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Michael Bauer's top 100 2013

Comes out this weekend. It will not be on the web, if they stick to that its influence may be much less than in previous years.

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  1. Added:

    Abbot’s Cellar
    Angele, Napa
    Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
    Bravas Bar de Tapas, Healdsburg
    Bull Valley Roadhouse, Port Costa
    Campo Fina, Healdsburg
    Central Kitchen
    Comal, Berkeley
    Etoile, Yountville
    Hog & Rocks
    Hopscotch, Oakland
    Local’s Corner
    Mill Valley Beerworks, Mill Valley
    Ramen Shop, Oakland
    Redd Wood, Yountville
    Rich Table
    Spoonbar, Healdsburg
    Trick Dog
    Wakuriya, San Mateo


    6 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Glad he made it to the Peninsula ... once

      Having only been open 4 months, Trick Dog sure got on there fast.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Plaj should not be on there. Lighthouse Cafe in San Rafael is better.

        1. re: pauliface

          I looked up Lighthouse Cafe (I was excited to think that there is another restaurant like Plaj in the area), and it looks like it is diner food with a Danish twist...(actually the one in San Rafael is called Lighthouse Diner not Cafe). Maybe it is a fantastic diner, but unless Lighthouse has a secret fine dining menu, I don't see how you could compare the two (although i will bookmark Lighthouse and give it a try since I love good diner food).

          The trio of house cured herring and the poached lobster dishes we had at Plaj were exquisite. There is room for improvement as the venison dish was just ok... The bread, Danish beer, and house made aquavit we had were fantastic. I can't wait to go back (and stick to the seafood dishes).

          1. re: lrealml

            I looked up the Lighthouse menu and the Danish twist seems pretty minimal -- a "Danish style snitzel" (did they mean "schnitzel"?) squeezed in with Thai chicken wok and New England clam chowder.

            Other than Plaj, the scene for Scandinavian food in the Bay Area is pretty bleak. The other Scandinavian chefs that I know in SF are either doing private dining events or concepts that are not particularly Scandinavian (like Staffan at Perbacco or Ola at Oola).

            The food at Plaj rocks, though, and is probably at least as worthy of inclusion as 50 of the other picks.

            1. re: nocharge

              It's not that there is a Danish twist. It's just that the whole menu is not Danish.

              There is one section only, but the things they make blow Plaj out of the water, with bigger portions for less money, in a friendlier atmosphere.

              Lighthouse is definitely not a fine dining style place; but their food is better.

              Their herring (and herring is my favorite!) two ways is incredible, better IMO than Plaj. Plus it's cheaper and there's at least twice as much fish maybe more.

              I found Plaj very precious and not that great and quite pricey, so I don't really intend to return.

      2. im glad to see
        Hog & Rocks

        1. Had a really meh meal at Abbot's Cellar. Maybe we missed something.

          1. A16
            The Abbot's Cellar
            Ad Hoc
            Amber India
            Auberge du Soleil

            Bar Tartine
            Bistro Don Giovanni
            Bravas Bar de Tapas
            Bull Valley Roadhouse

            Central Kitchen
            Chez Panisse/Cafe at Chez Panisse


            El Paseo

            Fifth Floor
            Flour + Water
            Foreign Cinema
            French Laundry

            Gary Danko

            Hogs & Rocks
            House of Prime Rib


            Koi Palace

            La Ciccia
            La Folie
            Lers Ros
            Local's Corner

            Mateo's Cocina Latina
            Michael Mina
            Mill Valley Beerworks
            Mission Chinese Food


            O Chame
            One Market
            Osteria Stellina

            Park Tavern
            Pizzaiolo/Boot & Shoe Service


            Ramen Shop
            Redd Wood
            The Restaurant at Meadowood
            Rich Table

            Scopa/Campo Fina
            Slanted Door
            Sons & Daughters
            State Bird Provisions
            Sushi Ran
            Swan Oyster Depot

            Terra/Bar Terra
            Town Hall
            Trick Dog


            Yank Sing

            Zuni Cafe

            50 Replies
            1. re: Glencora

              Only one place I've been to that I don't think deserves it, fewer than in previous years. Maybe Bauer goes to Koi Palace with Cecilia Chiang and gets better food than I have.

              It's not fair that people who own two restaurants he likes get both on the list. Since it's really the top 106, why not drop the arbitrary cutoff and make it the top 130 or whatever number would allow him not to have to find lame excuses for dropping equally-good places?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I know it seems odd that I really like the way Koi Palace does gai lan (Chinese Broccoli) in oyster sauce .. but I went there recently just to get an order for take out.

                Perfect, as usual, but I will not return. That one order came to $17.

                1. re: walker

                  Gai lan was one of the standout dishes I've had at Koi Palace. Either they buy a higher-quality oyster sauce than most places use or they make their own. It was $6.90 at lunch three years ago. But I won't go back unless maybe with a Chinese-speaking regular.


                  1. re: walker

                    Number 665 on the lunch Dim Sum menu as a KK $6.90.

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    You should give KP another try. Not everything is stellar but much of the Dim Sum is delicious. It's the only Bay Area dim sum that reminds me of Dim Sum I had in Taipei and Hong Kong. Try the Radish cake with XO sauce, rice rolls with fried fish, Har-gao with XO, XLB, Sticky rice with dried meats, congee with concubine clams.

                    1. re: Ridge

                      Koi Palace food is too inconsistent and the service too lousy to justify the high prices.

                  3. re: Glencora

                    There's no point quibbling over Bauer's selections (lord knows we've done that enough), but I'm always a little surprised by his staunch refusal to include Commis. You can't spare one out of a hundred slots for a place that has a Michelin star?

                    1. re: dunstable

                      Bauer didn't have that great a time at Commis, though maybe he's about due for a revisit.

                      "… feels a tad pretentious … wound up spending more time figuring out how to position the awkward utensils than I did enjoying his creations … needs to be time to savor the experience. On two visits I was in and out in less than an hour and 20 minutes … … their hospitable attitude is somewhat undermined by the small portions and wine pours, which seem miserly."


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I bet Commis, like Saison, doesn't make a big deal out of Mr Bauer.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "… feels a tad pretentious"

                          just like Bauer's reviews!

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            The wine pours are kinda miserly for the pairing.

                            At Saison we had to ask the sommelier to stop topping off our glasses mid course.

                            We were fine with the food portions.

                            My complaint is that it's really loud.

                          2. re: dunstable

                            Another overlooked place with a Michelin star is Keiko, even though Bauer gave it a three-star review. The House of Prime Rib made the list, though, to the tune of two Chronicle stars.

                            1. re: nocharge

                              The Chron's web site is still showing the star ratings from Bauer's 2007 review of HOPR. He dropped it from the top 100 in 2007 and 2008 and put it back on in 2009, noting various improvements, but I guess neglected to adjust the stars.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I doubt that the food at HOPR has changed a lot since 2007 -- you don't tinker with a successful formula. Service could always be a variable given the turnover in the industry. The 2007 review reads like yet another example where he wasn't seated right away and was offended. Goes to show the perils of subjecting a restaurant critic to the same experience that normal restaurant goers have.

