Thursday, April 17, 2008

Michael Bauer & Pat Kuleto?

According to guildelines entitled About our reviews on SFGate, "Chronicle reviewers visit restaurants anonymously, and all meals are paid for by The Chronicle". Michael Bauer, The Chronicle's critic reviewed Pat Kuleto's new restaurant Epic this past weekend. [Read it here.] My own opinion of that review was that I didn't think it read as particularly glowing and I was subsequently surprised that Epic got as many as 3 stars from Bauer.

I wonder, perhaps, if Bauer & Kuleto are friends and that swayed Bauer's judgement?

Consequently, I was interested to read Bauer's Notes in today's San Francisco Chronicle Food and Wine Newsletter which I subscribe to via email.
Bauer's Notes:
"When I ran into Pat Kuleto at his restaurant Epic recently, he posed that question to me as he picked up and ate one of the fat grilled spears I ordered to go with the prime rib."

QUESTION OF THE DAY graphic copyright sam breach
?What kind of "anonymous reviewer" has a restaurant's owner eating off his plate?

PS. I have eaten at Epic once.

UPDATE - I wrote to Michael Bauer re this subject and his response surprised me. Needless to say I had erroneously jumped to the conclusion that there must have been some great level of intimacy for that situation to have occurred. Apparently not so and although they each know who the other is in professional terms, Michael himself explained to me he was surprised by the bravado of Kuleto's action.

Another reader pointed out to me off the blog, Michael clearly felt he had nothing to hide by writing the newsletter piece in the first place, which is another point to take consideration.

© 2008 Sam Breach
Michael Bauer & Pat Kuleto?


  • At 17/4/08 11:59, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Second question of the day:
    Fat grilled spears of WHAT?

  • At 17/4/08 12:27, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dude, you rock for shining a big, bright light on the fact that the Chron is blatantly disregarding their own guidelines.

    When is Bauer going to throw in the towel, already??

  • At 17/4/08 12:43, Blogger Owen said…

    While I have issues with Bauer, I also think it must be next to impossible for him to have his job and NOT be known to Pat Kuleto on sight. TO some extent you either trust his independence as a person or you don't. I know that we live in a leading food town and that there are more and less professional ways to do things, but at the same time it is hard for me to get all upset about the Chron's restaurant reviewing. I prefer to get upset about their namby pamby political stances.

    In some ways I prefer Bauer's reviews to the other Chron reviewers because I feel like I know his biases and so can make allowances whereas with the others I can't tell how to read between the lines.

    There are very few sources I trust about restaurants anymore - you are one of them because I feel like you own up to your biases in advance.

  • At 17/4/08 13:01, Blogger Sam said…

    I hear what you are saying Owen, and I agree about his being recognised as being somewhat inevitable.

    But simply being recognised is a huge step away from the owner actually coming over and helping himself to food off your plate. I mean - c'mon - that is the kind of behaviour that only takes place between extremely close friends isn't it? Even then, I'd probably slap anyone that tried to paw my food without my permission ;)

    Why couldn't he send out some of his less recognised team out to Epic if, indeed, he is on such friendly terms with Kuleto?

    Cookiecrumb - it would perhaps be funnier to leave the answer to that question to yours and everyone else's imagination. However, I am no fun today so I'll admit the newsletter was all about our favourite fat spear, the asparagus.

  • At 17/4/08 14:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good catch. Not that much of a surprise, I guess. What did YOU think of epic?

  • At 17/4/08 17:10, Blogger kudzu said…

    Sam -- It would be next to impossible for Bauer to be unrecognized in any upscale restaurant in the Bay Area. (Hell, even I can recognize him.) I think what "anonymous" refers to is that critics make reservations under pseudonyms. Do we really want Ruth Reichl multiple personality disguises used by the press?

    It's the disadvantage of San Francisco's almost small town clique of (hate the word) foodies that we can't have more professional, less incestuous relationships in the restaurant business here.

    This is not a problem that will soon disappear, alas.

  • At 17/4/08 17:54, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OMG, check this out - LA Eater slams Bauer for slamming their restaurant scene and then explaining a bunch of stuff on their menu wrong:

  • At 17/4/08 18:22, Blogger Lori Gomez said…

    Kudos, Sam!
    There are no "anonymous" reviewers that would have a celebrity restauranteur eating off their plate.
    None. That is definitely the behavior of an intimate friend. Who knows they were probably eating together that night which Mr.Bauer I'm sure wouldn't mention in his review!

