy, high-profile restaurant is in NY). And Phan was fortunate that he didn't have to battle decades of pre-conceived notions about what Vietnamese cuisine should be like (including the price point).

                                  And I agree there is the problem of developing the right customer base. As noted, Americans are conditioned to think of Chinese food as cheap, and the Chinese community tends to be traditionalist and not like "innovative" places. Finally, the kind of meals that Chinese people do spend money on are often centered around expensive luxury ingredients that are not appealing to American palates.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    The original Slanted Door was big and glossy compared with the Manhattan branch of Mission Chinese Food, which is in a small, cramped space below street level.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      At that time (90s) rents were much reasonable in San Franisco. 2,000 SF in the 90s isn't the same as 2,000 SF today in NYC or SF..plus start-up costs. Rent must be even higher in NYC now.

                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        Sure, I'm just saying that Mission Chinese Food hasn't followed an arc similar to Slanted Door's. The NY branch might be more of a dump than the original.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Is Bowien's Mission Chinese in San Francisco still a pop-up restaurant? Although his NYC outpost is always packed it is surprisingly down-market in appearance. It is not in a prime location, it is in a basement and patrons have to walk past the glassed-off kitchen to then climb some stairs to enter a dining area that seats perhaps 40.

                                      1. re: scoopG

                                        MCF has been full-time in that space for quite a while.

                        2. As a white person from the Midwest (which I believe Bauer is as well, though I am younger and female) the main thing about this article, and other statements I've seen on foodie-type sites is that Chinese food is on the decline. I'm not sure I've fully understood this point of view, but I've taken it to mean that there is less of a certain style of Cantonese-American (which I associate with New York, since I lived there in my 20's, though I experienced the same style in Chicago's Chinatown when I went back to my parents' old haunts) upscaled restaurants which may or may not be on the decline--I've never been overly interested.
                          On the other hand, especially outside of traditional Chinese immigrant areas the number/percentage of neighborhood Chinese restaurants that serve something other than super-gloopy dishes and other dishes that were made because the owners got a standardly printed menu of "how to start a Chinese restaurant in America" are now outnumbered by places that can and sometimes even primarily make Chinese food for Chinese people, especially in any town with a university.

                          1. "In the last few months I’ve become alarmingly aware about how really good Chinese food in the United States faces extinction. "
                            ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Not too sure about that statement. I'd never found Chinese food in the SF Bay Area, or any city in the US, to be "really good" in the first place.

                            I liked Yank Sing, and it's my fave dim sum restaurant in SF. Peony in Oakland was my most-frequented spot, but it often felt shabby, with grimy carpets & all. Foodwise, pretty unrefined, and perhaps about the same standard as those served by eateries in HK's working-class neighborhoods.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: klyeoh

                              "Not too sure about that statement. I'd never found Chinese food in the SF Bay Area, or any city in the US, to be "really good" in the first place."

                              Generally, this is something I agree with, but this heavily depends on one's cultural background. My wife went to Asia for the first time since becoming an adult last year, and every Chinese meal was a revealation. But, we're certainly not holding the same standard as Bauer is.

                              Compared to the Mid-West or Davis, the Bay Area's Chinese food is far superior. Whereas a lot of Chinese immigrants eat Chinese 99% of the time when they go out (my in-laws), some others actively avoid eating Chinese in the States altogether because they find the Chinese food to be substandard or worse compared to that found in Taiwan, HK, or the Mainland (my mother). The latter is no surprise, of course, but it illustrates the moving target that different people are trying to hit.

                            2. I think maybe Bauer didn't have anything particular in mind when he said "really good" as opposed to "generic and Americanized" Chinese food. The specific things he mentioned are all over the place:

                              "a banquet using Chiang’s recipes ... at Yank Sing"

                              "there’s no one treating Chinese food the way Charles Phan did Vietnamese" (wide open to interpretation, especially if you don't think Slanted Door is all that)

                              "Yank Sing, my favorite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco"

                              "Danny Bowien at Mission Chinese Food ... makes relevant what has largely become tired and uninspired"

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Nice of Bauer to mention that Bowien was generally inspired by the Spices restaurants, which doesn't serve the most nuanced Sichuan dishes around, but are far from making the homogenized cuisine Bauer is critical of.