                                1. re: nocharge

                                  20 minutes past their reservation there were still three parties ahead of them. Bad gravy, overdressed salad, cold Yorkshire pudding. Check dropped before dessert was served. I think they had started phoning it in and the review was a wake-up call.


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    My friends and I agree that the salad is much better if we tell server to use half as much dressing OR just to leave the dressing on the side.

                              2. re: dunstable

                                And Atelier Crenn with two Michelin stars is also missing.

                                1. re: Paul H

                                  Bauer's review of Atelier Crenn makes it clear why it's not on his list. "I vacillated between childlike delight and geezer-like cynicism, depending on whether the dish delivered in the flavor department."


                              3. re: Glencora

                                Oh Chame. Oh yeah! Oh, I mean Oy Vey!

                                  1. re: Paul H

                                    (Baker & Banker)
                                    (Bar Agricole)
                                    (Bistro Aix)
                                    (Corso Trattoria)
                                    (Dosa on Filmore)
                                    (Picco/Pizzeria Picco)
                                    (Va de Vi)
                                    (Willi's Wine Bar)

                                    1. re: Paul H

                                      A couple of those have closed. Rivoli, though, was a fixture on the list for ages.

                                      1. re: Glencora

                                        Bauer has stated in his blog posts that being dropped from the list doesn't necessarily mean that a place has gone downhill or isn't as good as places that are on the list. I'd accuse him of being unprincipled but I think maybe he just has no feel for math.

                                        If he were a better critic he would recognize that to be fair he needs to raise or lower the number annually so that the cutoff falls at a natural point. Based on his past blog posts about the list, there were probably 60-80 restaurants that were an easy call, and a roughly equal number in the next tier. So he could do a top ~70 or ~140 without having to make arbitrary selections such as dumping old places simply to make room for new ones.

                                      2. re: Paul H

                                        Addesso he didn't like because they have pizza now and fewer salumi selections
                                        Bar Agricole's chef is leaving

                                        1. re: Paul H

                                          What bothers me most is how restaurants fall off the list by attrition. So restaurants (Rivoli, Range etc) who have delivered year after year get no credit and get bumped because of some flash in the pan newcomer. He should really make more of a distinction between the "best new restaurant" and the BEST Bay Area restaurant lists.

                                          1. re: bdl

                                            he actually re-reviewed range this year

                                            1. re: bdl

                                              Now that I think about it, it seems likely that there are restaurants on his list or that just got dropped that he didn't visit even once in the last year.

                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                Bauer claims to revisit all the restaurants on the top 100 before writing the next one. He doesn't necessarily re-review all of them.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Now that I think about it more, it's mathematically possible, but still very suspicious. So he visits every place at least once. Fine, that's 100 meals. But he needs to visit new places at least three times, so that's 156 meals out of the year, one restaurant a week. So now we're at 256 dinners. That leaves 109 meals out of the rest of the year. Let's remove, oh I don't know, 20 meals, for when he is out of town, for when he is at a fancy meal with placards, or whatever else. So that leaves about 90 dinners the rest of the year for all of the rest of San Francisco's restaurants. 90 dinners out of all the remaining restaurants in the entire Bay Area for him to decide upon a definitive list of 100 restaurants.

                                                  It's difficult to believe that with these 90 meals, he can sample enough of all of the rest of the Bay's restaurants to make such a list responsibly. Are we to assume that Bauer actually DID go to Commis and Crenn this year, just to make sure it wasn't a Top 100 choice yet? If it were just a list of "100 restaurants I like a lot that I have been to," then great, it is one man's opinion. But he presents the list in a manner that strongly suggests he believes his list to represent the entirety of the Bay dining scene, like he is the Robert Parker of eating out. For instance, fine, I can accept that he ate at House of Prime Rib, and now believes them to have improved in quality. Am I then also to assume that this is after he also went to Harris AND Epic Roasthouse AND Lark Creek Steak AND Boboquivari's AND Ruth's Chris and Morton's and all the rest of the steakhouses in the area, in the span of one year, and deciding that those restaurants did not improve? This strains credulity.

                                                  Even if one accepts that 90 meals is enough to gauge all the local restaurants, he can still only eat one meal at a time. Unless he is inviting five or six of his friends to every single meal and eating everything family style (anonymously, of course!), it's hard to imagine him getting a proper assessment of the quality of the restaurant after a single meal.

                                                  I dunno, I don't mind his list as a general guideline for diners -- it's his list; he can do whatever he wants -- but the very idea that a single person could accurately compile such a list is sort of ridiculous.

                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                    bauer is not in the business of ranking all restaurants in every category - that would be impossible. he generally only revisits restaurants if there's been a change of some sort, or there's some reason to believe the food has gone uphill or downhill; he relies heavily oncomments from others in the food industry abotu which restaurants are improving or declining.

                                                    nonetheless, as much as i have qualms with the guy, he is extremely receptive and responive to feed back - if i were you, i'd write him an e-mail basically saying what you're saying above, although perhaps a bit more condensed and with softer rhetoric. i bet he responds.

                                                    1. re: dunstable

                                                      Bauer sometimes hits more than one restaurant in an evening. Sometimes that's obvious from his blog posts.

                                                      He eats at more places than he reviews. He'll hit a new place once, decide not to review it, and hand it off to one of the local-edition reviewers.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        That's even worse, I didn't know about that. How can he expect his mind and stomach to be at the same level of neutrality after he's already eaten an entire dinner?

                                                        1. re: dunstable

                                                          Bauer sometimes takes a bite or two of each dish and gets the rest boxed up to go. He doesn't appear to have much concern about impartiality or fairness.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Indeed. He is a critic, It is his job to criticize and praise. I doubt he went to Commis and Crenn this year. He has his opinion and nothing has changed at either of those spots. He doesn't say he visits every restaurant. Only every restaurant on the list.

                                                            1. re: Paul H

                                                              He may not say he visits every restaurant, but he does say the list comprises the "Top 100 Restaurants." This is a meaningless description if it actually means "Top 100 Restaurants That I Visited Primarily Because I Also Put Them on the List Last Year."

                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                Bauer gets reports from his stringers and readers about places that have improved.

                                                                "Top ##" listicles are always bogus to some extent unless they're based on hard data. It would perhaps be more honest to call it "100 top restaurants."

                                          2. re: Glencora

                                            His list just sucks.

                                            Han Il Kwan
                                            Ino Sushi
                                            Jai Yun
                                            Keikos a Nob Hill
                                            Sawa Sashimi
                                            Una Pizza Napoletana
                                            Yum's Bistro

                                            Are all missing.

                                            I guess he's just going for very conservative, safe, easy places, where you can order at random and take someone who knows nothing about food to have a "nice" meal.

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              On the other hand:

                                              Bar Tartine
                                              Lers Ros
                                              Mission Chinese Food

                                              Sure, just take a conservative non-foodie and order at ranom. Everybody loves geoduck sashimi, chicken tartare, tuna spinal fluid, and pork livers with chile sauce, right?

