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Michael Bauer's incomprehensible rating logic

Bauer explains in his blog post today that he gave Sir and Star three and 3.5 stars for food because the prices are so low.


Where's the logic in that? He rates food, service, atmosphere, price, and noise separately. As a reader, when I see a breakdown like that, I figure the "overall" rating is the place where a restaurant gets extra points for being a good value.

Part of the problem is probably that he hasn't updated the price ratings since 2000 except to add $1 to the breakpoint between inexpensive and moderate:

$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under
$$ = Moderate: $11-$17
$$$ = Expensive: $18-$24
$$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25

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  1. What he actually implies is that the food deserved the 3 stars, and would have been higher if they had an extensive dessert menu.

    He then bumped it up the extra half star for value/price. So if your issue is with that half star, and it appears it is, I'd say as long as he's consistent, and plans on goosing stars on such a criteria across the board, who cares?

    In many ways, it would be a great equalizer for places serving good food who weren't offering a full program based on a multi course meal, or that were penalized at least a half star or more for the rating limitations of the cuisine itself. There should be compensation if a place has extra value, or the addition of good cocktails, by taking into account that it's a good version of whatever that establishment is trying to be, rather than rank it by order of French to least French, or something. We live in the era of Yelp anyway.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sugartoof

      Crosstalk between individual ratings is inherently inconsistent, that's the problem.

      There was a recent revisit review where he knocked the food rating down because the prices had gone up and maybe the service was off, even though he said that the food was as good as ever.

      1. Seems like Bauer is still struggling with coming up with a consistent methodology for ratings (and Top-100 inclusion) after all these years. The price ratings are hilariously dated. By his definition, Perbacco with entrees averaging around $27 and entirely reasonably priced for a fine-dining restaurant would be considered "very expensive" even though sfgate only shows it as $$$. By the definition, it would be in the same price category as Michael Mina in the same block where appetizers are in the $20s and entrees start in the $40s. Given that Bauer tends to review high-profile, fancy places as soon as they pop up, but inexpensive hole-in-the-wall places only occasionally, you'd think he would do a better job of categorizing pricing at the higher end of the scale.

        1. Anyone with any sense quit reading Bauer a long time ago except to cross reference every once in a while, or by accident. His biases are well known: mid-range continental with a twist, nice decor, hunk of meat Midwest option, full bar and cute waiters.

          Yes he's the king maker big cheese in SF but who cares. I haven't read the guy for over 10 years and yet I can find places to eat that work very well...and frankly you have to be a bit of an idiot not to find something or some place decent to eat in SF.

          8 Replies
          1. re: ML8000

            I don't mind reading Bauer -- if only because he is influential -- and I rarely find myself completely disagreeing with his reviews. If you are aware of his biases and review methodology (or lack thereof), he is a reasonably useful datapoint.

            1. re: ML8000

              I agree 100%. I misread the subject line as "incomprehensible ranting logic," which actually seems a bit more apropos. His reviews are useless; this site and even the other one-that-shall-not-be-named have made him largely irrelevant. If I were him, I would be looking forward to retirement... maybe move to Stockholm and design a currency for cats and dogs to use.

              The only food writer worse than Bauer is Willie Brown.

              1. re: lakemerritter

                100 percent irrelevant to me, except to the extent that his biases/preferences shape the restaurant scene. I sometimes read his blog if I've been pointed towards a specific posting. I very occasionally read a review of his, just out of curiosity (i.e. his review of Saison). He's a dinosaur who hasn't yet realized he's facing extinction.

              2. re: ML8000

                One thing I loved about a recent trip to LA is reading J Gold and the LA Weekly staff writers. Having good criticism matters to an artistic community.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  Jonathan Gold's in a class by himself, but Jonathan Kauffman's first-rate. He's now working for Tasting Table and writes maybe half a dozen a month.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Indeed. The sense I get from JG is that he really is into it, is open to new things, ideas and cultures and he would be fun to hang. I never got that from Bauer.

                    MB writes from a narrow spectrum and to seemingly to hold position, as a gatekeeper. I can't find a reason to like having a meal with him. He just doesn't come across as much fun and ironically in SF and its legacy of weirdness/wackiness, we get the straight-laced Midwesterner (gay or not).

                    Meanwhile in LA, where the beautiful people literally don't eat at the nice restaurants to maintain weight (but pay the bill) you get a bit of an eccentric glutton who is from the West Coast and isn't scared of ethnic food. He gets it. There's an honesty.

                    A writer's backgrounds absolutely matter.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      J Gold is truly awesome, but the work he is now doing in LA is kind of a low simmer of his old rebellious stuff.

                      It kind of sucks, but he's too well known. He tends to be a "validator" rather than a discoverer.

                      It's not his fault. He's a superstar. His reviews are still very fun to read, and his exploration of LA in general knows to parallel.

                      He dines exactly how one ought to dine IMO, with reckless abandon, and the attitude that $1 tacos can be as good as $100 steaks.

                      I guess he isn't totally useless though. He remains one of Corzon y Miel's main champions, and was an early one, almost single-handedly keeping them alive long enough to float on their own.

                      Meanwhile, the LA Weekly has gone somewhat downhill since they lost him to the Times, though they do more pioneering I suppose.

                2. I wonder what relationships other food critics have with their cities. I don't recall William Grimes inspiring this much animosity back when he wrote for the NYTimes, nor even Ruth Reichl before him.

                  I'm not a fan of his either, of course.

                  26 Replies
                  1. re: dunstable

                    One thing, Jonathan Gold is from LA, a West Coaster. M Bauer is from the Midwest.

                    Also, to be frank, there's different levels of journalism between the NY Times, LA Times and the Chron. Even as the LA Times has been hit with the downturn in print, it still produces/ hires very good writers and that's editorial control.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      "M Bauer is from the Midwest."

                      As is a fair amount of the SF population. It's one possible reason why some establishments have caught on, but I don't know what reviewer can be considered a local boy/girl.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        What is a "fair amount"? A fair amount of the SF population is immigrants; another fair amount is natives (yes, we exist) or from other parts of California; another fair amount is from the East Coast. I'd guess the "fair amount" of people here from the Midwest is smaller than any of those demographics.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Why argue over an anecdotal "guess"?

                          I personally encounter more transplants from the Midwest than I do the East Coast or even natives. Whether that's statistically accurate doesn't matter, because I merely observed there were a "fair amount". I didn't say more, or the most. Why nitpick when I'm merely suggesting Bauer's opinions are representative of a sub section of the demographic?

                          Why not name the Native San Franciscan with another influential review byline. Do they exist?

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Here's my point about MB being from the Midwest - his tastes and thus his reviews are stuck there...and yet here we are on the Left Coast. Okay, so there are transplants but this is about Bauer, his influence (and Midwest tastes) how it filters and effects the local scene.

                            The beet salad is classic example. He likes it, raves about it and suddenly almost every restaurant in his comfort zone (see above) starts serving it. Nothing against beet salad but that just kills creativity.

                            Look how Jonathan Gold embraces ethnic food, which in turns pushes the local food scene in LA. There is a cause and effect. People read and react.

