Mr. Bauer took the uncommon step of publishing an update review in the Sunday paper this week (they usually run on Thursdays, if you didn’t know, with Sundays reserved for new stuff and four-star upgrades only), in order to emphasize just how much the quality of the food has slipped at the Dining Room at the Ritz. Downgrading the place from four stars to two and a half, he writes, “The razzle-dazzle has been dimmed,” and, “the restaurant seemed to be on autopilot.” We’d kind of been hearing as much, anecdotally, for a year or so, and no great runs can last forever (the place has held four stars since 2005). Below, we break down Bauer’s various digs against chef Ron Siegel’s apparently lackluster menu, and even a complaint about the napkins. But we’d like to note, for the record, that this means that middle-of-the-road Marina Mexican joint Mamacita now ranks higher on the Bauer star scale (three stars) than the Dining Room at the Ritz. That’s gotta hurt.
To remain among the echelons of four stars, which only seven Bay Area restaurants now do (five of which hold two or three Michelin stars: Coi, Cyrus, The French Laundry, La Folie, Manresa, Meadowood, and Chez Panisse, which now has no Michelin stars), Bauer explains, “A chef has to be cooking at the pinnacle, offering food that surprises, amuses and makes us look at the ingredients on the plate in a whole different light. It calls for constant changes, continual reinvention. For a chef at this level, there is no coasting, no resting on his or her laurels, because the dining public is fickle and there’s always someone to challenge his or her ability.”
Among Mr. Bauer’s new complaints about The Ritz:
• The menu is boring — he says the à la carte menu is “play-it-safe,” and the chef’s tasting menu ($135) isn’t a whole lot better. A risotto with lobster is too bland and blah to belong in a restaurant like this, and he seems disappointed at the loss of the Asian influence in the majority of dishes, despite the fact that the restaurant still advertises itself as “French with an Asian influence.”
• Siegel recycles too many tricks — Bauer says that presentations, especially on the à la carte side, “are similar to what you might find in a really good neighborhood restaurant,” and even when he gets creative, it’s using smoke or dry ice in two separate dishes, and then “three courses had squares of flavored gelees.” Of a presentation involving beet juice, he writes, “The oversize white plates looked as if they were spun in a splatter-paint machine.”
• Execution has slipped — Of a suckling pig dish, he writes, “the pork was too salty and the skin was tough, chewy and not the least bit crisp.” A beef course was also “too liberally salted” (and Bauer likes salt), and they’re not even warming plates properly “so the purées soon cooled and the sauce quickly congealed.”
• Even the bread was bad — At a four-star restaurant, even the bread should be stellar, and Bauer finds, “There are just two selections — olive and sourdough — in a small, unassuming wicker basket, and the bread, especially the sourdough, was dry and tasted old.”
• Desserts and mignardises were boring too — He calls the current sweet cart “a shadow of what I remembered.”
• And what’s more, the tablecloths and napkins are worn — In an ailing restaurant economy, there’s still no excuse for a fancy restaurant to let a ripped tablecloth go out. Bauer writes that the napkins, too, were “snagged and had been washed so many times [they] had the texture of a soft dust rag.
His final words on the place are pretty kind, but here it’s the 1.5-star downgrade that really tells the tale, where service is the only thing still working at the 3.5-star level.
We don’t know if Bauer’s made it back to Chez Panisse recently and will contradict the Michelin folks. And unless things turn around at the Ritz this report doesn’t bode well for them keeping their Michelin star… Tune in next week (or month, or whatever…) to see if Chez Panisse holds on to all four of their Chron stars.