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Ooh, where can one get tuna spinal fluid? Had that once as part of a Quinto Quarto meal at Incanto and thought it was great.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Dustin_E, I've read reports on here that it's difficult to communicate with the servers at Jai Yun. For that reason, it's defensible for him not to include it. How is the English at the other places you mentioned, or Koi Palace, which he did include, for that matter.

                                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                                    I suppose all the places i mention have something "difficult" about them:

                                                    Alfred's - inconsistent across dishes on the menu
                                                    Farina - expensive for straightforward dishes
                                                    Han Il Kwan - authentic, good-value korean food
                                                    Ino Sushi - chef is grumpy
                                                    Jai Yun - hard to communicate with servers sometimes
                                                    Kappa - serves some weird things, some pre-cooked
                                                    Keikos a Nob Hill - some dishes pretty straightforward.
                                                    Sawa Sashimi - limited menu, no options
                                                    Una Pizza Napoletana - limited menu, no options
                                                    Yum's Bistro - hard to know what to order

                                                    but if you exclude places with difficulties, i think you very often end up with food that is either overpriced, or not that exciting.

                                                    so that's why i think his list sucks -- it filters out a lot of places that are "difficult".

                                                    1. re: Dustin_E

                                                      not sure if this means anything, but i counted and i've been to 45 of the 100. 31 of these i've been to more than once. of these, these are the ones i'm 100% sure i'll return to (at some point):

                                                      Amber India
                                                      Chez Panisse/Cafe at Chez Panisse
                                                      House of Prime Rib
                                                      Koi Palace
                                                      One Market
                                                      Yank Sing

                                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                                        Bauer's most recent reviews usually make clear why a given place was dropped from or didn't make the list.

                                                        Jai Yun hasn't been on Bauer's list since 2008, when in an update he said, " it's time for the restaurant to grow up and offer a dining experience commensurate with the food."


                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          a very fair criticism of jai yun, imo.

                                                      2. re: hyperbowler

                                                        server communication at yum's or koi palace is better than at jai yun.

                                                      3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        there are some interesting things at some of the places.

                                                        overall, though, the places are pretty safe.

                                                  2. I feel bad for Bauer, he knows he's going to get knocked around for this list. The guy clearly eats well at least.

                                                    Some major overlooked restaurants:
                                                    Atelier Crenn
                                                    Village Pub
                                                    Plumed Horse

                                                    It's pretty clear he doesn't like heading into 650 or 408 very much. Ethnic cuisine isn't one of his favorites.
                                                    Enough with the rants. You can read my critique of his list here:

                                                    36 Replies
                                                    1. re: Foodnut8

                                                      Chapeau! isn't overlooked. On his Insidescoop blog today, he said Chapeau! was removed for this year because it is being remodeled.

                                                      1. re: Foodnut8

                                                        The Village Pub? You have got to be joking! We have been consistently disappointed by lousy execution there (inconsistent portion sizes, undercooked/overcooked food, etc.). It seems like they have a smart chef backed by a kitchen full of minimum wage guys. Snooty service that blatantly favors VCs and Woodside Old Money types doesn't help, either.

                                                        1. re: Foodnut8

                                                          I don't disagree with him not adding more "ethnic" (asian) restaurants. The bay area does many things well, but with a few exceptions, asian is not one of them(except for vietnamese in san jose). It's kind of the opposite where LA is head and shoulders above any other city as far as ethnic is concerned but considerably behind the pack when it comes to fine dining and italian.

                                                          1. re: chezwhitey

                                                            If so, that's ironic considering the Bay Area boasted a plethora of pioneering Thai restaurants 30 years ago (before most of the US heard of the cuisine) and via SF's huge expat-Cantonese community for 150 years, had dim sum before, say, Vancouver scarcely even heard of Chinese food, and before LA in the modern sense existed. (For its first 70 years after 1849, SF was the largest city on the US Pacific coast and the only substantial port.) As for sushi, Wagner's 1995 food history showed (with photos!) that sushi bars were a NYC fad already in the 1930s, they came and went and returned.

                                                            But in the southern Bay Area, where I've had several thousand restaurant meals, the concentration of Asian cuisines is unique. Whole genres of regional restaurants like Muslim-Chinese, Macanese, Korean, Persian, to say nothing of Indian. Some San Franciscans and East Bayans have no clue of the numbers and diversity, hundreds on hundreds of restaurants. Stett Holbrook (silicon valley's principal print restaurant journalist until recently, who came from elsewhere in the US) even lamented once over too many "ethnic" restaurants and not enough "cheap" ones -- though as I pointed out to him, here in the Bay Area unlike perhaps the Midwest, good cheap restaurants are themselves normally "ethnic."

                                                            1. re: chezwhitey

                                                              I disagree with the sweeping generalization that Asian Cuisine in the Bay Area is not good. We have great Thai, great Sichuan, great Japanese, very good Indian and very good Dim Sum. I haven't had the Asia food in LA but I have been to Asia several times.

                                                              1. re: Ridge

                                                                Be that as it may, every time I talk to Japanese or Chinese people, they express dissatisfaction with the local interpretations of their home cuisines. It is unarguably true about Korean food, anyway, although I am not super familiar with the Santa Clara scene.

                                                                1. re: dunstable

                                                                  I don't understand how that's relevant in this context, dunstable. The comparison was to other restaurant genres here, not to the home countries.

                                                                  Perhaps you were unaware of it, but expatriates routinely find overseas restaurants with their native cuisines weak compared to what they had back home. You should hear what Bay Area Thai and Vietnamese immigrants say. To my knowledge it's the rule, not limited to Asian foods. Having experienced what are passed off as, say, New Orleans restaurants in other countries compared to the Real Thing, I know that the problem is hardly unique to Asian food or to the US.

                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                    Sorry, I should have made it more clear: They are not just saying that the Asian food here is not as good as home -- it is not that good in general.

                                                                    "Perhaps you were unaware of it, but expatriates routinely find overseas restaurants with their native cuisines weak compared to what they had back home."

                                                                    That's not always true. I can't speak for Chinese or Japanese or any other ethnicity, but we had no complaints about the Korean food in NY, where I'm from -- some restaurants like Gam Mee Ok, are alleged to be famous even in Korea. Some of my LA Korean friends claim that Korean food in LA is even better, possibly better than in Korea. No one would ever make that claim about Bay Korean food.

                                                                    1. re: dunstable

                                                                      It may not be "always" true, yet FWIW I have found it routine in many parts of the US, hardly limited to the Bay Area.

                                                                      And again, please remember that expats judging their home cuisine on foreign soil reflect a very special perspective, interesting certainly, but atypical of the random Bay Area diner reading Bauer. Just as I may be able to fairly judge European "New Orleans" restaurants compared to the many more I've dined at in New Orleans -- but I have no business presuming to judge how their "New Orleans" restaurants rank in overall quality from the perspective of a European local diner, against competing local restaurants of other genres.