                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                  [just to clarify, hyperbowler is being sarcastic, since Bauer makes no such mention]

                                  I'll add China Village and the restaurants helmed by chefs who originally worked there.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Thanks, Ruth-- my emoticon usage needs to be amped up :-)

                                    [I was being critical for Bauer's oversight, but Bowien's liking of Spices is on the level]

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      I think Bowien was inspired by a lot of different restaurants around town, including Hunan and Thai House Express. Nothing I had there or saw on the menu made me think of Spices.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        No doubt he was influenced by a lot of places. But his liking of Spices has been brought up in a few places. One article, which also brought up Old Mandarin:

                                        "Press him further, and he says that he re-engineers the dishes he loves most at regional Chinese restaurants like Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant and Spices II, attempting to "make them better.""

                                        http://www.sfweekly.com/2010-09-08/re...

                                        He also took media on an adventure there:

                                        http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/20...

                              2. Just one more nonsensical thing in Bauer's blog:

                                "During the various upheavals in China many of the master chefs were forced to give up cooking and the cuisine suffered. Today few people remember what it was like before."

                                Apparently there's no good Chinese food in China (or Taiwan or Hong Kong, because no one except Cecilia Chiang left), either! All the chefs are gone!

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  No, I think he meant Communist Mainland China where, in the aftermath of the civil war, and then the Cultural Revolution, many master chefs lost their vocation, breaking the master-apprentice tradition of passing down cooking secrets, etc. Many master chefs were sent to the farms and communes, elaborate banquets were seen as bourgeois and decadent. Many escaped to HK and Taiwan (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) where they carried on practicing their culinary arts.

                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                    Isn't that what I said? Was I perhaps being too subtle by saying "only Cecilia Chiang left"?

                                    To be more clear, it's stupid to imply:

                                    (1)There are no more great chefs in China;
                                    (2)That because there are no more great chefs, there's no more great food in China; and
                                    (3)That the great Chinese cooking tradition didn't survive elsewhere, in addition to the mind of Cecilia Chiang

                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Exactly. There were no upheavals in Taiwan, Hongkong or Singapore. Even during the famines of the late 1950's and early 1960's and the Cultural Revolution (1965-1975), the elite party cadres in China always had access to the best chefs and foodstuffs.

                                    While Chang (and The Mandarin) certainly were seminal fixtures, part of her and MB's argument rests on nostalgia: "everything was better back then and furthermore, you weren't around!"

                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      I'll add that thanks to Melanie Wong, some of the best meals I've ever had were banquets prepared by a master chef from mainland China who, among other things, represented China in the Bocuse d'Or competition. Too bad Michael Bauer wasn't invited.

                                      IIRC, the chef at Z&Y (another place MB failed to mention) was a chef at the Chinese consulate -- not exactly an amateur off the boat!

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Too bad Michael Bauer wasn't invited.
                                        How do you know he wasn't invited? Maybe he just didn't go to protect his anonymity.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      That statement reminded me of this piece by Ed Schoenfeld, where he argues that the best Chinese chefs all wound up in NY.

                                      http://ny.eater.com/archives/2011/11/...

                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                        Ed is a NY legend in his own lunchtime! Unfortunately his source claim on the invention of General Tso's is not correct. I love how Ed started in the business right away as host at the age of 21! Ed too lives the nostalgia camp: Chinese food was so much better in NYC in the 1970's when none of us where around.

                                    3. There are actually a number of good to fantastic executive Chinese chefs in SF Bay Area or at least capable of doing that level of cooking, scattered all over and doing many wonderful things....some way more in the public eye than others. There is one who used to be #1 in many expat books, is now doing a private catering business, where if you pay (and he charges a minimum from what I understand), you can eat very well, but that's out of reach for many including myself since you have to rent a venue like a hotel for him to cook and serve.

                                      The chefs that are more obscure are revered in the Chinese / Cantonese community who know about them, who are not out to seek glory and the praise of the western media, and do not care to be some "celebrity chef".