                            Jim Wood back in the day had a similar effect. He liked small mom and pop ethnic places and that's around the time Thai food started becoming really popular. Obviously there's room for both but instead we get meathead dude tilting the table and mid-range continental with a twist, nice decor, hunk of meat Midwest option, full bar and cute waiters.

                            I'll just say it - overall his perspective is very white and limited. For pete effin' sake it's the 21st century. I want an informed opinion that's not limited, or a few voices at the least...or at least an opened mindedness to explore.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              Just FYI, Jonathan Kauffman is from the Midwest. The difference being that he's not "stuck" there and he has embraced the Left Coast.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I was referring to Jonathan Gold but I get your point and agree. Nothing wrong with the Midwest...but yes, embrace where you are, use the Midwest as a reference just like how everyone uses their background but man, don't use it as your main reference point or metric.

                                MB's taste are so generally bland it's not good for the local food scene. The guy probably can't look at a fish with a head on it.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Bauer worked in his father's meat market, so I doubt he's squamish about animal parts.

                              2. re: ML8000

                                Reading Jim Wood's reviews alway gave me the impression of a jolly guy who hadn't had a meal in his life that he didn't like. Like this review of the Subway store on Ellis and Powell:

                                Still waiting for a Subway review from Bauer.

                                1. re: nocharge

                                  The guy certainly knew hot to accentuate the positive. "The … cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, olives, oil, vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard … are such a large part of the sandwich, they're the main taste, not the individual meat, but with the very fresh rolls and condiments, you don't mind."

                                2. re: ML8000

                                  "Here's my point about MB being from the Midwest - his tastes and thus his reviews are stuck there..."

                                  I just don't think that affliction is really unique to him. I believe he's got an audience who share his biases, and speaking to the larger elephant in the room, that a lot of reviewers, food writers and for that matters, chefs themselves who arrive informed by their regional upbringings. Sometimes it's the opposite case, over compensating and favoring non-White exotic foods no matter the quality instead. It's not as if San Francisco was void of steak and potatoes or "White and limited" menus. Take a look at the original chop house menus of the Barbary Coast.

                                  There are some positive aspects to all this.

                                  Anyway, can you think of a very California restaurant with great food that Bauer panned because he didn't get it?

                          2. re: ML8000

                            The LA Weekly was where Jonathan Gold got his start. He had pretty much mastered his craft before he took his column to the LA Times, and he was back at the LA Weekly when he won the Pulitzer.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              The one refreshing thing about Jonathan Gold is his lack of desire to retain his anonymity unlike most critics. If you read the local papers and have an interest in local food you know what he looks like. i used to see him enjoying a coffee and a pastry at my local bakery on a regular basis. he's just a lovable person all around.

                              1. re: trolley

                                It might be refreshing to you for your own good reasons, but there are reasons why many respected restaurant critics from Mimi Sheraton on down have worked at keeping low profile. (More seriously, I gather, than Bauer.) The reasons are obvious enough to most folks who've spent serious time reading a lot of restaurant critics.

                                My favorite was one who was especially dedicated, elsewhere on the West coast, 30-some years ago; a hard worker, strong gastronomic background, offered penetrating insights, and stood no BS. I still quote him from memory. (One furious restaurateur took out an ad, offering a lavish dinner and epic wine for a copy of the guy's picture; a rare kind of implicit recommendation as a critic.)

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  yeah I get it. i do. and to do their work with balance and fairness (a la ruth reichl's debacle with Le Cirque or more recently S. Irene Virbila with Red Medicine) of course you need to have anonymity otherwise every restaurant would possibly be reviewed as "excellent". and to that i realize not everyone can walk around like Jonathan Gold but for him it works.

                                2. re: trolley

                                  Gold got outed and gave up.

                                  “I pulled off being anonymous for 25 years. Now, there’s one picture of me out there and I’m drenched in Champagne."


                                  "... what is being lost for restaurant critics is less anonymity than plausible deniability. It is extremely hard for a major critic in a big city to stay unknown for more than a few months ..."


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    25 years! That's far longer than those highly respected US critics of past years whom I mentioned. That itself is quite an accomplishment. The plausible-deniability point rings true.

                                    Michelin Guide (which I've bought regularly since it first appeared here a few years ago -- its real, meaty, content is print-only, utterly absent from the star-blinded online buzz, and from the consciousness of people who get their impressions of Michelin from that) is an interesting variation, a pool rather than a single anonymous critic.

                                    As detailed in the New Yorker article "Interview with M.," its reviewer pool is both obsessively anonymous (in New York, reviewer "M" said they were forbidden to tell their parents, who would then certainly boast), and professionally food-trained and tested for ability to do things like recognize all ingredients. And despite Robert's frequent assertions of franco- or eurocentrism, I've found the Bay Area guide not without insight in many cuisines. The first critical publication to recognize the unusual strengths at a modest Peninsula Shanghainese restaurant I now frequent was Michelin, whose inspector(s) knew the cuisine and went straight for it, recommending ethnic dishes and steering readers away from the inevitable pan-Chinese-American selection. Credit where due, I FIRST heard about the place (Bamboo Garden) here, from Melanie Wong:


                                    Incidentally the #1 seller there is XLB.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I say the Michelin star ratings in the SF Bay Area have a Frenchy and Eurocentric bias, but that's not the case with the non-star reviews. They're not print-only:


                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Thanks for the helpful link, Robert, I stand corrected on two points. I wonder when the print text went online, because last Fall after getting the 2013 SF Guide, I searched for some of the restaurant detail and it wasn't online then.

                                        Rephrasing: Most of the Michelin's content -- including most of the restaurant recommendations -- might AS WELL be print-only, given how very little awareness of it I spot in general restaurant discussion and amateur "reviews" online. Yet everyone has heard of the starred restaurants, after their annual media buzz, which seems to informs most offhand references and perceptions about the Michelin that I spot online when I read about restaurants.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          You searched viamichelin.com for e.g. Mountain View, CA, United States, and it didn't find any restaurants?

                                          The French stuff has been on there for a while, I think I used it on my last two trips to France.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            That site is practically useless the way it's designed.

                                            Maybe it's just me, but I don't find "Michelin recommended" to carry any more weight than seeing a Citysearch sticker, or a Gayot listing.

                                            The Chez Spencer review for example, calling it a "darling of the Mission" is a good example of the flowery exuberance better suited for a 7x7 review caught up in press release prose, instead.

                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              Robert: I told people online about restaurants recommended in the then-recent 2013 edition and got queries back saying they couldn't find it in the Michelin and of course all they were doing was checking online. I then googled for content seen in the print edition and didn't find it. Hence my question above.

                                              Regardless of all of which, virtually all mention of Michelin that I encounter online reflects the online hyping about "stars" that occurs annually, and shows no awareness of the majority of the Guide's content. As if the only movies anyone talked about online were those getting academy awards.

                                              sugartoof: Sorry to read of your disappointment. I began using Michelin Guides in Europe about 30 years ago when nothing else approached their comprehensive coverage and detail for dining. Most of the useful detail in the Guides is NOT in the "star" ratings, indeed some of the best meals of my life were in restaurants that did not have Michelin stars -- yet.

                                              In Europe (where the other symbology in it is more detailed and useful), you could discern up-and-coming world-class restaurants that would sometimes subsequently receive stars. In the Bay Area, many restaurants I'd already experienced as inspired and outstanding did get stars.

