BiteClub

Top 100 restaurants?

The Bauer has spoken. Each year, the San Francisco Chronicle food critic bestows his blessings on a lucky 100 restaurants (see who they are) as “the best” of the year. In 2008 only four made the grade in Sonoma County. On the list: Rosso, Cyrus, Cafe La Haye and the Farmhouse Inn. That’s it.

Really? Come on now. Sure, Rosso and Cyrus are undeniably stellar restaurants well worth the kudos. Cyrus has achieved transcendency in both service and putting it on par with any top restaurants in the country. The humbler Rosso has impressed locals with its consistency, great woodfired pizzas, commitment to organic/sustainable ingredients and wine program–all at a reasonable price.

And okay, I can’t begrudge the Farmhouse Inn with its enviable wine program and consistently respectable food, but consistency can sometimes be a bit dull. What’s got me scratching my head, however, was my intense disappointment with a seriously lackluster recent meal at Cafe La Haye. Is it really better than The General’s Daughter? Better than Syrah? Better than Santi? Better than Cafe Saint Rose? Better than Willi’s or Stark’s Steakhouse?

But the choices are a little less surprising when you consider that only 19 are new to the list–less than one-fifth. The remaining 81 have been on the Top 100 previously, many for multiple years–some clearly for too many years. Is nostalgia playing too big a part in these decisions?

Because while I respect and admire Mr. Bauer, there isn’t a decent restauranteur, especially previous winners, who don’t recognize him in an instant. They know who all the critics are, no matter how anonymous they try to be, making me wonder how truly objective any of us who eat and drink for a living can truly be. Or how accurate our experiences. It’s nearly impossible not to get attached (and even make excuses for) to a restaurant or a chef you’ve had especially fond experiences with. And dismiss someone who burns you even once. That’s the painful truth.

Which isn’t to say that Bauer doesn’t get it right a lot of the time. It’s a fascinating read to see who got bumped in 2008. Odyssey in Windsor got the boot (though it seemed to be a close call, and I’ve too heard of some inconsistency), as did Dry Creek Kitchen (which got a scathing diss). It’s also rather shocking, considering the fact that they probably knew (or should have known) that Bauer was in the hosue.

It’s a tough call, I can attest, to try and narrow to a brief list the best of the Bay Area. I’d struggle to come up with 100 Best Restaurants just in Wine Country. How do you compare the best spot for burritos and chiles rellenos with a three-star foie gras and microgreens spot? Maybe its worth a try…

So tell me. Who would you nominate for a Wine Country’s Top 100 Restaurants list?

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