It’s here: SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer’s yearly proclamation of the top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area. The 2018 edition has been particularly anticipated as the dining public has awaited Bauer’s decision on whether to include restaurants owned by men who’ve been publicly, and credibly, accused of sexual harassment.
The verdict? Michael Chiarello’s Coqueta and Bottega (in Yountville) made the list, and Tosca Cafe, where Ken Friedman is a co-owner, made the list, while Charlie Hallowell’s Oakland restaurant Pizzaiolo did not.
Chiarello was accused of sexual harassment and wage theft by two former employees in a 2015 lawsuit that was settled out of court. Friedman was accused by employees of engaging in sexually predatory behavior toward them, including groping them, forcibly kissing them, and demanding sex or nude pictures from them. Hallowell has been accused by more than 30 employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
In a recent op-ed from the Chronicle food team, Bauer’s colleagues — wine and spirits writer Esther Mobley, food editor Paolo Luccesi, and food writer Jonathan Kauffman — made it abundantly clear that there was no reason, in a city brimming with excellent restaurants, for harassers to be reviewed or included on such a list, citing Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt, who has instituted a similar policy at Eater, along the way.
“We should not celebrate restaurants owned by men who have been linked to sexual harassment scandals,” wrote Lucchesi.
“We have an opportunity here to shift the paradigm of how we respond to business’ known problematic behavior,” wrote Mobley. “Opportunities like that don’t come along every day, and I believe it’s our obligation to take it.”
“If we, as the media — or as restaurant critics or diners — determine that the only restaurants that matter are the ones where the management treats their staffers legally and humanely, then restaurants that don’t simply aren’t relevant,” wrote Kauffman. “They don’t need our coverage or support.”
For his part, Bauer continued to waffle, in what would ultimately become a warning to readers. “In the next few days, I have to decide if the benefit to diners —and employees — outweighs the charges, as the Top 100 is readied for publication,” he wrote. And decide he did.
One restaurant notably failed to make the list this year: Coi, Daniel Patteron’s 12-year-old flagship restaurant, which recently came under the leadership of executive chef Erik Anderson. While it still maintains three stars (though the review originally posted its rating as four stars, before it was surreptitiously changed after publication), it did not make the top 100 restaurants in San Francisco. “I’m hoping that in time his ideas will gel. But for now there seems to be uncertainty in how to meld his style with Patterson’s and incorporate the lighter nuances of California,” the critic wrote about why the Coi would not make the top 100.
And yet Coqueta did. Bottega did. Tosca Cafe did. Beyond the message it sends to readers, diners, and restaurant workers, that designation could create an awkward situation for the many restaurants deserving of recognition on the list, as they’re thrust into less than savory company. It’s a tough situation, particularly when an award like this could drive diners to make reservations and spend money in a region where “hot and new” restaurants open weekly. Intentional or not, Bauer is using his considerable power to put people in a very uncomfortable position.
The food at these restaurants may be fantastic, but as diners are faced with the choice to support a restaurant where their dollars may still find their way into the pockets of harassers, it is increasingly easy to make ethical choices. Coqueta chef Dominick Maietta, named in the lawsuit waged against Chiarello by former employees, remains in charge of Coqueta, making a strong counterpoint to the argument of patronizing these restaurants “to support the staff.” Chiarello continues to open restaurants.
Meanwhile, restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, accused by dozens of former employees of harassment, recently sold one of his restaurants to a former employee and her husband. That restaurant, Boot & Shoe Service, was removed from the list this year alongside Pizzaiolo, which Hallowell still owns.
This year 18 restaurants made it onto the list for the first time, some new and some newly worthy of inclusion, according to Bauer. The full list is below:
- Acacia House by Chris Cosentino
- A Mano
- The Charter Oak
- Dumpling Time
- El Molino Central
- Esan Classic
- International Smoke
- Locanda Osteria & Bar
- Mister Jiu’s
- The Morris
- Royal Feast
- RT Rotisserie
- The Temple Club
- True Laurel
And, as for Bauer’s famous conflict of interest — his partner’s involvement with IfOnly, a website selling experiences with chefs and restaurants, among other things — here is the disclaimer and list of crossover resturants in the Top 100 list.
Full disclosure: My partner is involved with the IfOnly website, which features chefs and owners from a number of Bay Area restaurants. Those included in the Top 100 are A16, Bar Agricole, Bottega, Camino, Chez Panisse, Coqueta, Frances, Gary Danko, Hawker Fare, La Ciccia, Marlowe, Mourad, Park Tavern, Progress, Octavia, SPQR, Tosca and Wayfare Tavern.