                                              Of more modest local restaurants not in the running for stars but still standing out from their peers, such as the one noted above, I've often seen the Michelin recommend them too. Which should surprise no one, since they are the same restaurants noted also by well-informed, locally highly experienced individual contributors on sites like CH.

                                              The Guide "recommends" only a couple of percent of restaurants in the Bay Area.

                                3. re: dunstable

                                  Bauer is hardly the best food writer to ever walk the Earth. However, the hatred you see in a forum like this, where everyone likes to think they know more about dining than anyone else, may be a little over the top. After all, a restaurant critic that doesn't attract animosity is probably a total wimp.

                                  1. re: nocharge

                                    How true. And in traveling and researching restaurants, I've often seen a dominant or principal restaurant journalist who holds forth. And is often the object of scorn on the local online forum, or offhand opinion generally. Some of these critics are excellent information sources though, through sheer local experience volume, from a consistent perspective.

                                    [ETA:] -- and from the good veteran journalist's somewhat different focus and mind-set in writing up restaurants compared with amateurish critics who affect a similar style of writing without (as Paul Fussell once put it) the sensibilities that brought it about. (Like, further outside of themselves; writing more for the reader, with awareness of the limitations of limited sampling of a restaurant, less about confusing impression with reality.)

                                    That distinction, along with some favored mannerisms, I've long noticed as telltales, not limited to literal amateurs; from some minor-league professionals too.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I don't know if that can be said of Bauer, though, at least within his restaurant reviews. For instance, when Kauffman was the SF Weekly critic, he would often review hole-in-the-wall places I'd never heard of, and in that way I'd sometimes read his reviews just to see what new place I should try out. That's rarely true of Bauer. Usually, we're just curious to see what his opinion is about a restaurant we've already made up our minds about.

                                      1. re: dunstable

                                        On Tasting Table, it seems like this Kaufman guy still reviews hole-in-the-walls. Which is nice.

                                        We have a cool critical environment of reviewing hole-in-the-walls in LA. I am glad to have stumbled upon Kaufman, because he seems like the only guy that appreciates them in SF weirdly enough.

                                4. The price ratings are not really subjective (e.g. they are not star-rated, they are meant to give you a guide of how expensive the restaurant is).

                                  Since there's no separate rating for value (how good the food is for the price paid), it seems reasonable to me to have price be a factor in the food rating.

                                  If you only factored this in the overall rating, it could lead to a separate complaint people have which is the overall rating not clearly being a reflection of the other subjective star-based ratings.

                                  19 Replies
                                  1. re: calumin

                                    If the price rating scale wasn't so outdated, you could argue that there would be no need to let "value" be a factor in any form of rating. Even the least intelligent reader should be able to figure out that an "inexpensive" three-star place is likely to be better value than a "very expensive" two-star place. There shouldn't be any need for Bauer to add or deduct half a star here and there willy-nilly.

                                    1. re: nocharge

                                      What's really outdated is the idea that price has a connection to the food, or that you can even use the same rating system to judge Saigon Sandwich as you do French Laundry, and pretend the criteria is the same.

                                      Saigon Sandwich is delicious, but the value is notable, and it helps create enthusiasm. So if you're looking at a criteria such as seating, dessert, and all that, there are cases where you don't want to knock stars off, because the food is so good. Instead, you look to other reasonings that it's deserving of the extra half star. If you're not doing that, then you really can't discern much from the ratings at all.

                                      Is there really a difference between a 3 and a 3.5? Of course not. All it tells you is it's not a 4. It barely lets you know it's better than a 2.

                                    2. re: calumin

                                      "If you only factored this in the overall rating, it could lead to a separate complaint people have which is the overall rating not clearly being a reflection of the other subjective star-based ratings."

                                      I don't see how this logically follows. What difference does it make if the overall rating accurately reflects a composite of the other stars, if the other stars are themselves highly subjective.

                                      I agree with Robert, and to me it is straightforward: the food rating should be about the quality of the food, irrespective of price. Using this food-with-value logic, if two restaurants served identical food, but at different price points, then the cheaper restaurant must automatically be given a higher rating. Does that make sense? I mean, if I just looked at the "food ratings" for both restaurants, wouldn't you assume that the higher rating meant tastier food?

                                      Moreover, if value must be a factor in the food rating for one restaurant, then it must naturally be a factor in all restaurant reviews - otherwise Bauer is just proving Robert's point, that there is no consistency to his reviews, right? So the logical extension of this is that Bauer would then be required to award a star or two to Taco Bell every time they offered free tacos. I mean there's no arguing the high value of free food, right?

                                      The result is that I now have this "food rating" that tells me nothing about the flavor of the food. For instance, I personally believe Hi-Lo BBQ to be decent fare, but very badly priced. If they lose a half-star for poor value, do they get the same one star that I would award Taco Bell during free tacos? Plainly, judging by food alone, Hi-Lo still ranks much higher than Taco Bell, right? Don't you think it would be useful to have a rating that tells me if Hi-Lo tastes better than Taco Bell?

                                      I mean, it's his column, so he can award them however he likes, but I agree that the added half-star for value basically invalidates his entire star system.

                                      1. re: dunstable

                                        Yeah, to me the food ratings should be comparable across restaurants. The worst 3.5-star food should be better than the best three-star food. Otherwise, call it something else.

                                        They could just stop rating prices entirely. People can look those up.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          People can look up prices, but they can't look up portion sizes and how much the average diner needs to order to be satisfied.

                                          Bauer's price categories are also problematic/archaic because they yoke cost to entree prices. That system doesn't really jibe with family style eateries, sushi, small plates places, etc.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            A (non-outdated) price rating makes perfect sense as a search criterion on sfgate, where you can search for restaurants by location, rating, price, and noise level.

                                          2. re: dunstable

                                            I think it's better to not do it that way.

                                            If you went to French Laundry, and that day they decided to do something different, and served you hamburger and fries that looked and tasted exactly like what you would get at In n Out, would you give that a lower rating than what you would normally give the restaurant (assuming you liked TFL more than In n' Out, cost aside)?

                                            Now, if you were going to In n' Out, and were about to rate their food, would still give it a lower rating?

                                            I think context is very important in any of these ratings. Why would a reader ever care when seeing someone's review of a lower-end restaurant (like In n' Out, or Lers Ros, or a food truck, or Sir and Star...) that the food isn't as good as French Laundry or Saison or Manresa? It doesn't serve the reader to have a single across-the-board rating scale. It's better to have scores be based on what is comparatively out there, or somehow take context into account. That way, the owner of a a place like Sir and Star (or In n' Out) can strive to reach "excellent" or "perfect" scores based on the approach he/she is taking with the restaurant.

                                            It might be discomforting that Bauer made that thought process explicit in giving the rating -- but if he didn't do that we'd have star ratings generally stratified so really expensive restaurants have a built-in advantage to get the highest stars. Which I think would be a disservice to most restaurants.

                                            1. re: calumin

                                              If the French Laundry consistently served me something on par with In N Out, I would absolutely make sure they had identical food ratings. I don't see what you're getting at. I mean, presumably these stars are based on more than a single meal, and no, Taco Bell does not always give out free tacos, but the point is the same. Saigon Sandwich is a better example. Saigon Sandwich would merit a food rating on par with the best restaurants in the Bay, if value were a factor. Is that really how you want to measure it?