                                                                      (Nor would I assert categorical judgments of Bay Area Korean restaurants soon after mentioning that I'm not well acquainted with the important concentration of them around Santa Clara. I prefer to judge restaurants after trying them, preferably a few times each, and seeking what strengths they may offer to the local market rather than against some distant standard which becomes a price obstacle when you factor in the price of a round trip to Korea. :-)

                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                        Food is almost always better at the source. So the best Greek food will be in Greece. And the average Japanese restaurant will be better in Japan than the Bay area. But at least in the Bay Area we have restaurants that approach the level of the cuisines in their home counties. For example Kiraku in Berkeley is about as good Japanese food as you might expect to get in Kyoto. While I have not been to Cheng du, China Village and Z & Y are pretty dam good Sichuan food. Comparable to Sichuan food I had in Hong Kong and better than Sichuan food I had in Taipei. So I feel lucky to live in the Bay Area because we do have good choices for high quality authentic Asian food.

                                                                        Another factor that plays into this issue is that regardless of how authentic and skilled the chef might, the quality of ingredients can be a problem in the US. For example most chicken in the US is completely flavorless. You have to use organic specialty chicken to have any kind of depth of chicken flavor. But almost all inexpensive restaurant or street food chicken I have had in Asia has been delectable and far superior to chicken in the US. I recently ate at San Xi Lou a well-regarded Sichuan restaurant in Hong Kong. What impressed me most about the shrimp Ma Po Tofu were the quality of the tofu, which was just perfect in every way and the quality of the shrimp which had no trace of iodine-y flavor you get in the shrimp you get in the US.

                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                          "And again, please remember that expats judging their home cuisine..."

                                                                          Irrelevant, because I am not judging home cuisine on foreign soil; I am comparing it to other restaurants on that same soil. NY is not in Korea. LA is not in Korea. For that matter, I've spent less than a few months total in Korea in my lifetime; I would not be a good judge of Korean food in Korea.

                                                                          "Nor would I assert categorical judgments of Bay Area Korean restaurants soon after mentioning..."

                                                                          This is a fair point; Santa Clara is technically the Bay Area, and that is why I added the qualification about Santa Clara Korean food. However, it is unrealistic to lump in San Jose with the rest of the Bay when the distance is so great. Few of us would drive the 60-90 min from SF to Santa Clara just for a good jjigae. If 90 minutes were a reasonable travel time for a meal, Chicagoans could include all of Milwaukee's restaurants. 90 min from NY and you're on the outskirts of Philadelphia. In my mind, this is unreasonable. If someone from SF or Oakland asked about good Korean food and was then directed to Santa Clara, that advice would be largely ignored. For that matter, when we are discussing "Best Whatever" in the Bay Area, I'm willing to bet that most of us are not taking into account San Jose's offerings.

                                                                          In any event, Bauer seems to avoid that area in his Top 100. Regardless of whether that is fair, we are discussing his list in this thread, and so long as he is ignoring it, I don't have a problem ignoring it either. I will understand if you disapprove.

                                                                          1. re: dunstable

                                                                            dunstable my point on expats, which you may not like but which many people may find relevant nonetheless, is that expats, whether judging their home cuisine in SF or comparing it to some other US city, have an unusual perspective quite atypical of Bay Area diners seeking to learn about _local_ options.

                                                                            Whenever someone compares, say, local ramen houses to those in Japan, I wonder what could be less relevant than that. It is not as if the casual local diner could choose between the two, speaking of trip times.

                                                                            Please allow me to remind you also that this board is "San Francisco Bay Area," not "San Francisco." Currently, more than twice as many of us Bay Areans live in the immediate East Bay (Alameda County) and more than three times as many live in the Peninsula and immediate South Bay (SM & SC Counties) as in San Francisco itself. A great many readers and contributors to this board spend time not just outside SF, but near some of the dining options being broad-brush dismissed upthread.

                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                              "expats, whether judging their home cuisine in SF or comparing it to some other US city, have an unusual perspective quite atypical of Bay Area diners seeking to learn about _local_ options."

                                                                              This is unfair. You cannot insist upon the quality of the Bay's Asian food, then simultaneously disallow comparisons to any and all examples outside the area. "Sure, we have great Asian restaurants! So long as you don't compare them to other Asian restaurants!"

                                                                              If you were simply recommending that a diner try a restaurant because exposure to new cuisines can be an enriching experience, then I agree completely! But this is a list assessing relative quality, among a variety of cuisines. We are not comparing them to other Asian restaurants in other cities. We are comparing them to restaurants in our own cities. They need to surpass the other touchstones of culinary quality to be included in such a list. Chezwhitey believes they mostly do not, and so do I.

                                                                              Let's put it this way, I bet if we had to compile a list called "100 Restaurants That You Would Pick If You Could Only Eat at These 100 Restaurants in the Bay For The Rest Of Your Life," it would look very different and have a lot more Asian, even for Bauer. But it's not, so...

                                                                              "Currently, more than twice as many of us Bay Areans live in the immediate East Bay (Alameda County) and more than three times as many live in the Peninsula and immediate South Bay (SM & SC Counties) as in San Francisco itself."

                                                                              I was not excluding the East Bay or the immediate south of SF; I eat in the East Bay often. But your point is taken, San Jose is also the Bay. I withdraw that point, at least as it was stated.

                                                                  2. re: Ridge

                                                                    I think the asian food is good up here, just not as good as LA. If Bauer's criteria included how do the places on his list stack up nationally, there's no debate(in my mind) that very few asian restaurants around here would make the cut. As I mentioned in my reply to Robert Laurinson, one of the big differences is that not only are there several different genres of asian in la, but there is also depth in that there are so many of that particular style. On the other hand, I'd say there are maybe 15-20 really good Neapolitan style pizza places up here, in LA, there are maybe less than 10? If you do a per capita comparison, SF has LA beat easily. As far as asian, you have the san gabriel valley, parts of the OC that has really strong chinese. Torrance and Sawtelle blvd for japanese, Ktown and gardena for korean, westminister and rosemead for vietnamese. It's just the emphasis seems to be ethnic food down south. As for reasons why that might be... we'll cross that bridge at a later date.

                                                                    1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                      I dunno, ever since Bistango closed, LA has lost its luster for me.

                                                                      1. re: pauliface

                                                                        Oops! I was joking -- used to go to Bistango on La Cienega in the early 80s. It was an after-work place for us. But I just googled it and looks like there is a Bistango on Irvine. Anyone know if it's related?

                                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                                          Uh oh I've headed into a nostalgia death spiral, now I'm craving Chin Chin's chinese chicken salad. Can someone tell me -- is it actually good? It's been like 25 years since I had it...

                                                                  3. re: chezwhitey

                                                                    Does the San Gabriel Valley really have better or more diverse Chinese food than you can find in the Milpitas-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale area?

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Most definitely. Just as a frame of reference, while I know you don't like koi palace, I think it's the best place up here for cantonese. However, put it down there, it's just a very good dim sum restaurant but people wouldn't be waiting in line as long(not to mention price which is another topic). SGV not just has a wide variety of chinese, but lots of depth as well where here you will only find one or two places of a particular genre. Competition drives them to be the best in class. That said, it's not bad up here, just not on par with LA.

                                                                      1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                        "SGV not just has a wide variety of chinese, but lots of depth as well where here you will only find one or two places of a particular genre."

