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Reviewing the Reviewer

February 5, 2013

A Night Out to Eat with Food Critic Michael Bauer

            Try to imagine what the man looks like who casually says he has had 23 hamburgers in one day. I bet your imagining someone of hefty proportions with splattered mustard and ketchup dripping down the front of his shirt. But to much surprise the man I am speaking of is clean cut, well dressed, and surprisingly fit. Michael Bauer, one of San Francisco’s better-known food critics, is sitting across from me at Nopalito. He has fairly long blonde hair, a red, white and blue collard shirt on, which is complemented by a nice dark wool blazer. He is calm and collective, and very polite.

Myself and the rest of the people sitting around the table are enrolled in Professor Robertson’s Art’s Report and Review class at the University of San Francisco – and what better of a way to learn the art of critiquing then shadowing Michael Bauer do what he does best: eat.

As the waitress gently fills our petite glasses with water, conversation slowly picks up amongst the table. While hands were reaching for the small plates of spiced garbanzo beans placed in the middle of the table, discussion bout Nopalito and Nopa’s (sister restaurants) choice to use local and organic produce sparks interest across the table. However, after Bauer places an incredibly large order (allowing all 12 of us to sample almost everything on the menu) the conversation seemed to end as attention turned towards the man of the hour.

San Francisco has a very rich dining scene. Bauer explains how the history derives back to the gold rush era where there used to be houses of prostitution on almost every block. These houses used to provide free lunch for the men who would come around looking for some extra love – and granted, the houses that served the best lunch received much more business.

“Food has become entertainment…it has become a sport.” Bayer said as several dishes came to our table. As one student asked about any rituals Bauer has before dining out, another student asked how often he eats out a week. I decided to dig into the food that was sitting in front of me. The chicken was tender and smoky and was delicately covered in pickled onions and shredded sweet cabbage. It formed a delicious mound all aboard a crunchy tortilla. As I quickly inhaled the samples of various items from the menu, Bauer discussed what truly makes a great dish.

“The best food is a paradox with opposing forces,” Bauer said. “It’s all about balance.”

As the questions flooded in, so did the food. We had two different soups, shrimp and veggie quesadillas, lamb, chicken mole…there was so much food, to be quite honest, I somewhat lost track of which was which. I was so busy trying to see Bauer’s way of critiquing food that instead of reviewing the food that was in front of me, I was reviewing the reviewer. With so many food critics out there, I was adamant on learning the skills and techniques of one of the more successful ones.

“You have to know yourself,” Bauer said. “Separate yourself from anything and say exactly what you think.”

Despite Bauer’s advice, I found myself somewhat lost. I was expecting Bauer to describe the methods he used in evaluating each dish and give loud amounts of detail to each ingredient and flavors. The lack of made me think about what it takes to really be a great food critic. It was easy to say that the food was good, but it was describing what made the food good that was hard.

Bauer eats out every night, he explains,  “I don’t cook, I eat.”

Besides his experience in dining out, his background relates nothing to food. He studied mental health and never worked in the food industry prior to his 26 years of reviewing restaurants for various publications. So what is it? After sitting down and watching him do his thing, it came to me. Michael Bauer has a unique talent that allows him to truly appreciate and describe good food. And what makes him one of San Francisco’s best foot critics? Well like he said, “good talent rises to the top.”

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One Comment
  1. I look forward to reading this with the scrutiny it deserves!

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