On Sunday, the Chronicle’s senior food writers addressed the #MeToo issue in the local food scene, answering the question: “Should the media reward restaurants that have been linked to sexual harassment scandals?” As the most senior member of the Food team, restaurant critic and editor at large Michael Bauer’s essay leads the four-part story, which includes essays by food editor Paolo Lucchesi, wine and spirits writer Esther Mobely and food writer Jonathan Kauffman.
In his piece, Bauer lays out his argument for keeping restaurants like Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service, Bottega, Coqueta and Tosca Cafe — places that are still connected to men who have been accused of sexual harassment — in consideration for his annual Top 100 guide. Despite countless public allegations, he’s not yet ready to rule out any of them from this year’s list, though he does say he has moved them “to the bottom of the pile.”
The remainder of the Chronicle’s senior food staff immediately refuted Bauer’s argument, taking a fairly straightforward stance: No, these restaurants don’t deserve media coverage. Food editor Paolo Lucchesi even echoed Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt’s own thoughts from earlier this year: “Why, with so much talent out there, with so many compelling restaurants to cover, would you review the one veiled in controversy?”
In defending his position, Bauer writes that his aim, as a critic, “always is to tell readers what they can expect when they visit that restaurant.” He focuses solely on, “what is placed before me over three visits. Period.” It’s a system that has served him for 30 years and in the end, he claims, “my evaluation has everything to do with the experience of dining.”
That’s where Bauer’s argument feels disingenuous. Tosca Cafe, he says, is chef Josh Even’s kitchen. Even makes the restaurant “sing,” and leaving him and the rest of his staff off the list “seems unfair.” But by placing himself in this critical vacuum, Bauer reveals just how out of touch he is with the realities of the dining experience in 2018.
The thought that his Chronicle expense account dollars will end up padding the pockets of owner and accused groper Ken Freidman, whose New York restaurant had an upstairs lounge nicknamed the “rape room,” doesn’t sully Bauer’s experience of dining at “a San Francisco icon.” On the other hand, as Lucchesi writes in his own essay on the relationship of ethics and aesthetics, asking “Given these recent investigations, and their horrific revelations, can anyone derive pleasure from such restaurants? Why would anyone want to encourage other people to give these men money?” Ultimately, he determines that he can’t imagine dining at Tosca and enjoying it, “no matter how perfectly a chicken is cooked, or how affable a bartender is, or how much history it has.”
Similarly, Bauer is able to bypass the hard work of Chronicle reporters Tara Duggan and Karen de Sá, who revealed years of harassment by chef Charlie Hallowell. Even though dozens of women publicly spoke out about Hallowell’s behavior, their stories don’t affect his enjoyment of Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service. The two sexual harassment lawsuits that Michael Chiarello settled after they exposed his sleazy kitchen demeanor also won’t stop Bauer from promoting Coqueta, so long as the paella is still good.
.@michaelbauer1 when you show up this late to the conversation you don’t really deserve a seat at the table anymore. The Chiarello news is not new and you covered him breathlessly for YEARS, posting pics and keeping both his places in the top 100— Richie Nakano (@linecook) April 1, 2018
While the rest of the Chronicle’s Food staff is ready to banish these names from their pages, Bauer reminds us readers that he alone has the final say on whether “the benefit to diners — and employees — outweighs the charges.”
Finally, there’s one other thing Bauer’s essay is missing: the usual disclosure that his partner Michael Murphy is the culinary director at IfOnly, the “Make-A-Wish for rich people” where users can currently hire accused sexual harasser Michael Chiarello to cater a private dinner party for a mere $10,000.
Elsewhere in the newspaper, Bauer revisited Christopher Kostow’s “Napa dining destination” the Charter Oak. Last year, he thought the prices were too expensive and the fine-casual service was off. Over a few recent visits, however, he “felt as if on this visit the food did indeed realize the promise on the website.” The brocollini salad was “lit up” by a “magical touch,” the asparagus spears were “fat” and chef Katianna Hong has mastered the art of grilling vegetables. Her signature dishes are a “hefty beef rib” and an “impressive” chicken — both grilled over local Cabernet barrels. The only thing he didn’t like was the organization on the wine list. Three stars.
Jackson Fillmore Trattoria
After defending his critical bubble in the aforementioned essay, Bauer describes his personal relationship with chef Jack Krietzman of Jackson Fillmore Trattoria in Pacific Heights for his Between Meals column. Kreitzman taught Bauer to make his signature zabaglione dessert 18 years ago and today he’s enamored by the “esprit de corps” that the restaurant brings to the neighborhood. As for the food and service — both are “better than I remember from last time,” even though the carbonara tasted like the cooks forgot to salt the pasta water.
Italian Homemade Company
In the East Bay, Express critic Janelle Bitker didn’t think Berkeley needed another red sauce joint, but she quickly changed her mind after a stop at the Italian Homemade Company. While the pastas might not beat out the most “exquisite” examples in the East Bay, “everything is simple, solid, and delicious in a way that greatly exceeds [the] fast-casual setting.” HIghlights included a squid ink tagliolini with meaty chunks of lobster, the “smooth and lush green pesto,” and a “stunning” white wine sauce tossed with duck gnocchi. Come for the pasta dinners, but return for the traditional piadine sandwiches stuffed with Italian cold cuts or the hot cassoni stuffed with house-made sausage.
- Faded luster: How we respond to restaurants plagued by scandal [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Charter Oak evolves into a Napa dining destination [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Fillmore trattoria has a zabaglione to remember [San Francisco Chronicle]
- The Italian Homemade Company Excels with Fresh Pasta and Regional Sandwiches [East Bay Express]