Bistro Jeanty and the Problem with Food Critic Michael Bauer

The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty... What does Michael Bauer know?

The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty… What does Michael Bauer know?

I ate dinner at Bistro Jeanty the other night, for the first time since Michael Bauer published his December 24th review of the restaurant in the San Francisco Chronicle. Truth be told, I don’t particularly care for Bauer’s reporting (I feel that his writing usually lacks imagination, and that his opinions are his own), but it’s always interesting to read such a negative restaurant review, especially since I happen to recommend Bistro Jeanty fairly regularly. It is, by far, the best value in Yountville, no matter what you think you’ve read or heard.

For me, Bauer was so far off the mark last month that it caused me to question the validity of food criticism in general. I began to wonder if any of this posturing was even worthwhile. After all, I have probably been to Bistro Jeanty five or six times over the past year, and I have always felt that the food was exemplary. Then, lo and behold, the Bay Area food critic with the loudest voice makes his annual pilgrimage to the restaurant, and he takes exception to almost every dish, claiming Bistro Jeanty is resting on the laurels of its coveted Michelin star.

I wondered, when a review like this one is published, what is the overall message to the public? Should diners take stock in the Michelin Guide, Michael Bauer, or some anonymous blogger like yours truly? And if the two former sources essentially cancel each other out, then does the latter source break the tie, or simply add to the pointless chatter? As I sit here and type, I have no idea how to answer these questions. But even though my readership may pale in comparison to that of the Chronicle, I do think it’s worthwhile to point out when a critic of Michael Bauer’s stature has gotten it all wrong.

One of the things that struck me about Bauer’s review was that I have frequently ordered most of the entrees that he dismisses. Therefore, not only did Bauer take issue with one of my favorite local restaurants, but he also singled out most of my favorite items on the menu. I found it rather bizarre: he didn’t like the pork chop, the cassoulet, or the coq au vin? Whenever I visit Bistro Jeanty, it’s always difficult for me to decide between these three entrees, and Bauer took exception to each and every one of them. Since Bauer also had such faint praise for the sole meuniere — and because it was the one dish in his review that I had never ordered — it only seemed fitting to finally give it a try.

• • •

As I expected, the sole meuniere was a well-executed version of the French classic. It featured the standard lemon-butter-caper preparation, served atop a bed of mashed potatoes. The sole was fresh and well-cooked, moist throughout, yet seared to a delicious golden brown on one side. I began the meal with a cup of French onion soup, which featured the dark, concentrated flavors that are inherent in the best versions of this wintertime classic. With French onion soup in particular, seasoning seems to assume an added importance, and I felt that the broth had just the right amount of salt.

Dessert was the lemon meringue tart, which was topped with one of the best Italian meringues that I have ever tasted — great texture and not overly sweet. The crust of the tart was a little waxy, and not nearly as flaky as I had hoped, but I wouldn’t say that it was enough to condemn the entire dish. Perhaps Michael Bauer can do the honors sometime next year.

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