                                      Or simply put, they have the skills to put on something on the level that would impress and perhaps be even better than what Cecilia Chiang has ever come up with, who are in some ways innovative in their own right if they wanted to, but they are limited by a number of things (this is mostly what I think is happening in SF Bay Area Chinese restaurants)

                                      1) The generic "people just don't know how to appreciate". This creates a double edged sword in that the chef can't flex his or her muscles to create something really interesting (particularly if he's not the owner of the restaurant), coupled with the lack of demand (and lack of knowledge), and is additionally restricted by what the restaurant manager/owner instructs on how the food should be. Thus results in lack of practice or innovation on such could have been dishes.

                                      2) People who don't know what these chefs specialize in, and thus those who rely on word of mouth, recommendation, who really put in the effort to make those connections and do research, are the ones who eat well and the chef's best dishes (assuming they don't make it on the menu under chef's signatures). It only matters to the public if this is known information. If only a small segment of the dining community knows about it, does it matter to Bauer and the others?

                                      3) These chefs and the restaurants don't go out of their way to advertise in the English media or social media. Some of it might get lost in food culture translation (and not necessarily because people don't know how to appreciate it).

                                      4) People usually just order from a regular menu, since a restaurant is basically rolling the dice on what kind of clientele it will attract (even if it wants to attract a specific demographic), and a one size fits all, if not two separate menus, is the safer approach. Thus only regulars and knowledgeable types, will know and appreciate other aspects or off menu stuff, or advanced order...that sort of thing.

                                      In Hong Kong there are essentially two types of Cantonese, modern vs traditional, when discussing high end dining. Modern includes new receipes / dishes not common everywhere (copycats are inevitable in a competitive market) and also importing foreign ingredients, thus commanding a markup....whether it be using Japanese beef for Chinese beef stir fry, or iberico ham for bbq pork, or Alba black truffle for some other application. It will be a very long time before SF Chinese food gets to this level of modern style cooking, it's not economically feasible (thus way overpriced for what people are willing to pay for), unless it is repackaged something along the lines of Hakkasan which has global backing and recognition, but it is far cheaper for the high end Cantonese places here like Koi Palace, to emulate dining trends that are within reach (e.g. the latest "in" thing about a certain prep which has been there for ages but under the radar or making a comeback).

                                      It is much easier (and safer) to run some affordable comfort Chinese food restaurant, which will always be in demand. But this is not what Bauer is looking for obviously.

                                      1. Bauer's Top 100 list went from having a maximum of six Chinese restaurants in 2008 to three last year. It's looking like Yang Sing will be the only Chinese restaurant to return from Bauer's 2013 to 2014 top 100.

                                        Mission Chinese is definitely off based on his recent re-re view (and deserves to be off "top restaurant" lists based on its perpetual inconsistency and general decline in quality)
                                        http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/art...

                                        Koi Palace is probably off
                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7096...

                                        He gave a 2 1/2 star review last year to M.Y. China, so my guess is he'll include it to fill the gap in the 2014 list.
                                        http://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/din...

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                          But what's really missing?

                                          Hakkasan, maybe? What else? If the criticism is that San Francisco should have more representation of good Chinese places, I think that was his point too. Is he really supposed to pretend R&G, Old Mandarin or Spices belong on the list?

                                          Since we're revisiting this thread, let's remember he was simply riffing off a quote from Cecilia Chiang. He then props up Yank Sing and Mission Chinese, neither of which should in theory be the best SF has to offer.

                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                            If Bauer puts any places he gave less than three stars to (at least for something if not overall) on the list he's contradicting himself.

                                            I guess we'll find out in a week or two.

                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                              Wouldn't Benu qualify as "modern" or nontraditional Chinese? At least many of their dishes are riffs on Chinese preparations (which is not too surprising given that their chef and a couple of their sous chefs are of Chinese extraction.)

                                              1. re: barleywino

                                                The Chron categorizes Benu (along with the French Laundry) as American / New American / Contemporary American.

                                                1. re: barleywino

                                                  Ah... I didn't see it when I counted. Presumably because there's a lot of Asian and chef-inspired influences on the menu besides just Chinese, Benu gets categorized under New American in his top 100 list.

                                                  Funny that you mention Benu though. The same week Bauer discussed the sad state of Chinese food in the Bay Area, he ate at a special dinner at Benu commemorating Cecilia Chang.

                                                  http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                    Corey Lee is of Korean extraction

                                                    1. re: drewskiSF

                                                      I stand corrected

                                                  2. re: hyperbowler

                                                    I agree with him on his Mission Chinese review. I went there a couple weeks ago and it really has gone downhill.

