In a departure from previous years' methods of drumming up interest in their inky printed news publication, The Chronicle and Michael Bauer have decided this year to release the stalwart critic's newly revised list of the Bay Area's Top 100 restaurants two days ahead of the print edition, but only to digital subscribers. (It appears to be a last-ditch effort to sell a few more digital subscriptions, nine months after they abandoned that silly, short-lived paywall.)
And this year's list, in keeping with Chron's newly discovered love for the internet, is all snazzy and interactive, with great big high-res images, a map, and animation.
This would be Mr. Bauer's 19th year updating this compendium, and ever since he started his daily blogging routine a few years back we've learned just what a slog this process is, beginning sometime in the winter. His anonymity around town may be a mutually agreed upon fiction at this point, but Bauer remains steadfast in his commitment to circling back to his favorite older restaurants to make certain that their food and service are still up to snuff, and to figuring out which new hot spots and overlooked older ones are now worthy of inclusion. And he does this all while fulfilling his duty to visit all new spots three times before reviewing them for his Sunday column. With a touch of drama, he describes the culling of favorite spots as "a Sophie’s Choice dilemma."
No matter what you may feel about his specific tastes, it's safe to say that no one in the Bay Area has kept up this kind of schedule of dining out, year in and year out, to remain such an authority on the scene as a whole, from Healdsburg to Calistoga, all the way down the Peninsula, and across the East Bay.
This year, he added or re-added 20 restaurants that were not on the 2013 list, either because they just opened last year or because they had dropped off or been looked over before. Among those to return to the list after previously being pruned are Bar Agricole (which he recently re-reviewed here), Range, Picco in Larkspur, and Santé at the Sonoma Mission Inn. And he finally gives some love to Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern, saying "the food took a decided upswing with the addition of [chef] Joey Elenterio," who was previously at Chez TJ in Mountain View.
Among notable newcomers for this year, Bauer adds the revamped Tosca Café to the list, as well as The Cavalier and Michael Chiarello's Coqueta no surprises there. In the sushi sector he adds the revamped Akiko's and the semi-new (and expanded) Ichi Sushi in Bernal, and he adds the new high-end Japanese spot in Berkeley, Iyasare, which has been winning many raves for chef Sho Kamio's food. For Chinese, he now elevates Annie Ho's Hong Kong Lounge II. And he adds Sir & Star, the acclaimed new farm-to-table spot in Olema.
As for the restaurants cut from the list for 2014, Michael Mina, Spruce, and Farallon are the most notable, and perhaps he'll offer some explanation there on Monday. (He demoted Michael Mina to 3 1/2 stars from 4 in September, but that wouldn't suggest pruning from this list.) He already said that Mission Chinese Food had slipped and hinted that it had lost its place on this list, and Outerlands has been temporarily closed for the last five months so no surprise there. And after just one year on the list, Trick Dog loses its spot.
Below, the additions and subtractions in list form. Perhaps he'll better be able to explain the math on Monday, with 20 additions and only 16 subtractions, and not a lot of new combined listings that I can see. Update: The other four spots cut came by way of closings, and were thus already deleted from SFGate's database, causing my confusion. They appear now below.
The New Additions
Hong Kong Lounge II
Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar
Madrona Manor (Healdsburg)
Sir & Star (Olema)
Auberge du Soleil (Napa)
Hog & Rocks
Koi Palace (Daly City)
Mill Valley Beerworks (Mill Valley)
Mission Chinese Food
Osteria Stellina (Point Reyes)
Press (St. Helena)
Wakuriya (San Mateo)
* Closed in 2013. In the case of Pesce, they closed and relocated to the Castro, where Bauer no longer loves the ambiance.