Since taking over critic duties for SF’s paper of record, Soleil Ho has made her policies — including those addressing chefs accused of sexual harassment — clear. This year, the new critic applied her very different criteria to the Bay Area’s deep bench of restaurants to create an almost entirely new version of the paper’s Top 100 Restaurants.
A breakdown of what’s changed between 2019 (Soleil Ho’s first Top 100) and 2018 (Michael Bauer’s last):
What is a top restaurant?
Ho lays it out: “At a bare minimum, a top restaurant has to have great food. But it’s also a restaurant that must have some shimmering, extra quality to it that makes it memorable, the stuff that makes restaurants neighborhood centerpieces and anchors for people. A Top 100 restaurant may be a place that’s worth making a special trip out via train, car or plane, or it may be one that folks would want to walk to with their families every week. It has that magnetic ‘something else’ — star power and charisma.”
No chefs that have been accused of sexual harassment
After years of inclusion, Bottega and Coqueta, Ho removed restaurants owned by chef Michael Chiarello. (Chiarello was accused by former employees of sexual harassment and wage theft in 2016; the case was settled out of court.) Bauer included both of them and Tosca Cafe in the 2018 list. Tosca Cafe was co-owned by restaurateur Ken Friedman, also accused of sexual harassment, at the time of publication.
According to Ho, “The Top 100 should be a list that recognizes great experiences not just for diners but for staff as well, so restaurants with thoughtful leadership, above-and-beyond worker benefits and wage parity were specifically sought out.”
New to the fold
There’s an impressive crop of restaurants that have joined the ranks this year, including Eater SF’S 2018 Restaurant of the Year, Nyum Bai (run by Eater Young Gun Nite Yun (‘18)). Several are included on Eater SF’s list of hot and new restaurants (Beit Rima, Bini’s Kitchen), and many who’ve spent significant time on the heatmap (Soba Ichi, FOB Kitchen, Angler). This year is such a departure from last year’s list that there’s no point in calling them out: Go check it out here.
Pop-ups made the cut
The Bay Area has a high number of excellent pop-ups, wherein under-funded chefs or newly-founded partnerships test the waters by temporarily serving their food in an atypical setup. The only downside: They’re not always open, or even in the same place. This year Okkon, a very excellent okonomiyaki pop-up primarily operates in the East Bay (and sometimes at Rintaro), and Pinoy Heritage, chef Francis Ang’s modern take on Filipino food (and Eater SF’s pop-up of the year for 2018) both made it onto the list.
The old guard is out (kinda)
Ho removed frequent Top 100-ers like Gary Danko, Kokkari, and all of the Big Night Restaurant Group restaurants (Marlowe, Park Tavern, Leo’s Oyster Bar) and Mina Group restaurants (Pabu, International Smoke). La Folie, which received a mostly positive review in February, was also removed.
Less surprising: Alice Waters’ iconic Chez Panisse is off following a February review in which Ho said “Chez Panisse has pushed the culinary conversation in this country forward, but then seems to have stood still since then.”
It’s mostly SF and the East Bay
Over his three decades as critic, Bauer had time to explore the North and South Bay’s dining scenes — 2018’s Top 100 included Napa restaurants like Acacia House, Miminashi, Ad Hoc, Oenotri, and South Bay restaurants like Manresa. This year’s furthest flung restaurants are Single Thread (Healdsburg), Madcap (San Anselmo), El Molino Central (Sonoma), Charter Oak and The Restaurant at Meadowood (Saint Helena), Kyain Kyain (Fremont), and Maum (Palo Alto). Ho says logistics of budgets and a San Francisco-based critic have limited the scope, but that the outer reaches aren’t off the table (“Someone should put me up in their house in San Jose for a month and I’ll get right on it.”)
Where are all the Michelin stars?
The Top 100 has typically included at least an entire constellation’s worth of Michelin stars, which was always a predictable part of Bauer’s decision making process. This year, some of the included restaurants still boast stars, but are generally in the minority. According to Ho, she and the Chron’s food and wine team pitted the $200 and up tasting menus against one another and chose the best out of the group. “We know the food is good at these restaurants; but at these prices, we want more,” she wrote.
It’s a new day at the Chronicle and a very new take on its seminal ranking. It’s also worth noting that this year the entire Food and Wine team participated in the Olympic-sized task of eating through the Bay Area, including wine critic Esther Mobley, giving a variety of perspectives on food, wine, and more. Check out the result of their efforts here.