                                                  3. "I’m always on the look out for excellent Chinese food in the Bay Area, but most times the search is fruitless." Always?

                                                    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                                    25 Replies
                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      If those bean curd wrappers are an example, I'll pass.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        See my comment above about how he wouldn't recognize excellent Chinese food if it bit him in the butt. Really, every time he writes on the subject he embarrasses himself (only he's too arrogant to notice).

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          Arrogance and ignorance, combined, is a really bad combo. Too bad he can't admit it's just not his thing and designate someone else to review these spots. And, of course, it just has to be rather, IMO, la-dee-da looking :)

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            Do people agree with his high review of Hong Kong Lounge II? I haven't been there yet.

                                                            1. re: calumin

                                                              Here are report threads for Hong Kong Lounge II,
                                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8540...
                                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9131...

                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                Focus on HKLII on this Board has been dim sum. Would be interested in more reports on dinner.

                                                                1. re: sundeck sue

                                                                  What I'm wondering about is weekend brunch. There are often sizable lines at brunch time. What goes on at brunch?

                                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                                    Dim sum. Read the topics Melanie linked to. To avoid the lines, make a reservation.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      I guess I should be more specific. Why are there such long lines at brunch time, and not in the evening? There are often people milling about on the sidewalk before the place is even open. On the other hand, go at night and you can stroll in, no problem.

                                                                      1. re: dunstable

                                                                        dunstable - you can ponder the same question about half the chinese places in the sunset too. they're just rush hours for group dining.

                                                                        1. re: dunstable

                                                                          I don't know why people line up for dim sum but not dinner, but that's true of every popular dim sum place.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Dinner would have to be equally as stellar, if not more so (and good value) as dim sum lunch in order for lines to form.

                                                                            I remember going to S&T on Noriega on a weekend last year and after 6 pm there were tons of parties waiting. Local Cantonese/Chinese crowds. Not quite as insane as dim sum, but very very busy. After having dinner there I can honestly say that for the area, it's not bad. They do a few things quite well, and it's maybe a notch or two below a typical high end seafood restaurant. Then again, some expat crowds are very easy to please as long as they do a half decent salt pepper or typhoon shelter crab, or a soy sauce chicken.

                                                                            The other possibility is that customers have choices for dinner, and HK Lounge II may or may not be that good of a dinner destination. Last working theory is that not everyone knows of the current ownership and chef change from the last 2 years, and for those who think lunch (or previous dinner visits) were not all that great, are probably not itching to return now.

                                                                            Using S&T as an example, they have seafood tanks in plain view. HK Lounge II does not.

                                                                    2. re: sundeck sue

                                                                      Not much detail, but there's this, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9238...
                                                                      and you'll get more traction if you ask in an existing or new thread that has HK Lounge II in the title. Your answer is likely to come from 'hounds who don't follow Bauer or care to read a discussion about him.

                                                                  2. re: calumin

                                                                    I'm not sure I follow the criticism here either. I guess it involves reading Bauer's review, and then going back and reading individual opinions. Hong Kong Lounge II is just so-so in my opinion, especially for the price, without any standouts. It's never been terrible, but I've always imagined the location out of the city must be better, and better for dinners.

                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Does he have to reference Cecilia Chiang in every article?

                                                                  1. re: emily

                                                                    Apparently it's his way of generating street cred. :)

                                                                    I will give MB credit however, knowing it's not his strong suit. Chron (aka Bauer) needs to hire someone not from the meat and potatoes with a twist, full bar, cute waiters mind set.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    I guess I notice the implicit contrast between "always on the look out for excellent Chinese food in the Bay Area," vs the narrower scope when he goes on to lament about "limited options" in SF itself.

                                                                    Most "Bay Area" Chinese restaurants are not in SF.

                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                      I think the crux may be that he doesn't know how to suss out a menu in a Chinese restaurant or what to order if it's not a banquet or pre-set menu. It's a sad fact that even good Chinese restaurants lard their menus with Americanized dishes and you often have to dig a little to get the "good stuff." The dishes he mentioned don't strike me as particularly hard to find good versions of.

