Mr. Bauer tried to explain again recently why restaurants that aren’t in the same category or serving the same level of food might both get the same star rating. By the Chron’s logic, “The ratings need to be seen in the context of price and intent.” This is why Saison might get three stars, and so could Mamacita. Downscale, casual stuff tends to get capped at three stars — despite his well documented love of pizza, Bauer has yet to crown a four-star pizza place. So, we’re sorry to keep harping on this if you’re bored by the insider baseball already, but for the second time this year he reviews a casual, offspring restaurant — Bar Terra — and gives it the same three-and-a-half-star rating as its more fine dining parent — Terra, in St. Helena, and we’re confused.
To Mr. Bauer’s point, next-door restaurants like Bar Terra and Cotogna have the benefit of staffs that had the fine-dining training of their flagships, not to mention the executive chefs behind them, so it stands to reason they might get the highest marks possible for restaurants of similar vibe and character. He says at Bar Terra, “you get all the benefits [of fine dining] but none of the attitude that could be part of the package. And furthermore, “Like Bar Agricole, Bar Terra is able to navigate the more rough-and-tumble cocktail culture where heavy-handed flavors and fried food are king — and replace them with the sophistication of fine dining.” But, there’s stuff in jars, and everything is under $20.
So it still feels like a math problem our heads can never quite wrap around, knowing which restaurants belong in what category, and how the average Chron reader who skips ahead to count the stars is ever going to know when they’re comparing apples to apples, or apples to molecular apple tarts. If Terra is an almost-four-star experience, we suppose that Bar Terra should be considered just a different kind of almost-four-star experience, and cheaper? The paper is hardly going to revise their methodology at this late date, but wouldn’t it be easier to have a system like Michelin’s, or the New York Times’s, where one star actually counted for something, and a simple pizza place could never hope for three? Just sayin’.