4/10/2013 01:42:00 PM

Rick Bayless on the San Francisco Restaurant Scene

Rick Bayless, courtesy of Facebook
Top Chef Master and Chicago superchef Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo) was in San Francisco this week for the IACP Conference and Awards – his newest cookbook Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks was nominated for the Wine, Beer and Spirits award (alas, he lost out to Canadian Whiskey). We got a chance to chat with Bayless and couldn’t help resist asking him where he’d been eating during his stay and his opinion on the state of San Francisco restaurants in general.

Zagat: You’re only in town for three days. Where have you been dining out?

RB: On Sunday, I had brunch at Local’s Corner and dinner at Flour + Water. Monday it was lunch at Slanted Door and dinner at Aziza. What Mourad is doing there seems to be moving in the direction of Noma. His food is very different than the last time I was there. On my last day, I’m heading to MY China for lunch and checking out State Bird Provisions for dinner.

Zagat: What impressions do you have about the San Francisco dining scene in general since your last visit?

RB: Well, I haven’t been to San Francisco in a couple of years so there’s a lot that’s different. I have had great food on this trip but what’s interesting to me is that there is a real similarity from restaurant to restaurant. Of course, all the restaurants are doing the seasonal thing and getting the same ingredients from the same farms and what not, but it’s all a little bit too alike. Even at the Slanted Door. When the Slanted Door first opened, I recall the flavors were a lot more edgy.  

Zagat: We hear that criticism all the time. But even with that group of restaurants that you mentioned? With Mourad doing Moroccan and the Slanted Door’s focus on Vietnamese? How so?

RB: The food here is incredibly steeped in Italian food. For starters, everyone has pasta and pizza on their menu. You don’t see that in Chicago.

Zagat: So this similarity. Is it a pejorative? Do you see that degree of sameness in other metropolitan cities or just in San Francisco?

RB: I think there’s more of it here than in other towns. 

Zagat: Obviously your specialty is Mexican cuisine. Have you had a chance to check out any of the newer upscale Mexican restaurants in town such as Tacolicious or Nopalito?

RB: No, I didn’t get chance to on this trip. San Francisco doesn’t really have much of a Mexican food tradition aside from the taquerias in the Mission, which is a fairly limited thing. I am curious to check out Nopalito. 

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22 comments :

  1. Obviously you’re specialty is not copyediting.

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  2. I hate to be the one to point it out...
    "Obviously you’re specialty is Mexican cuisine."

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  3. Rick Bayless here: I am sorry that this interview came out this way. This is from a 3 or 4 minute interview (I didn't even understand that it was an interview when we started) between two sessions at the IACP conference. I was just answering a bunch of unrelated questions with off-the-cuff comments that were cryptic at best. These words do not represent my full opinions. Hopefully this will shed more light: I think that lots of the restaurants in San Francisco have a similarity--just like they do in New Orleans. It's called regional style. I'm always surprised by that similarity I find in a lot of the well-known SF restaurants, because when you think of food in the Chicago or LA or New York, the well-known restaurants are unexpectedly different. Aziza and Slanted Door in SF are vey different from what I think of as SF style (as is State Bird Provisions, which I went on my last night), which is why I chose to go to them (plus I'm a fan of Mourad's cooking, even though it seems less Moroccan than I've tasted in the past). There is a lot of Mexican food in SF, but it isn't very similar to what I eat in Mexico. When people talk to me about Mexican in SF, they are usually talking about great tacos and burritos in the Mission. I think most people would agree that SF isn't well know for a plethora of Mexican dinner restaurants. Sorry for the jumbled and incomplete comments.

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    1. Just because it isn't well-known for Mexican dinner restaurants, it does have some outstanding ones, including Nopalito and Chilango. It's ignorant to dismiss the scene.

      And the pasta and pizza on every menu comment continues to bewilder me. Do you only dine in SoMa and the Financial District normally?

      Also, the fact that you're mentioning restaurants that aren't what you think of as "SF style" just means that your impressions were formed before a lot of the current cutting edge and acclaimed places opened. State Bird is actually old San Francisco (Bix) trying to catch up to what the entire scene has become in the last five to seven years.