                                                                        With such a reference I am getting the impression that your perspective too, cw, reflects SF or some other subregion rather than what I cited above (for those wishing to read what I actually wrote): the Peninsula (San Mateo Cty.) and immediate south bay (Santa Clara Cty.), whose combined 2.5+ million residents both dwarf SF's population, and show distinct demographics. And hundreds or thousands of Chinese restaurants. A dozen within short walk of my home for instance, including two capable Sichuanese chefs and a Dongbei restaurant. Slightly farther a dozen others, including a Shanghainese place recommended both in the Michelin and on Chowhound. And it's not even Cupertino where a much higher proprtion of restaurants are Chinese.

                                                                        Their customers are overwhelmingly Chinese. (Prompting stingy menu translations that emphasize "Americanized" dishes, which provoke backlash from some non-Chinese Chowhounds whose own blind spot in turn is not to realize that they are extremely atypical customers. One Sichuan-born entrepreneur, L. C. C. "Chef" Chu, even made a thriving business by focusing explicitly on what non-Chinese customers usually order!)

                                                                        Ethnic, immigrant, and visiting Asian connoisseurs have learnedly discussed these south-bay restaurants here on CH for 15 years, for anyone who cared to notice. It seems Bauer's limited time or priorities don't allow attention to Asian restaurants proportionate to their Bay Area or even Chowhound prevalence.

                                                                        Historically the original Bay Area Chinese immigration, from Canton, formed SF's Chinatown, late 1800s -- for most of the time since, the largest overseas Chinese community outside Asia. That's why SF had dim sum before most Chowhounds were born, whether or not SF is a leading source today.

                                                                        In contrast, today's Santa Clara County built up in the 1960s and 70s with high-tech light industry especially semiconductors (prompting Hoefler's 1971 nickname "silicon valley"). High tech industry brought skilled workers from around the world, but especially Asia, and particularly various parts of China. To explore Cupertino, Milpitas, and other south-bay towns today is to see prosperous immigrant Asian communities comparable to OC's, with restaurant populations to match.

                                                                        That's my main point in this thread, some people are judging the Bay Area as a whole from intuitions that evidently do not know the area as a whole at all --only parts of it. As the saying goes, they don't know what they don't know.

                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                          I agree with chezwhitey about the depth and breadth of what's available in the San Gabriel Valley compared to here. Not too long ago, I did take note of a post from a SoCal 'hound that our local Sichuan offerings seemed to be superior. And some Angelenos will admit that Koi Palace beats out their Hong Kong offerings. The weird thing is that when a LA restaurant opens a branch here, the quality is not as high. Similarly, the branches of Asian chains in LA do better than the ones up here.

                                                                          You might find this thread amusing wherein New Yorkers go nuts that Chandavkl's top 10 US Chinese restaurants are all in California.

                                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                            Heh, engrossing thread. It must be noted, however, that all the NY flag-waving came from a single person, which I guess is to be expected; there are plenty of homers everywhere.

                                                                            I have never been an expert on Chinese food, neither here nor when I lived in NY, but occasionally the New York Times travel section would have fawning articles about how amazing the Chinese food was in Southern California, which I guess now they meant the SGV. My friends and I assumed Chinese food was better in Socal than NY, partly because of these articles, and also because we assumed it was basically the same food, except with superior ingredient quality.

                                                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                              David Chan also said that if he did a top 10 Chinese restaurants in North America they'd all be in Canada.

                                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                Thanks Melanie, you are one CHer that I know has some actual perspective on Bay-Area-wide Chinese restaurants, not limited to one or another corner of the bay. Recent years have seen periodic newcomers dismissing BA Chinese restaurants wholesale (all - what? - 6000? of them) in favor of some other, currently hip region. The problem has been that even if those writers were right, they didn't know it -- given the slight or localized knowledge they displayed of the BA's offerings. Much like the perennial threads by people who dine ONCE at Panisse, then argue about its attributes with Lauriston who has dined there dozens of times.

                                                                                Example from a Bay Area Chowhound who DOES know the Chinese restaurants in breadth and depth (KK);


                                                                                I'm old enough to recall the Chinese immigration opening David Chan wrote about. Suddenly in the late 1960s the chow-mein and chop-suey "Chinese and American Food" restaurants were giving way to Sichuanese and Hunanese, and people loved it. In the late 60s and 70s Chinese regional cuisines were a fashionable topic nationwide.

                                                                                Back to Bauer: We did indeed have another dominant print critic for the South Bay, Stett Holbrook (some 350 weekly reviews 2005-2012, some of them, as for Alexander's Steakhouse in 2005, both deeper and earlier than the more mainstream media). And he emphasized Asian restaurants, because of course they're so common around silicon valley. But even he could not comprehensively survey that scene with nearly 2 million population and Bauer has tried, nominally, to cover the entire Bay Area. Sheer numbers impede his giving representative coverage to all towns and cuisines.

                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                  Bauer rarely reviews Chinese restaurants except high-end ones such as Yank Sing, MY China, and Hakkasan.

                                                                                  The Chron's reviewers don't pay much attention to Santa Clara county. The review search finds ten Chinese restaurants there.


                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    All supporting my thesis here that representation on a Bauer favorites list does not constitute a comprehensive expert assessment, or really any assesment, of the Bay Area's vast Chines restaurant corps.

                                                                                  2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                    You're welcome, and thank you. I should have ended my post above with, "Just ask KK". I'm sure he agrees with me about SGV, as he has spent time there too. :)

                                                                              2. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                This thread and the Jonathan Gold piece it links to suggests that chezwhitey is correct:


                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  What we need then, since Bauer doesn't appear disposed to learn that scene, is a local Jonathan Gold to highlight for general readers similar ranges of Bay Area regional Chinese restaurants already familiar to many Chinese-connected residents in the parts of the Bay Area I referred to.

                                                                                  (Which have been outside your own stomping grounds too, Robert, by my reading of your CH postings for some years. Anyway you did not address the substance of my recent comments above: If people insist on opining broad-brush about Asian restaurants in a region as populous as the South Bay, it would be very helpful if they demonstrated real familiarity with those. There are plenty of past CH threads among people who do so.)

                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                    Yeah, the South Bay is just too far from my home in Berkeley.

                                                                                    I think a lot of Angelenos are driving all the time for one reason or another anyway so they don't think anything of going to a restaurant an hour away.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      Likewise, I rarely get to the East Bay these days despite spending decades there.

                                                                                      Of course the 2.5 million SC/SM County residents I cited don't have to drive an hour, they're already there (even if forgotten by some journalists or chowhounds).

                                                                                      The LA area certainly has a glorious restaurant scene. One of my Bay-Area food-wine mentors (who is a Big Cheese, though I prefer the French idiom, Grand Legume) is always praising, from considerable experience, the superiority of LA's restaurant scene generally.

                                                                                      (But when I mention this to Angelenos, they often respond "Where? Which restaurants??" and complain about not finding what they seek.)