                                                                      This is from review itself: "Part of the reason [it's been hard for him to find great Chinese food] is that many Chinese restaurants don't cater to Caucasians - or maybe they cater too much because the food is often sweetened and simplified to satisfy the perceived American palate. Even though they're eating in the same restaurant, non-Asians often have a different dining experience than Asians do."

                                                                      In other words, it's there, he just can't find it unless someone else introduces him to it or it's presented in such a way that he can't miss it. You know, Michael, that used to be a problem for me, too. Until I actually made the effort to learn how to recognize when a restaurant might be serving more than food "sweetened and simplified for the American palate" and navigate ordering food that isn't "accessible to Caucasians." Wasn't that hard, and it isn't even my full time job!

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        Very good point, Ruth.

                                                                        Preponderance of Americanized chinese food is a big topic often touched on here. In poking around Chinese restaurants (as a very non-Asian American) I anecdotally find that most Chinese restaurateurs resonate and open up when I express interest in their authentic dishes. Which many, many customers don't.

                                                                        Evidence is the vox-populi "review" sites where most "reviewers" stick utterly to the limited Americanized repertoire -- including many reviewers who appear or claim to be Asian-Americans. An example I've cited before is a modest but standout family-run place I know with unusual specialties from its home region. Early on, I patiently read all its 200+ Yelp reviews; two (2), i.e 1% of them, ventured outside the clichés, and cited the unusual region. This is a restaurant that mentions its regional specialties explicitly in its main menu (and translates ALL dishes, even in a supplemental "Chinese" menu, to English, too). From such experiences I tend to see this issue as restaurateurs reacting pragmatically to the wishes of their _average_ customer, even if that average customer isn't typical of this board's regulars.

                                                                        In other words, a lot of those "non-Asians who have a different experience than Asians do" contribute to that situation, by not showing interest in or learning about the cuisines; moreover, to judge by the online sources I mentioned, even many people who call themselves "Asians" also are getting that narrower experience.

                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                          Everyone not from a particular culture has to figure out a way to suss out the menu and understand the food when going to a restaurant serving food unfamiliar to them...even the editor of the Chron's food section. And it still takes interaction and conversation, and a little bit of homework. Either MB doesn't do his homework, thinks he's above it or just is so incompetent or unfamiliar he can't do this...despite being in SF for 30 years as a professional.

                                                                          Like Pakistani food, I don't have a great understanding of it and I'd have to eat at a place 3 times before I could even ask a decent question. The difference of course is MB gets paid to do this, has a readership, editorship, etc. This is what I find so lacking with MB, he's a professional but doesn't put in the work or is scared.

                                                                          Honestly, MB should just farm out all ethnic cuisine to others who; a) like it, b) can get a grasp, c) aren't afraid. The Bay Area would benefit.

                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                            I dunno, I sorta see what he means. If it weren't for Chowhound, I'd be like everyone else, fumbling around Chinese menus and their hundreds of menu choices. "Oh, look, they have egg foo yung, I guess I'll get that." Moreover, I'd have no clue about the various regional cuisines, either. Szechuan? Hunan? Xi'an? It would all just be "Chinese food" to me. Two sets of diners could have completely different experiences in the same restaurant, whereas at a place like Cotogna, everyone's pretty much having the same experience, regardless of how much they know about Italian cuisine. It may not be impossible to learn this stuff, but it's definitely a lot easier with other cuisines.

                                                                            That said, I could probably learn this stuff quite well if I were doing it for a living like Bauer is.

                                                                            1. re: dunstable

                                                                              I see what he means. It's a well-known phenomenon. I just don't think it's an excuse for a professional food critic in San Francisco.

                                                                              Furthermore, he even admits he doesn't know how to find good Chinese food, IN THE MIDDLE of a review proclaiming since he's "always looking for it" but he can't find it, it must not be there!

                                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                                "Moreover, I'd have no clue about the various regional cuisines, either. Szechuan? Hunan? Xi'an? "

                                                                                Neither do a lot of people that eat the stuff regularly, and get treated as authorities, honestly.

                                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                This doesn't happen to Patricia Untermann. Bauer, take notes.

                                                                                1. re: asianstamp

                                                                                  Or Southern California's Jonathan Gold and Jim Thurman (who is on chowhound on the LA board).