      Sons and Daughters, Benu, Commonwealth, Mission Chinese Food, Saison, Izakaya Mai, Namu Gaji, Nojo, and many, many others stand in pretty stark contrast to the opinions you expressed both in the original interview and in this attempt to clarify. And that's without getting into what's going on in Oakland and Berkeley right now. There's a good reason that even David Chang acknowledges that Benu might be the best restaurant in the U.S. right now and Alan Richman has called SF the current center of the culinary universe.

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    2. Bayless, your follow up comment reflects the fact that SF has a very deep bench in a huge variety of styles. So yea, there are multiple top restaurants with similar styles. This doesn't mean the city's best are all similar, even though it might appear that way to a visitor sampling a small portion of the city's restaurants. The commonality among SF restaurants is not style, but the uniquely high quality ingredients that you can't get elsewhere.

      Try Nido or Comal in the East Bay, and also you might want to try the SF dinner mexican spots as well.

      Also SF is totally not comparable to NYC, LA, or Chicago. What you really should compare is the Bay Area. The region has the East Bay, South, North/Napa, and everything is within an hour of each other. Taken as a whole it slays Chicago and LA. Only NYC has even the hope of an argument as being its peer.

      Liked Xoco, but you have a lot of great meals ahead of you in the Bay if you really wan to get to know our area.

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  4. Because when I think Mexico, I think f#ck yeah, Chicago! When Mexicans want to know what's in that Mole recipe, they call their grandmothers who are like, "hold on I'm totes calling Bayless."

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    1. Interesting. just out of curiosity, would you say the same thing about a Mexican chef cooking French food?

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    2. What a stupid and douchey comment. Bayless is an expert in Mexican cuisine, SF sorely lacks anything remotely close. The fact you can't accept that shows an extreme level of ignorance.

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    3. There is something like 600K Mexicans in Chicago so you when you think Mexico you might want to think Chicago

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  5. Anon, your comment is unfair and irrelevant.
    What does your abuelita think of the San Francisco Mexican dinner restaurant scene? I can't wait to hear.

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  6. Rick, you're response and the manner in which you chose to defend your comments solidifies what I have always thought of you. You are a genuine and humble man. You didn't need to defend your comments and yet you did. Some of your fellow celebrity chefs do not measure to you at all. By the way, I'm also a huge fan because you love my beloved Oaxaca as much as I do. La gastronomía oaxacaqueña es lo máximo. Sandra R.

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  7. I actually had a similar experience of "sameness" in Chicago - I love plenty of the down-to-earth non-Bayless Mexican haunts and the hot dogs, of course, but their high-end food is also rather samey (potentially in a regional way, as Bayless suggests). In particular, it's pretty heavy, super-sized and over-sauced. Also, it seemed like Scotch eggs were on every menu. I wouldn't consider LA a food mecca necessarily, and most of my friends from LA don't think so (though they definitely have better sit-down Mexican restaurants than SF has). Bottom line: Chicago and LA don't hold a candle to New York, or even Portland for that matter, so I don't really trust his views on SF, or the interviewers views - particularly since he doesn't know how to copy edit. ; )

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    1. It's true. You haven't lived until you've had the scotch egg at Alinea.

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    2. You are one of the dumbest people to ever comment on Zagat. How long were you in Chicago? 6 hours?

      Moron.

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    3. I was thinking the same thing. I think I have seen scotch eggs on two menus in Chicago.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Rick, As a San Francisco native, your assessment is accurate. Its funny how you can ruffle feathers simply by stating an opinion. You should check out Saison on your next trip out here. The food and experience there are amazing.

    Best,
    Frank Villarreal

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  10. I agree with Bayless. There is a similar quality to these bars and restaurants in SF in regards to the use of local fresh ingredients. Portland felt very similar to this as well. The food is great though so I don't know why people are so upset. Rick, try the #25 dry at Ha Nam Ninh in the Tenderloin next time you are here.

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  11. Let's start a stale ingredients movement!

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  12. I have only one comment about Rick Bayless which is when we were eating at his restaurant once we mentioned we were fans and from San Francisco to the waiter. He came out like 10 minutes later totally unexpectedly and was seemed like a very genuine person. Really this is all that matters.

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