In the wake of the big announcement last week that LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold was giving up the ruse of being anonymous after years of maintaining it both at that paper and at LA Weekly before that, Michael Bauer has been getting pestered by readers, Chron staffers, and friends about how much longer he plans to keep up the anonymity game. In a blog post this morning Mr. Bauer wink-wink acknowledges the fact that perfect anonymity is impossible, and after 28 years reviewing restaurants his efforts don't always work so well especially since he regularly hob-nobs with a number of well known Bay Area chefs at events like Pebble Beach Food & Wine, and some of these chefs even count him among their friends. But, he says, "I still believe that trying to maintain a low profile has an advantage."
He certainly has a point, and when he has to visit so many restaurants on a constant basis, especially new ones which he visits three times, announcing his presence and receiving special treatment every time would not only get tiresome but would also, inevitably, color his reviews. He wants, as he says, to at least try "to emulate the experience of an average diner," and sure, there's some value in that.
Bauer admits to a flub just this past week, though: He was heading for his third and final meal at new Tenderloin spot Huxley and kind of like your mom might do he mistakenly tweeted out his destination for the evening to his 30,000 followers, and the alias the reservation was under, thinking he was sending a private message to his dining companion. The alias: Mike Samuelson. "Oops..." he says. "So as you see, my system doesn’t always work out." (Also, Huxley is tiny and run by some non-newbs, and surely they recognized him the first two times.)
He also says, "I’ve been successful at keeping photos off the Internet" which is kind of a lie, and Eater is quick to point out the multiple photos that they've published of him.
Even Gold, who's been at this for way less time than Bauer, acknowledges "the restaurant critics' dirty little secret is that restaurants have always known who we are, even before Instagram... Waiters, cooks and managers, after all, move from restaurant to restaurant. Photos are posted in kitchens." I have it on good authority that local publicists regularly pass lists of Bauer's favorite aliases and names he's used on credit cards, along with photos of him, to any new restaurant they're representing.
And Bauer suggests that his publisher has already tried to push him toward "coming out" as it were, perhaps so that he could host lucrative events on behalf of the Chronicle. But he still demurs.
So, we shall all continue participating in this mutually agreed-upon fiction of his anonymity as other critics like Gold, and NY Mag's Adam Platt, finally give up and give in. Sure, many well known critics have long played this game, like Platt's predecessor Gael Greene, and everyone in the industry has always understood they have to play along, out of politeness, and in order not to make the critic uncomfortable.
You just have to pity the poor newcomers to town, if they should somehow manage to luck into opening a spot of their own, warrant a Chronicle review, and not enjoy any prepping from a publicist. Because they'll be among the very few who don't know when Mr. Bauer walks through their door.