                                              "It's better to have scores be based on what is comparatively out there, or somehow take context into account. "

                                              No, this is precisely what he is NOT doing. Factoring value suddenly causes all restaurants to be "comparatively out there" against all restaurants in all price ranges. If Saigon Sandwich receives the same star ranking as a more expensive place like Commis, how can one resist comparison? Moreover, if a person has never been to either establishment, how would that person know that Saigon Sandwich does not, in fact, have Michelin-star food?

                                              Bauer can always add a value category, or have it reflected in the overall rating, but he needs at least one category that is about the flavor of the food. Isn't this self-evident? I'm frankly bewildered by the disagreement.

                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                It brings up a some issues....

                                                Saigon Sandwich is a phenomenal sandwich at $5, but not at $16, even if you added a side salad. It's not the kind of place you wish would expand with table service.

                                                If Commis or any other Michelin could cut their prices, and serve the same caliber food down to what is considered a bargain, that would be a plus quality which should be acknowledged. On a lesser level, wasn't that the appeal of a place like Mr. Pollo? To pretend value doesn't factor is denial. Even French Laundry has their extras to give the illusion of a good value for the experience.

                                                The Michelin ratings aren't grouped by price point. It's a over all quality rating guide, isn't it?

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  Officially Michelin stars are awarded strictly for the cuisine, but in this area only very expensive places with tasting menus and elaborate service and decor get two or three stars. All but a handful of the one-star places are pretty fancy.

                                                  I believe in Hong Kong and Japan there are relatively humble places with stars, noodle shops and the like.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I thought it was 1/3 food, 1/3 decor, 1/3 service?

                                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                                      "The star symbols judge only what’s on the plate, meaning the quality of products, the mastering of flavors, mastering of cooking, personality of the cuisine, value for the money and the consistency of what the restaurant offers to its customers both throughout the menu and the year."


                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    Don't get me wrong, I agree with you that value should be taken into account when assessing a restaurant, and I often do, even here on Chowhound. But this doesn't have to happen as part of the food rating. That's where it gets mucky.

                                                    1. re: dunstable

                                                      I remember a conversation with a chinese friend.

                                                      I asked if a particular dim sum place was good. They said it was cheap for what you get.

                                                      I said - I get that, but is it good?

                                                      They repeated that it was cheap.... would not answer the question of food quality "in the absolute" .... is that hard for some people?

                                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                                          If he was Chinese, not answering was the answer. It's cheap and that's it. For some people cheap is the driving factor, not quality or pleasure.

                                                  3. re: calumin

                                                    I'd much rather conclude value based on price and quality than having it baked into a rating based on some formula that seems incomprehensible to everyone, including Bauer himself. If Bauer feels that a restaurant provides good value, why doesn't he just say so in the review?

                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                      nocharge -- he did say that in the review.

                                                      I think you could argue it both ways, but I don't see any issue with having a restaurant like Lers Ros and one like Meadowood both getting high-star ratings, and leaving it to the reader to figure out that there's context behind each one and that they aren't necessarily like-for-like comparisons.

                                                      That would seem clearer to me than to always have a lower star rating for a more value-minded restaurant, simply because the ingredients aren't as expensive as at a place like Saison.

                                                      1. re: calumin

                                                        I don't mind a reviewer pointing out good value or calling out overpriced restaurants, I just don't understand the formula for how "value" works itself into Bauer's rating system and I don't think he understands it either. If he think his readers are too stupid to deduce it based on quality and price (and the review text), he could have a separate rating for it. I think readers understand context without muddling the picture with some cryptic formula for value. Most people will understand that 2.5 stars for Lers Ros is quite a good rating whereas 2.5 stars for Atelier Crenn probably came as a disappointment.

                                              2. Interesting discussion. While I sense that my enthusiasms differ from Bauer's, there's no animosity here - he's just part of the scene. No rating system is ever going to capture the full experience, and that's where the whole review and extended discussion are useful.

                                                Having been to Sir and Star, I think his review gave a fine sense of the food and of the place, and it was clear enough that he gave a boost for excellent value. Fine with me - I really like this place, especially that it's relatively accessible. When more people on this board go to Sir and Star, I'd like to hear what they have to say.

                                                On the other hand, in comments on Bauer's sfgate blog, it struck me that several people chose to carp about the chef-owners' grooming and attire in the photos. Oh, well...

                                                1. All this talk about Bauer makes me wonder who I should be reading in SF, since me and B aren't on the same page (I don't care about ass-kissing service, and will never be recognized).

                                                  How about Josh Sens?

                                                  I read this bit, and liked his unflappability of having to knock, and knock, at the door of Sir and Star (Olema) before being Recognized.


                                                  Is Mr Sens writing regularly?

                                                  (I'm wading through Sf Magazine's food section and I'm quite happy to have found this (new to me) source. I also like Carolyn Alburger's writing, which means there's an editor in there somewhere (unlike how the SJ Metro was run) ).

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                    I believe Sens writes a review for SF Mag every month.

                                                    Jonathan Kauffman's good and doesn't cover only the usual suspects. Subscribe to Tasting Table to get his stuff.

                                                  2. Blog post from Bauer lamenting how out of date the price ratings are, as if it were something he has no control over:


                                                    39 Replies
                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      While I do agree with the problems of the symbol system, I'm not sure I want him to adjust the price points, or at least not very much. The price points should, in my opinion, reflect the affordability of the meal relative to the diner, not other restaurants. For instance, in your comment, you point out that, adjusted for inflation, "very expensive" should now be $34, not $25. Mathematically speaking, this logic is difficult to deny. But a restaurant that serves $25 entrees is still very expensive to many people, even if it's cheaper than other restaurants. It's not really that useful to have evenly demarcated price ratings, if all of it is prohibitively expensive to the diner. Put another way, the following rating system would not be that useful to most people:

                                                      $ = affordable
                                                      $$ = expensive
                                                      $$$ = crazy expensive
                                                      $$$$ = crazy ridiculous expensive

                                                      1. re: dunstable

                                                        Any good rating system should be able to capture the fact that there is a huge difference in the cost of dining between places like Perbacco, where entrees are usually $25-30 and thus "$$$$ very expensive" by the Chronicle definition, and places like TFL and Saison.

                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                          Yah I can see both sides of that argument, but forced to pick, I would rather lose precision at the higher end, not the lower end.

                                                          An acceptable compromise for me would be to increase the number of price tiers, so that the most expensive restaurants would have five or six dollar signs. But if he has to keep it all consistent (just imagine the furor if suddenly Bauer began declaring places six-star restaurants), then I vote to keep it how it is.

                                                          1. re: dunstable

                                                            Bauer gave Verbena 2.5 stars and $$$$ "very expensive," which led a reader to write to him and say "why should I pay four dollar signs for only two and a half stars?"

                                                            In reality, Verbena's prices are very average for restaurants of more or less similar style and quality. It would be better to drop the price ratings entirely than to confuse people with such out-of-date and useless price ratings.