                                                                                    2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                      Well, I don't live in the southbay, but I am down there once every 2 weeks or so and when I am, I eat at mostly the vietnamese places because the chinese places I've been to are fine, but not as good as what I've experienced in LA. Does this make me qualified to speak about the food in the bay area? Maybe, maybe not. How about this, let's take a common dish like xiao long bao. You tell me where you think I can get a good interpretation of this dish. I'll stack this up against places in LA that I've been to that I like, J&J, Dean Sin, Mei Long, DTF(begrudgingly). I'm all about trying new places which is why I'm here. I'll go in as unbiased as I can be and to be honest, I really hope you prove me wrong.

                                                                                      1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                        Have you had the XLB at Koi palace? They are not as good as the best XLB I had in Taipei and Hong Kong but they are the closest in quality I have had in the Bay Area.

                                                                                        1. re: Ridge

                                                                                          I haven't, I don't typically think of ordering xlb at dim sum, but if it's good, it's good. I'll give it a try next time.

                                                                          2. Hello all...new to this forum. Saw the list on Monday. Another restaurant I expected to see:

                                                                            Baume in Palo Alto.

                                                                            1. I was a bit surprised not to see Jardinaire on the list. Granted, I haven't eaten there in my last two or three trips to the SFO Bay area. Has it gone downhill in the past three or four years?

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Mike C. Miller

                                                                                Yah that one he gave a reason for, when he first removed it. He said that while the quality of the food was still high, it was not commensurate to the much higher prices now being charged. I was last there in 2012, and while I don't think it's much worse in quality, I do think other restaurants have passed it by.

                                                                                I guess using that logic, I can see why he doesn't include Commis or Crenn.

                                                                                1. re: Mike C. Miller

                                                                                  I was there last year after about a 6 year gap. Admittedly, it was for one of their Monday price fix dinners. But my feeling was that it had plummetted and I will not return.

                                                                                2. I don’t have very much faith in Bauer’s opinions. Even going through his list seems like a waste of time to me. I do have faith in the opinions of chowhound people, even if I don’t agree with them on everything. Why don’t we start a chowhound top 100 bay area restaurants list were everyone votes?

                                                                                  17 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                      We should do it. It's too late for 2012 but we can do it for 2013. Maybe we can start voting in November and tabulate the list in December. I can help with setting it up and tabulating.

                                                                                      1. re: Ridge

                                                                                        I think it can be a useful thing. Perhaps doing a master list as well as sub categories. I will ruminate over the best way to do it.

                                                                                        1. re: Ridge

                                                                                          We Already have a top 10 dishes of the year In January so now or midyear would be a good time to generate such list. I suggest That the inaugural poster make 26 different threads, each corresponding to a letter in the alphabet. If someone has a restaurant to add to the list they make a new post and if someone wants to add that restaurant to their list they just need to hit the recommend button.

                                                                                          I think such a top whatever list would be pretty useful for the boards. A lot of posts, especially the ones for tourists, tend to become an echo chamber and by having a list, we would have a nice baseline to enable us to sprinkle more nuanced suggestions.

                                                                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                                            Chowhound is about opinion and discussion, not ratings, rankings, and lists. Let Yelp or Zagat or whoever do that other crap.

                                                                                            The Recommend button makes a list somewhere?

                                                                                            Topics for restaurants that start with a particular letter seem pointless to me. Who cares?

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              I agree in principle with Robert, but if someone wants to set all that up, I'll probably cast my votes.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                Chowhouders are more discerning than yelp people etc. It would be a convenient resource for people who want a quick reference but don’t have the time to do a lot of searching.

                                                                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                                                                  Chowhound added star ratings a few years ago and threw them away a couple of years later.

                                                                                                  My impression was that they did not reflect the views of the regular posters here. It's a lot easier to click a button than to write a thoughtful post or reply.

                                                                                                  I think all that stuff degrades the site. It's not broken, don't fix it.

                                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  "Chowhound is about opinion and discussion, not ratings, rankings, and lists. Let Yelp or Zagat or whoever do that other crap."

                                                                                                  Yes, it's much more productive to complain about other website's ratings and lists than generate any of our own.

                                                                                                  Oops, my suggestion was carelessley worded. I wasn't suggesting making 26 topics. I was suggesting 1 post, with 26 initial replies, one each for the letters of the alphabet. It would look like this:

                                                                                                  Aziza +2
                                                                                                  Capp's Corner +2
                                                                                                  Cotogna +4

                                                                                                  You want to add Cheeseboard? Relpy to "C" with a post saying "Cheeseboard." Someone who also wanted to say Cheeseboard would then hit the recommend button to cast the second vote for Cheeboard. Tallying the recommendations would be a lot easier than weeding through a bunch of disorganized replies the old fashioned way.

                                                                                                  True, we're here on Chowhound for the opinion and discussion. At the same time, certain voices are more vocal than others, and most users don't read every post. That means lots of recommendations fall through the cracks, lots are never voiced for one reason or another, and many are redundant because they're from the same user or derive from the same original tip.

                                                                                                  I would hope that a list would cause some new gems to pop out from as creative a group as is on here. Or maybe guide people towards cuisines and posts out of their normal comfort zone. Perhaps even having a list of "Top X" underrated restaurants would be a more appropriate framing.

                                                                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                                                      I sort of see your point, but a plus one just doesn't mean much. You can like different places for different reasons or have mixed feelings about a place. I'd rather read that. So more people like Aziza than Applebees...eh.

                                                                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                                                                        @ Glencora Right, that's one reason why Zagat's ratings, which break down ratings across different criteria, are more useful than Yelp. But both are limited because, as gets brought up on Chowhound, some places are destination worthy because of one particular dish.

                                                                                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                                                          Zagat's and Yelp's ratings are equally useless. Both are surveys dominated by the uninformed. At least with Yelp you can skim the posts and find some reports from people with a clue. Zagat is just a waste of time, paper, electricity, and gasoline.

                                                                                            2. re: Ridge

                                                                                              I'd rather have a bunch of individual lists of favorite restaurants, which Chowhound already has. If I see that someone likes a bunch of places I like, I'm interested in what else they like that I haven't tried.

                                                                                              Popular polls aren't very interesting, look at Zagat.

                                                                                              Lists with an arbitrary cutoff almost always require arbitrary decisions so they're not fair.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                "Popular polls aren't very interesting, look at Zagat."

                                                                                                Agreed. Also, different people have different geographical specializations (and the flip side, blind spots) in the Bay Area (excepting maybe Melanie, who seems to cover at least 100 miles a day :-). That yields meaningful individual favorites lists for subregions, rather than the Bay Area as a whole.

                                                                                                When Zagat started, it immediately showed a bias toward name recognition. Not the place to find up-and-coming inspired food artists who would LATER be familiar names (the sort sometimes discussed on this board).

                                                                                                Just as you can often get outstanding experiences from chefs BEFORE they earn Michelin stars -- cheaper too, and easier reservations.

                                                                                                On public internet food forums, even long before this one began, the less thoroughly individuals have sampled restaurant genre X, the quicker they've been to proclaim "Best X in the Bay Area" in my experience. Sometimes it's the only one they tried.

                                                                                                There are benefits to reading an individual voice with consistent tastes even if they're not yours. Or even a group that works toward consistent criteria, like the Michelin. Or an experienced amateur online.

