The Joy of Arguing with Top 100 Lists

Categories: Talking Points
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Today's notes on national stories, local trends, random tastes, and other bycatch dredged up from the food media.

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I tend to study critics' lists and guidebooks the way some people search for meaning in baseball stats ― I argue with the author in my head, rethink my own opinions, vow to visit places I haven't tried. That these lists are limited, subjective, and controversial is their selling point. The pleasure is reading them ― the Michelin guide, the Eater 38, Michael Bauer's annual Top 100 list in the San Francisco Chronicle ― as a topography of the authors' tastes as well as a map of the zeitgeist.

So of course I enjoyed checking out the Chron's 2011 Top 100, which came out on Sunday and is now online. As I read, though, something about the scope of the list, rather than Bauer's individual choices, nagged at me. So I did some counting:

Restaurants on the list: 100
Restaurants specializing in Western European/California cuisines: 82
Restaurants blending non-Western and French-based haute cuisine (Aziza, Ame, etc.): 5
Number of non-European/Californian restaurants: 13*
      *Asian restaurants: 11
      *Mexican, Central American, and South American restaurants: 2

Should a critic's favorites conform to the contours of Bay Area demographics? Hardly ― I can't think of any drearier selection scheme. But do 80+ French- and Italian-based restaurants really represent the pinnacle of dining in the Bay Area? It makes the top seem a narrow peak indeed.

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