    Bauer has become an overrated hack.
    Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, the man actually had interesting and original critiques. But now... If I see the word "vibe" or "riff" to describe the atmosphere of a restaurant or a chef's variation of a classic dish. I may throw up!

    Look, I know I'm guilty of using those descriptives more than I care to admit, but he seems to be so limited in his use of adjectives lately.

    Bauer knows as little about food as Frank Bruni but at least Bruni is one hell of a wordsmith.

    M.B. could probably could use a good thesaurus.

    Maybe we readers should all chip in & get him one; along with a copy of "Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink" so he can get a look at classic food writing & glean something from it! OK, rant over... I feel much better now.

    Thanks for letting me vent ;-)


  • At 17/4/08 19:52, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Let's face it, try as he might (or might not), Bauer ain't Fletch.

  • At 18/4/08 01:44, Blogger moi said…

    The build-up there was for a bad review, no question - food incorrectly prepared, staff insufficiently versed/trained, and a restaurant with a great view but soulless and over-cluttered decor.

    Three stars, mon oeil.

  • At 18/4/08 03:46, Blogger Beccy said…

    I'm with you Sam, I wouldn't want anybody eating off my plate unless I had invited them to do so.

    What was your view on the place?

  • At 18/4/08 07:59, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you've touched on the reason why the French hold the Michelin Guide reviewers as legendary. They are anonymous.

    However, a truly perceptive reviewer (known or unknown) can pick up on more than what's under his nose. Maybe Mr. Bauer gets the blackest truffle slices on his plate, but he can still look over to the table next to him and compare. I guess the question is – does he?

    I've lived out of the country for the last 3 years, so I'm not one to agree or disagree because I don't know the recent state of restaurant reviews. But, I still think your point is valid and well taken.

    Ms. Glaze

  • At 18/4/08 08:12, Blogger Sam said…

    Thanks for all the comments/insights/opinions everybody.
    To those who asked me what my opinion of Epic is - I feel it would be unfair to judge too emphatically because I have only been once, for lunch. The food was decidedly average. The waiter recommended the steak tartare I was pondering over, telling me it was "the best he'd ever had in his life". (Clearly he hasn't had many steak tartares!) The waitress who came to the table to mix the tartare didn't have a clue what to do and the waiter had to muscle in and show her how it was done. The story is longer than I am going to write here but I'll quickly say that the worst part of the meal was that the waiter verbally snapped at me over something he shouldn't have snapped at me for. He apologised profusely once he realised his mistake but it left a bitter taste in my mouth. By that point Fred had already walked out of the restaurant in disgust anyway.

    So - in order to be fair - we had a bad experience - but I wouldn't feel comfortable reviewing them until I'd given them another chance, which I am unlikely to rush to do, given their prices.

    I have been to Waterbar too - for lunch - and although it didn't wow me I found it to be so much better than Epic. I wounder how Bauer will judge it.

  • At 18/4/08 16:25, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ok now I have to ask... what did he snap at you about?

  • At 19/4/08 08:45, Blogger Sam said…

    EB - he snapped at me because I sent the check back twice. The first time, because it included 2 x ice teas we hadn't ordered and which we had turned away from our table when they had erroneously been delivered earlier during the meal. So he apologised and he redid the check. When it came back I then noticed it didn't have a drink on it that we had ordered and I thought since I had made a complaint when we were over-charged, I should be equally honest about the fact that we were being under-charged. So - I had to call him over again and I pointed at the bill and I said "This time you haven't charged us for the Scotch". The waiter, I guess, assumed I was making a second over-charge complaint. And he snapped at me: "But he", he blurted out quite accusingly, pointing at the empty chair where Fred had been sitting. "did have a Scotch". I know I said, and that is what I am trying to tell you, you haven't charged us for it.
    At which point he was embarassed and went off to add the Scotch onto the bill.
    I could have been dishonest and not told him about the mistake in my favour. Maybe he isn't used to diners behaving so honestly?

    To be fair - he did apologize profusely to me for his mistake. He was trying hard.

  • At 19/4/08 08:48, Blogger Sam said…

    UPDATE - I wrote to Michael re this subject and his response surprised me. Needless to say I had erroneously jumped to the conclusion that there must have been some great level of intimacy for that situation to have occurred. Apparently not so and although they each know who the other is in professional terms, Michael himself explained he was surprised by the bravado of the action.

    And as another reader pointed out to me off the blog, Michael clearly felt he had nothing to hide by writing the newsletter piece in the first place, which is another point to take consideration.


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