                                                                                              2. re: Ridge

                                                                                                I think a poll of best types of restaurants might be useful for some, like "Best Italian," "Best sushi," "Best creativity-driven restaurant," and so on. Probably we can guess what the consensuses are for most of these, though.

                                                                                                1. re: dunstable

                                                                                                  I don't think there are many cuisines or even dishes where you'd find a consensus. People have very diverse ideas about what's best.

                                                                                              3. One thing I've learned about reading/following the Top 100 lists by MB is to always take it with a grain of salt. It's an interesting and entertaining guide, but MB always has his reasons for picking some of his own tried and true favorites.

                                                                                                Much like these top 10 best articles in the LA weekly being discussed on the CH board, nothing more than fodder for controversy or discussion. The same goes for the Chinese Sing Tao Newspaper freelance food and wine critic (former HK expat and film/TV actor, Ronald Mar) who also reviews western food, wine, and Chinese food, who might be close to Bauer in age and preference in some areas....(RM might know his Chinese food, but apparently his taste in wine could be debatable).

                                                                                                As far as the "ethnic" thing goes, there's not much point comparing Northern vs Southern California. In some cases, it is what it is. I actually have not spent that much time in SGV, but based on the little I know, there is a very high density of variety and depth. Certainly worth a visit, but if one is situated in Northern California, we have delicious regional Chinese too that at least is very acceptable. In terms of quality (SoCal), that's anyone's guess, but for regional Chinese food fans, it's definitely a heaven.

                                                                                                But if we are talking about regional Cantonese and Cantonese I still think we have it better here. All I can say is that SGV had a stellar Hakka Cantonese chef who also knows how to prepare poon choy, yet his restaurant folded. Not gourmet by any means, but neither are many regional rustic Chinese cuisines either.

                                                                                                The problem is that the SGV is littered with HK cafes who compete against each other with variety and price, with not that much inbetween. Then on a larger scale you have dim sum seafood restaurants, many of which are trying to also outcompete with each other. The mid tier type of dining maybe available, but not significant enough for discussion, let alone a drive for quality. The typical LA Cantonese food CH discussion focuses on pretty much a short segment of the Cantonese food spectrum, maybe a few discussions on Canto BBQ/deli, but other than dim sum and seafood once in a while, that appears to be about it.

                                                                                                In SF Bay Area, we have a comprehensive / almost all inclusive restaurant like Cooking Papa that replicates the Hong Kong dining experience, from the low end rice plates/congee/noodles stir fry, to dai pai dong style no nonsense stir fry, and upper end style banquet. Almost 85% of the menu is really solid. But there's probably nothing like it in SGV, and those HK cafes down there do not count since they don't have the quality to match. So to say Koi Palace, which is in some ways a canteen for the wealthy, is the "best" Cantonese we have in SF Bay Area that surpasses LA, is kind of a farce when nothing else has been considered in between.

                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: K K

                                                                                                  I was just about to add that Cooking Papa should really be in Bauer's Top 100 list. So Ken, if you have to name the top 3 Cantonese/Chinese restaurants in the area, what will they be? Koi Palace, Cooking Papa, and which one? R&G Lounge, or some restaurant in Millbrae, or Fremont? Not in Albany right?

                                                                                                    1. re: Dustin_E

                                                                                                      Dustin knows me too well. We must be separated at food birth.

                                                                                                      1. Yum's Bistro
                                                                                                      2. Maybe Koi Palace (although I have not had a proper dinner there in a long time)
                                                                                                      3. Cooking Papa Foster City

                                                                                                      If décor and upscale nature is more important, then Koi Palace of course. But for really good food in a more downscale setting, Yum's (which is more like banquet class in a downscale setting at more reasonable prices). Nothing like downing a Tsing Tao with the basil spicy minced pork stir fried dungie and its carapace at Yum's.

                                                                                                      1. re: K K

                                                                                                        They obviously spent some money on the Daly City Koi Palace when they built it out in the mid-90s but I found it kind of run down and dingy.

                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          Koi Palace probably seems dingy because of the crowds, and the somewhat cluttered arrangement and density of tables. It's the perfect feng shui oxymoron when you need more space for the financial energy and good vibes to flow, but a restaurant also needs customers to fill the tables. I see them not having a headache over the run down and dingy nature of it, and to those of Cantonese extraction (and probably Chinese) it's ok/acceptable. Or you can have a place like Shanghai No 1 Seafood Village in Rosemead or Hakkasan, but some of us tend to get wary when the décor looks too good (usually ends up having no substance or too much of it).

                                                                                                          1. re: K K

                                                                                                            We were just at Koi place last weekend for Dim Sum and really enjoyed it. This time the XLB with crab roe were the best I remember eating in California. Perfect in every way from the supple wrapper to flavorful delicate filling. We tried one of the new dishes, rice roll with barbecued pork and crunch. I didn't like this dish. I found the pork too sweet and the crunch distracting.

                                                                                                            1. re: K K

                                                                                                              Koi Palace didn't seem crowded to me. It didn't bother me that it seemed run down, I'm just saying that anyone going there expecting upscale decor is likely to be disappointed. The contenders for that these days are probably MY China and Hakkasan.

                                                                                                          2. re: K K

                                                                                                            So, when you go to Koi palace, do you ever order the set menus? If so, do you have a favorite?

                                                                                                    2. Certainly agree on its influence. As one who travels to San Francisco frequently I read the Chronicle, along with posts here, etc. etc., to make wise dining choices. As an out of towner I am not going to subscribe to the paper just for the restaurant news and reviews. I have found Lauriston notes more valuable than Bauer anyway. On the other hand I don't understand the vitriol some readers express over Michael Bauer. So you disagree/have a different palate? So what? Find reviewers who share your views and follow their recommendations.

                                                                                                      22 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: ejohn

                                                                                                        It's because he's not just a critic with an opinion; he wields significant power over the San Francisco restaurant scene -- he can make or break a restaurant based on his reviews. The homogeneity of SF's dining scene is partly his fault, thanks to his very specific tastes, and the power of his reviews.

                                                                                                        Let's put it this way, recently a restaurant retooled itself with a new name and menu. The day after Bauer gave the new incarnation a bad review, it announced plans to revert to the original format.


                                                                                                        For that matter, I doubt any Chowhound reader utilizes local restaurant reviews in this manner -- usually we've all tasted the latest new restaurants long before Bauer publishes his reviews. The same is probably true for every city.

                                                                                                        1. re: dunstable

                                                                                                          Bauer didn't even review Hutong. He just criticized the change in a blog post.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            Nope, he reviewed it. It got two stars. "While I liked many dishes individually, I couldn't help but compare the restaurant to what it was before. I'm still not sure what was gained in the transition. It seems like a back-alley version of a formerly street-smart restaurant."


                                                                                                            1. re: savedlatin

                                                                                                              Oh yeah, I missed that. He reviewed Hutong in the Sunday paper and they decided to switch back to Betelnut at 3pm Monday.

                                                                                                          2. re: dunstable

                                                                                                            I am curious, what is his pull, or influence? Can he really make or break a restaurant by his review?