                                                            1. re: smatbrat

                                                              I think that portion sizes are part of the problem when it comes to judging the relative expensiveness of restaurants. On the other hand, if the cost of a meal, whether expensive or inexpensive, doubles due to the magic of inflation and your price rating system, as a restaurant reviewer, is not in sync, there is something wrong.

                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                Exactly. The scale -- however it is determined -- still needs periodic adjustment for inflation.

                                                                I think a better guide -- but harder to quantify -- is the "average dinner check (per person)" (not including alcohol).

                                                        2. re: dunstable

                                                          Someone who thinks $25 for an entree is very expensive is not in the demographic that Bauer's reviews are aimed at. They've simply been priced out of the SF restaurant scene.

                                                          I think the real breakdown in market terms these days is something like:

                                                          $ = Inexpensive: average entree $18 or less
                                                          $$ = Moderate: $19-23
                                                          $$$ = Expensive: $24-29
                                                          $$$$ = Very Expensive: $30 and up

                                                          I think it's clear that the public perceives a breakpoint at $30. Restaurants that go past that usually switch to prix-fixe.

                                                          For comparison, Yelp's breakdown (which covers the whole meal) is:

                                                          $ = under $10
                                                          $$ = $11-30
                                                          $$$ = $31-60
                                                          $$$$ = over $60

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            The fact that Bauer felt compelled to write that blog entry at all strongly suggests otherwise. After all, that letter writer's complaint was probably not about his pricing tiers.

                                                            I also strongly disagree with your price points, although I suppose that is a matter of opinion. For instance, I agree that $30 is a sort of break point (at least to me personally), but I know plenty of people who would balk at $20 entrees, never mind $30. And I certainly do not agree that $18 entrees are "inexpensive," in fact I suspect a lot of people might see an $18 entree and think it is very expensive. Perhaps not to people on Chowhound, but probably to the average person reading a newspaper, or newspaper website.

                                                            As an example, last week I had a quick dinner at Kin Khao. The entree was $16 or so, which would be inexpensive by your reckoning. But the total tab with app and soda and tip was almost $50, and I didn't even get alcohol or dessert. I don't know anyone who would spend that much and think it was an inexpensive meal.

                                                            In fact, looking at the price points you provided in the original post, I think I agree with that one the most, even now, in 2014.

                                                            Agree to disagree, I suppose.

                                                            1. re: dunstable

                                                              Basing the price rating on "entree" is another problem, especially given how many places don't really have them. Michelin's "two courses and a glass of wine or dessert" for Bib Gourmand is a better approach.

                                                              Suggests otherwise about what? Bauer has to find topics for five blog posts a week, so his choosing a particular topic doesn't mean much.

                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                While Bauer's reviews are geared towards pricey places, SFGate lists 442 places in the <$10 category.Yes, the accuracy of those price estimates are iffy, but that shows either a consumer need or their attempt to cover cheaper places.

                                                                $18 as the upper limit for "inexpensive" is too much. Add in a $2 drink, the healthy SF charge, 9.5% tax, and a 20% tip and you're at $27.

                                                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                  If you check current prices on the places SFGate rates $ you'd find that the majority (particularly in SF) would be $$ by their current prices. Some are out of business, in some for years.

                                                                2. re: dunstable

                                                                  Take two restaurants on the very same block of California St., Perbacco and Michael Mina. Looking at their online menus, I see $22-29 for entrees at Perbacco versus $42-52 at MM. (And MM has some "MP" dishes that may be even more.) Seems kind of strange that they would have the same pricing label.

                                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                                    I thought about this for a moment, and realized that the top tier is always going to be the broadest, for any consumer good. For instance, if we were making a similar set of price tiers for watches, you could argue that a run-of-the-mill Vacheron Constantin, which might be $25,000 or so, does not belong in the same category as their Tour de I'lle, which sold for $1 million. Clearly there is a major difference in price there, and yes, there are probably people who can afford one but not the other. But the cheaper product still clearly belongs in the "very expensive" category, despite the existence of more expensive watches. Similar examples can be made for cars, clothes, shoes, and so on.

                                                                    I will allow that the difference in price between Mina and Perbacco is not quite as extreme, but personally I think it would be more absurd to lump all restaurants $18 and below into a single category. But like I said, I'm okay with some other system, like six tiers, or... doesn't someone use a system where each "$" is a static quantity? That would work fine too.

                                                                3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  $18 as inexpensive?

                                                                  If that were true, then look no farther on the chart to pinpoint where most San Franciscans have been priced out.

                                                                  Bauer's audience isn't that of a blue chip financial planner newsletter.

                                                                  Rather than normalize $28+ entrees, pretending it's the cost of living so we reinvent the meaning of inexpensive, why not force these places to contend with an accurate label of what they are? Expensive. It's the $$ area that needs more defining, and not as a catch all.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    The Chron's $$ = entrees $11-17, which almost means "no roof or not in San Francisco."

                                                                    Restaurant costs in SF have in recent years increased faster than the CLI.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Give me a break. CLI is peanuts compared to the increases we're talking about, so that's a meaningless guide.

                                                                      Costs to run any business are up.

                                                                      Food prices are up, but restaurants are also choosing to use the most premium of ingredients.

                                                                      Commercial Rents are a bargain compared to what's going on with Residential, though they are finally catching up.

                                                                      Staffing costs have increased, but some are passing on the cost of benefits to the customers.

                                                                      Basic operation costs are high. I wouldn't argue that. Does it justify the idea that an $18 entree should be considered inexpensive? Uh, no.

                                                                      I'd guess spending on marketing and renovations is higher than ever before.

                                                                      All those realities aside, I refuse to believe anyone here lives in a bubble where they're expecting to spend $18 starting for every meal they eat out.

                                                                4. re: dunstable

                                                                  re: R. Lauriston's:
                                                                  $ = under $10
                                                                  $$ = $11-30
                                                                  $$$ = $31-60
                                                                  $$$$ = over $60

                                                                  this is pretty close to my conception of the main categories ... or in qualitative terms:

                                                                  $/$10 ... having a bucket for "single item on a plate (maybe no plate)" type places ... slices of pizza, sando, burrito, burger, bowl of X, places around college campus etc

                                                                  $$ ... entry level resto with table service etc, cheap "ethnic" like chinese/thai/vn/indian/ethiopian ... no wine list or ~$5 house wine. maybe a place like chow/park chow.

                                                                  $$$ ... out on the town restos ... a place with $10 cocktails

                                                                  $$$$ ... the long tail of splurge restos ... a place with >$100 bottles of wine

                                                                  although i personally divide into 5 categories because i almost always get the tasting menu when going to the top end place ... like i wouldnt go to commis for an entree. so
                                                                  ... ultra cheap $10, neighborhood middle of the week resto $20-$25, lower out on the town $40 [ragazza?], upper out on the town $80 [say commonwealth, prestige steakhouse], the long tail of >$100 tasting menu-oriented places.

                                                                  1. re: psb

                                                                    Are we talking entree prices here or more of the total cost of a meal? Hard to find places that have a la carte entrees over $60.

                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                      total with tax and tip without going crazy on the drinks/wine. i never really understood focusing on entree price ... although maybe it it makes sense for publications.

                                                                      i think my non-splurge, non-long tail meals come in at maybe 25% over the ZAGAT estimate for a venue.

                                                                      when i talk to my friends and make a ballpark estimate it is "1app or soup/person, entree, 1dessert/person (although sometimes we split) and light drinking (2 drinks at most)". so let's call it the "out of pocket cost of a 'nomalized meal'".

                                                                      i see no point having "$18 entree" be code for a $50-$60 dinner and $25 entree signalling you'll be $80 lighter at the end of the meal.

                                                                      of course this can go out the window on special occasions ... bottles of wine, order all the desserts, order all the apps, prestige entree (lobster, steak etc)", cheese course etc ... but that is how a $35 entree place runs up a $250 dinner bill ... there is no point trying to characterize the 'long tail' beyond just that for most purposes. i think people might say 'let's go somewhere nice ... let's say in the $80/person range. i've never said 'let's go somewhere in the $200 range' ... it's more like "do you want to try (the tasting menu at) X?" and a published reference cant anticipate if you are in splurge mode or not.

                                                                      for example i dont think the entree-based pricing works comparing say BARBACO to a nice KOREAN RESTO (where you might not order apps, just eat the banchan, i would probably order a coke and not alcohol, may go down the street for asian dessert/ice cream etc).

                                                                      pricing YANK SING is also hard:
                                                                      $25 + $5 for a cheeseburger afterwards to fill up, or $50.

                                                                      p.s. I believe I have read fewer than 10 M. BAUER reviews. I am mostly interested in whether he is engaged in any criminal/unethical practices. Which is a lot like how I follow WILLIE BROWN, or TUCKER CARLSON or S. PALIN.

                                                                      1. re: psb

                                                                        Given that the amount of money an individual might spend on a dinner may be very situational, including items like cocktails and wine, I think that the price range for entrees may not be the worst proxy for the price point of the restaurant. (There may well be better ones, of course.)

                                                                        But in so far people rely on a Chronicle review for judging the cost of dining at a place, it would make more sense differentiating between the likes of Perbacco and Saison than between a $14 and a $16 place.

                                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                                          yes, i agree, there is too much "resolution" at the low end. i dont think there is a meaningful difference in price between a $25 indian place and $30 turkish place. but there is a diff between say RAGAZZA and SPRUCE.

                                                                          in my personal experience, places in the SAISON class are not predictable because it's not like we know ahead of time whether people are going to go fixed cost wine pairing, "i'll just have a glass", or order misc bottles ... so the total price can swing >100%. ... dinner 1 was $180, dinner #2 was $350 etc.

                                                                          1. re: nocharge

                                                                            "...it would make more sense differentiating between the likes of Perbacco and Saison than between a $14 and a $16 place."

                                                                            It would indeed, except the Chron is not making that two-dollar discrepancy. Those would both be in the "$$" range, according to the scale on top.

                                                                            For that matter, they are not lumping Perbacco and Michael Mina and Saison in the same cost category, either:



                                                                            Three for Perbacco, four for Michael Mina. Hurrah, the system (mostly) works!

                                                                            I admit this does not help Verbena any. Like I said, I do think a little tweaking is okay (I agree with Robert's $30 upper bound), but I'm actually okay with the overall system, for the most part.

                                                                            1. re: dunstable

                                                                              The only reason that Perbacco has only $$$ is that the Chronicle is not competent enough to apply their on price definitions correctly. Perbacco has consistently been in the $25-30 range for many years, which by the Chron definition would be $$$$. Occasionally, you will see a dish that is slightly outside the range, but that would be an exception rather than the norm. Looking at the current online dinner menu, I see the following numbers for entrees: 29, 29, 27, 28, 32, 28, 28, 22. Pretty typical for Perbacco and definitely $$$$ by the official Chronicle definition.

                                                                              So if the official definition for $$$$ is $25 and up, and they just call Perbacco $$$, the system is extremely flawed. And like I said, this has been Perbacco's pricing pattern for years.

                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                Perbacco was correctly rated $$$ in its 2007 full review because the entrees were at that time mostly in that range.


                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Given that Bauer revisits the place every year for his Top-100 list, you'd think he should be able to get the pricing right.

                                                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                                                    I suspect the restaurant section of the web site may be a mess no one knows how to fix. It includes reviews going back 20 years and has been through several site makeovers.

                                                                                    If you look at the Perbacco page, it shows it on the top 100 only through 2011, even though it was on in the two since then as well. The advanced search often returns zero results for things I know are there. Etc.


                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      Yes, sfgate is a mess. I usually use the Google advanced search feature when looking for information on sfgate.

                                                                                2. re: nocharge

                                                                                  Yeah I gotta say, I'm looking at those Perbacco entree prices, and to me that's pretty expensive. It's like the VC watches - at those prices, I'm more than comfortable calling Perbacco "very expensive" and lumping it in with Saison and Mina.

                                                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                                                    There are probably hundreds of restaurants in SF with entrees in the $25-29 range, because many consumers perceive that as affordable.

                                                                                    I usually don't order entrees at Perbacco, or at most split one. They're good, but as at a lot of Italian places the appetizers and pastas are more exciting. One more reason that rating by entrees is bad.

                                                                                    1. re: dunstable

                                                                                      I don't think a $28 entree in a fine-dining restaurant smack in the middle of the Financial District would be "very expensive". More like "quite reasonable". That's just by the pricing standards of downtown SF restaurants, the likes of Boulevard, Ozumo, Prospect, Waterbar, Town Hall, etc. Saison is in a different league.

                                                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                                                        Yeah, I figure under $30 for an entree in a nice (but not superfancy) restaurant is not "expensive" these days.

                                                                                  2. re: nocharge

                                                                                    Maybe the best idea is to simply print a price range of entrees, or the current pricing of the tasting menus

                                                                                    A listing could read:
                                                                                    Entrees $21-34
                                                                                    Tasting Menu: $145

                                                                                    This way it's informative rather than about abstract comparisons.

                                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                                      Above I just suggested a scale like PSBs, but exclusive of alcohol.

                                                                                      As noted, the problem with basing the price on entrees is that a lot of menus aren't designed in the classic "appetizer -- entree -- dessert" format. Instead, there are small plates, plates to share, large plates, or places that serve family style.

                                                                                      For example, I took my mom to dinner at AQ last night. We shared everything and ordered two "first courses," ($12 each) one "second course," ($16) one "fourth course" ($34) and two desserts (because the desserts there are amazing) ($11 each). Skipped the "third course" ($27). Food cost was $96. We each had a glass of wine. Total came to $136 with tax and 3% healthy SF (which I object to, btw, especially when it's categorized as "SF Healthy Tax" as it is on the receipt) but before tip.

                                                                                      However, if we'd had a couple of cocktails, after dinner coffee, not to mention a full bottle of wine, it could easily have been more than twice that. In fact, IIRC the first time I ate there (which, granted, I pigged out; on the other hand the prices were about 25 lower), it was over $100 (before tip) just for me.

                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                        I don't think there is any one perfect solution for how to present restaurants in terms of priciness. Different publications have different methodologies (Chronicle, Michelin, Zagat, etc.). But since most restaurants will have their menus online, it should be simple for anyone to take a glance and get a general impression.