                                                                                                            1. re: karenfinan

                                                                                                              He is obviously quite influential, but exactly to what degree is hard to say. If a restaurant really sucks and he gives it a bad review and it fails, did he break it or would it have failed anyway? And there are restaurants that have had great success in spite of lukewarm initial reviews, like Boulevard. One Market supposedly earned the nickname "1 1/2 Market" based on his initial review.

                                                                                                              But here is an anecdote: I used to know a guy who opened a small hole-in-the-wall place in the Marina. It was the kind of place that would probably have flown under Bauer's radar, but the guy kept emailing him urging him to review it. Eventually, he did and gave it two stars, but the tone of the review was very positive as if he felt guilty for not giving it 2.5. The result of the review was that the restaurant's revenue shot up by 30 percent, at least for some period of time. And that was for a two-star review.

                                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                                The Chron's rating system is sort of off-kilter:

                                                                                                                4 = extraordinary
                                                                                                                3 = excellent
                                                                                                                2 = good
                                                                                                                1 = fair

                                                                                                            2. re: dunstable

                                                                                                              I think you are giving Bauer too much credit to say that he was responsible (or even heavily influential) in the decision to move back. I was at Hutong a couple days before the announcement and the bartenders seemed to be hinting that the change wasn't working.

                                                                                                              I think in SF Bauer is just one influence of many. I think Yelp is a greater destroyer and creator of restaurants than MB -- and I have a lot more bad things to say about Yelp than I do of MB.

                                                                                                              1. re: calumin

                                                                                                                Well, I can at least agree that Yelp is more pernicious than Bauer.

                                                                                                                1. re: calumin

                                                                                                                  Bauer wrote a bad review in the Sunday paper and they announced the reversion on Monday.

                                                                                                                  If Bauer had written a rave, would they have done that? Of course not.

                                                                                                                2. re: dunstable

                                                                                                                  "For that matter, I doubt any Chowhound reader utilizes local restaurant reviews in this manner -- usually we've all tasted the latest new restaurants long before Bauer publishes his reviews. The same is probably true for every city." [dunstable]

                                                                                                                  And indeed for the Bay Area too, in past times before Bauer (or Chowhound). Bauer predecessors Unterman & Sesser are mentioned in this thread. In their heyday 25 years ago, their advice was followed slavishly by some people, who mobbed any restaurant praised, and sometimes it was bad news for the restaurant. The fashion-followers would crowd out and even drive away the regulars, while very rarely becoming regulars themselves.

                                                                                                                  That happened to a couple of up-and-coming East Bay restaurants I frequented then. One owner bemoaned the consequences of Chronicle recognition of what steady customers had long known.

                                                                                                                  The other restaurant started filling with novel customers, like tuxedoed SF physicians doing a wine dinner (the famous First Growth Club). Its gifted chef then demanded a piece of the action; owner refused, chef left, no more special restaurant. ..

                                                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                    It's a rare restaurant that is in a position to bemoan the extra customers that follow a review.

                                                                                                                    Unlike Bauer, Unterman and Sesser regularly brought deserving off-the-radar holes in the wall to public attention. To name just a couple of examples, it weren't for them, Angkor Borei might have gone out of business long ago, and Pauline's Pizza might never have been reborn in its current form.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      Yes of course; that's one, well-known, side of favorable published reviews.

                                                                                                                      My comment, in past tense, concerned the other edge of the sword (or pen): a temporary rush of fashion-following readers who don't, in fact, become long-term customers, don't help the restaurant's fortunes except briefly, and can even put off the regulars, in the Yogi Berra "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded" sense. That side effect was widely observed during Unterman and Sesser's heyday in the 1980s, both inside restaurants (I mentioned two) and by many people I knew in the East Bay. Perhaps you were unaware of it.

                                                                                                                      Past tense -- I don't know if Bauer has such effects today.

                                                                                                                      It corresponds to a much more famous and well-documented effect in wine retailing, when the likes of a Robert Parker praises a wine, and a part of the consumer market consequently clamors for it, raising price or causing scarcity. I've even seen this in person. The wine didn't change, only its market. And per dunstable's remark, the wine (or the restaurant) generally had a following already, bedore going fad.

                                                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                        The fashion followers these days are on Yelp and they show up immediately. By the time Bauer reviews a place they're long gone.

                                                                                                                        You didn't mention any restaurants that suffered from good reviews, you just said there were a couple.

                                                                                                                        In my observation, post-review crowds usually peter out within three weeks, after that it's the previous customers plus whatever new fans stuck from the review.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          Correction: I mentioned two specifically; I just didn't name them (in fact the exact names have faded from memory, unlike the food.) Both now long gone (it was middle to late 1980s), both scenes of still-memorable meals. I see on a quick check that the talented (French-born) chef whom I mentioned as leaving the one newly famous restaurant had a further Bay Area career. The same restaurant (pre-Chronicle-discovery) was even the site of what this forum would call a Chowdown, but long before Chowhound existed.

                                                                                                                          All to support dunstable's observation that people focused on dining will be familiar with notable restaurants before newspapers review them. Indeed in my experience of recent years, that's how journalists learn about the notable restaurants. (And I keep my own longtime private mailing list of receptive Bay Area journalists and food-conscious editors.)

                                                                                                                3. re: ejohn

                                                                                                                  The Chron used to have two reviewers, Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser. Both are Chowhound types, they like great food in any surroundings, and they were good at digging up great non-European food of all varieties.

                                                                                                                  Bauer got rid of both of them so he could take over their columns. He rarely steps out of his fine dining / hotel restaurant rut, so the Chron's reviews have suffered accordingly.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    The reason I have a negative view of Bauer is that he seems too enamored by trendy food. Perhaps that's just my perception. More often than not I dissagree with his opinions of restaurants so I learned a long time ago to take his reviews with a huge grain of salt. Lastly I find his writing style annoying.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        I loved Patricia Unterman, and was always curious about her leaving the Chron- anyone have info they would like to share?

                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          "The Chron used to have two reviewers, Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser. Both are Chowhound types, they like great food in any surroundings..."

                                                                                                                          Just so. And before them Seymour Whitelaw, keeping alive a Bay Area tradition that also included (a name remarkably well known in the 70s even though his newsletter was nominally "private") Jack Shelton. (Who of course sold to Finigan who became the de-facto dominant US newsletter wine critic before many people here ever heard of Robert Parker -- I still cherish some of F's newsletters which were not just helpful, but literate. The man had a way with words.)

                                                                                                                          A prominent Bay Area magazine ran an article some 10 years ago re M. Bauer's influence, title sommat like "Dining in Michael Bauer's town," which reported a role in Unterman's departure after years of her working as field restaurant reporter under his administrative direction at the Chron. IIRC.

                                                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                            I heard that Bauer got rid of Sesser by telling him he had to choose between the Chron column and his main job, writing for Consumer Reports.

                                                                                                                            "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town" by Maile Carpenter was in SF Magazine. According to that article, the first time Unterman left she took a buyout, the second time Bauer fired her after he was promoted to head of that section.