                                                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                                                          Yes, except that things like size of plate/portion size are not always clear. If you end up ordering more dishes because some of them are small, then that throws off your estimate.

                                                                                3. re: psb

                                                                                  I'd suggest using five (5) $ symbols, finding the statistical middle ($25-$35 bucks?) and working up and down from there.

                                                                                  $ = $10 and under
                                                                                  $$ = $10 - $25
                                                                                  $$$ = $25 - $35
                                                                                  $$$$ = $35 - $75
                                                                                  $$$$$ = $75 +

                                                                                  Also I'd use the shorthand of doubling the price of an entree to get the approximate cost per diner for any place with waitstaff service.

                                                                                  1. re: psb

                                                                                    $ = under $10
                                                                                    $$ = $11-30
                                                                                    $$$ = $31-60
                                                                                    $$$$ = over $60

                                                                                    That's not mine, as noted when I posted it that's Yelp's. They don't specify whether it should include drinks, tax, or tip.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      I'd go with ML8000's. $11-30 is too big a spread. Making more distinction in the ranges where most places are going to fall is helpful, IMHO.

                                                                              2. What's the point of $ / $$ / etc. ratings, anyway? Why not just have an estimated cost or range per person and say what it includes (e.g. four small plates / appetizer + entree / small salad and half a pizza)?

                                                                                I don't think price ratings should include drinks, since some of us regularly spend twice as much on wine as on food, while others drink only tap water.

                                                                                Reviews should discuss wine markups and whether cocktails, if any, are in line with what similar places charge.

                                                                                28 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Because they can't even keep the dollar sign ratings current; the idea of the Chron staff regularly checking all their restaurant reviews and updating the prices is laughable. I mean, I agree, this or sugartoof's idea would be ideal, but it's easy to imagine a situation in which a casual diner might mistakenly believe a restaurant to be a great value, because the online review is too old, and all the prices are out of date. I.e., after reading a decade-old review, a diner might decide, "Let's go to Restaurant X; it's only $50 for the tasting menu," only to be shocked by the prices on the menu after being seated.

                                                                                  They can at least tinker with the stated ranges of the dollar signs, though. That wouldn't take a ton of work.

                                                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                                                    "after reading a decade-old review, a diner might decide..."

                                                                                    Just as a side comment, dunstable, a decade-old review may present other problems besides pricing.

                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                      Problems or not, they are already there, alas. Look at the results when one searches for all the restaurants in Antioch, CA:


                                                                                      Is Tao San Jin still "worth the search" if it was last reviewed in 1999?

                                                                                    2. re: dunstable

                                                                                      Search results should include the date of the last update. Common sense would tell people that a ten-year-old review was dubious and prices would have gone up.

                                                                                      I suppose there's a conflict of interest at work here. The Chron doesn't want to do anything that would reduce traffic on their web site.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        As an aside, does anyone here actually use Bauer's reviews for anything? The only time I use the Chron's resto guide for anything is if I am in a completely foreign area (e.g., "what's good to eat in Pinole?"). Then I will do a search and pick something.

                                                                                        1. re: dunstable

                                                                                          Generally no but sometimes there's a place I want to go and he reviewed it, so I'll look but most;y as a point of reference.

                                                                                          1. re: dunstable

                                                                                            I look at the Chron sometimes if I want to make sure I'm not forgetting some well-known place in a particular category.

                                                                                            For some random place like Pinole the Chron would be the last place I'd look, they don't get off the beaten path much.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              Where else would you look, though? It's not like one can consult the Michelin guide for that. It's either the Chron or... Yelp. For Pinole, for instance, there are six entries at SFGate.com.

                                                                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                                                                This board has 287 topics that mention Pinole, and if you skimmed the first ten topics you'd be clued in that Filipino is a good bet there.

                                                                                                Yelp has 64 restaurants, many with over 100 reviews. If you search for restaurants in Pinole and look at the suggested categories, again you'd be clued in about the Filipino places. Many of the reviews are of course clueless, but if you skim you can find the occasional useful one.

                                                                                                The Chron lists five places, only one of which was reviewed in the past five years.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  Obviously all of us come here first for information, but I'm not skimming hundreds of topics on a message board, or even ten, if I'm looking for a single meal in Random Town X. An easily-accessed listing of restaurants is sometimes useful, especially if I'm not by myself, which is usually the case when I find myself in Random Town X.* For instance, Filipino sounds great, but if my whole team is with me, some of them will say, "What's Filipino food like?"

                                                                                                  I now work in east Contra Costa, and I do find myself on Yelp for that reason. Unfortunately, Chowhound does not have much on that area. I'm trying to contribute to that "Anything at all in East Contra Costa" thread, so that it will be more useful.

                                                                                                  * Note to Chowhound: this is NOT AT ALL a suggestion that I would prefer that sort of system for this board.

                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            Not to burst all of your guys delightfully critical bubble, but why do price points matter that much in reviews in today's world where you can go lookup a restaurant's menu in a matter of seconds on the Internet?

                                                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                              Many restaurants do not post prices online.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                Really? What are some examples?

                                                                                                I have been looking up tons and tons of restaurants in researching my SF trip and never came across one without prices online.

                                                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                  Other than hole-in-the-wall places that might not even have a website, there are some more high-end places that may only have a "sample menu" without prices on their websites. Yank Sing comes to mind. Tadich, for the longest time, didn't even have a serious web presence, but you can get to their pdf menu now with a few clicks. But even for those restaurants that don't publish their prices, the pricing is usually available from other sources like menupages.com.

                                                                                                  In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse (other than being a hole-in-the-wall place) not to have the latest menu on your website. Even places that change their menus daily probably generate a new pdf every day and uploading it to the website should be trivial. (But then, looking at restaurant websites for the likes of Gary Danko or Saison that have tons of aggravatingly annoying and unnecessary crap makes it abundantly clear that even successful chefs may have a single-digit IQ when it comes to technology issues. "Skip Flash intro?" Yes, please.)

                                                                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                    I can't think of any offhand, but I regularly find restaurant menus with no prices on menupages.com, often when I've gone there because there were no prices on the restaurant's site. Data on that site also tends to be out of date, though not as badly as sfgate.com, maybe just because it hasn't been around as long.

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Just looked at the Yank Sing entry on menupages to compare prices with the latest photo of the menu that I have on my cell phone from September last year. Seem identical, so can't be all that far out of date for that particular restaurant.

                                                                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                        How current the prices are varies wildly from one restaurant to another. Menupages' listing for Sam's Grill, for example, shows crab cocktail $11.50 and Rex sole a la Sam $13.50, actual prices last month were $17 and $19.

                                                                                                    2. re: nocharge

                                                                                                      "there are some more high-end places that may only have a "sample menu" without prices on their websites."

                                                                                                      Again, I must say, I've probably visited around 100 different SF area restaurant's websites for menu's to gauge my dinners in the past few weeks, and never came across one.

                                                                                                      So it seems like the percentage is incredibly low.

                                                                                                      I guess it does happen though. The only one that happened to me recently with was Michael Warring.

                                                                                                      So if roughly 1% are lacking, that doesn't seem so horrible.

                                                                                                      I would hope the sample menu's would have prices that were not that drastically different from the daily offerings.

                                                                                                      I mean, surely if you're average entree price is $20 on your sample menu, and your daily offerings are all $50+ that would piss so many people off that you would run the risk of damaging the business. Who would do such a thing?

                                                                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                        The high-end places all have prices on their web sites, though they're not always up to date.

                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          Actually, Yank Sing does not and judging from how some people on this site perceive their pricing, it would probably be considered "high-end".

                                                                                                          1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                            By "high end" I mean places where my total food cost would be over $50 per person: the prix-fixe tasting-menu-only places, Michael Mina, Boulevard, La Folie, Fleur de Lys, Gary Danko, Acquerello, Bix, Farina, maybe a dozen others.

                                                                                                            Yank Sing is the most expensive dim sum but I spend about $25, maybe $35 if I'm with someone I can't talk out of ordering some of the really expensive items such as Peking duck.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              Any place that serves entrees near $30 would probably charge about half that amount for an appetizer and maybe $10 for dessert. So if you have all three, that would easily put you above the $50 mark just for food and before tax and tip. Check out Prospect's menus as an example.

                                                                                                              My latest meal at Yank Sing was about $150 for two with tax and tip. In fairness, it included three adult beverages and the doggie bags were quite heavy with leftovers.

                                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                                I rarely spend more than $50 on food. Prospect is more expensive than anyplace I've gone lately.

                                                                                          3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            >What's the point of $ / $$ / etc. ratings, anyway
                                                                                            >Why not just have an estimated cost
                                                                                            yes, i am in favor of the "estimated cost of normalized meal" approach but i think $/$$/$$$/$$$$ are maybe more "radio box search form friendly" ... as opposed to say a high/slow price slider.

                                                                                            and there may be some interesting associated psychology and marketing incentives again driven by search.

                                                                                            there may also be some anchoring effects and sticker shock ... like a resto would rather be advertised as a "$25 entree" place than a "$80 total" place .... because in the latter case people are more conscious about "i'm about to drop $100 tonight". and of course just using the $ symbol remove a dollar figure altogether ... although it obviously does keep the focus on money. maybe they should use green/red/black casino chip symbols :-)

                                                                                            so maybe newspapers used entree-pricing because that is what restos wanted them to use ... and they are (were) beholden to restos in ways other media are not.

                                                                                            i assume you have all seen the research on anchoring, i.e. if you have a menu with $18-25 entrees and the avg entree order is $23, adding (append, not substitution, so all previous options are avail) a deluxe $38 lobster entree brings up the avg cost of what people actually order, because the see themselves as ordering toward the middle of the $18-$38 range rather than $18-$25.

                                                                                            1. re: psb

                                                                                              I think using entree prices as a proxy for priciness was not a bad idea the world of traditional restaurants. In a world where you have small-plates, tapas, and what not, things become more complicated and I'm not sure if there is a simple solution.

                                                                                              Anchoring ads an additional dimension that was touched upon in a discussion about ribeye steaks and why to put them on your menu.

                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                The simple solution is to provide informative details instead of refining antiquated rating systems created prior to searchable databases.

                                                                                                I'd rather read "Small plates, avg. $7-13, Recommended 6 per person"

                                                                                                Anything less and I need to find the online menu.

                                                                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                  Small plates menus have been around for 30 years, but even before that rating prices by entrees was problematic. There were Chinese restaurants and pizza places where people shared. Family-style Italian and Basque restaurants were prix-fixe. At some restaurants an entree came with so many side dishes that most people ordered nothing else except maybe dessert.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    That was when small plates were economical. Less food, charge less.

                                                                                                    Family style would usually be designated as such.

                                                                                            2. I've found ya gotta read a critic for a while to get their perspective, yet when I was living in SF, the critics I usually trusted the most (and no I'm not kissing ass, homey don't play that) were Lauriston, Stephanie Rosenbaum and once you dug through his hokey jokes Dan Leone. each did very different things, and often I'd already been to their subject(s), but the comments confirmed my reaction. and later after that had been established guided me to new ones.

                                                                                              I never paid much attention to columns in the Comical except for Herb Caen and Jon Carroll.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                                I agree. You have to read a critic for a while in order to understand the relationship between the critic's taste in restaurants and your own. However, I regard any particular critic as merely a voice; one of many possibly inputs into the decision-making process about where to dine.

                                                                                                When it comes to Bauer, I will usually have dined at a new restaurant before him and formed an opinion and reading his reviews is more likely out of curiosity, sort of to compare notes, rather than to figure out where to go for dinner.

                                                                                              2. just thought I'd revive this thread, because Michael Bauer just mentioned that he's not a cioppino fan on Twitter.


                                                                                                i don't understand how he can be employed as a food critic in San Francisco if he can't even appreciate one of its signature dishes....among the fact that he's a horrible judge of so many non-euro cuisines...actually, he gave a glowing review for a Spanish restaurant, which i tried and it suuuuucked. so i can't even say he's good with Euro cuisine, either.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: waxyjax

                                                                                                  But he just said "New (Terrapin Crossroads) chef Jason Arbusto creates my new favorite cioppino"!!!


                                                                                                2. Michael Bauer is famous for being "anonymous." He gets by on his name, and anonymity is his calling card - without his "I'm an anonymous face and I'll dine at a restaurant several times before reviewing it," he wouldn't be noteworthy at all.

                                                                                                  What good are his repeat visits if his food reviews are weak? Granted, his writing is not bad. But I've learned not to trust his reviews, and others I've talked to agree - Michael Bauer is irrelevant. The kinds of things he focuses on make me question whether he has a good understanding of the cuisine being reviewed or even the objective of his review. I get the impression that Michael Bauer doesn't really have any actual culinary expertise that would provide insight on the restaurant and its relative merit to what's around the city. Many, many food blogs suffer from this as well (e.g. being a well-heeled dilettante doesn't equate to understanding or taste...) but you'd hope for more from a professional.

                                                                                                  C'est dommage.

                                                                                                  When I am looking to eat around the Bay Area, I use Yelp for pictures and practical info (but never for reviews), read Chowhound for some reports or feedback from more educated diners, and go by impressions from friends with similar tastes.

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: markambrose73

                                                                                                    Bauer's not very anonymous after 25+ years on the same beat.


                                                                                                    He may be irrelevant to you, but being on Bauer's top 100 gives restaurants a lot of extra business. A good review from him can pack a place for weeks, and some restaurants retain significant numbers of those as regulars.

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Not anonymous to anyone who has been in the industry in SF for over a year. Most restaurant(what I call the Bauer review-able restaurants) have a picture of him. I have pictures of him on my Cell phone from many of his restaurant visits. And his partner, who almost always enters the restaurant first, is so easily identifiable is crazy.

                                                                                                      I remember one restaurant I opened when after the Bauer review came out, we had tables come in with his review from the paper, highlighted with the items Bauer advised readers to try.

                                                                                                      Now granted I've seen Yelp readers do this at the table as well.

                                                                                                        1. re: smatbrat

                                                                                                          With smartphones, it's hard to tell who's using a cheat sheet from where. I've ordered many dishes because of recommendations here.

                                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          The overall effect is that the palate of one man ends up shaping the cuisine of an area. This is also a problem in the wine business with its reliance on scores given by a small number of wine critics. In both cases it's not a good thing for diversity or quality.