San Francisco mainstay Betelnut will reopen at the end of this week, having spent seven weeks as a reborn version of itself called Hutong. After losing a star from San Francisco Chronicle's executive food and wine editor Michael Bauer in Sunday's review, the owners of Hutong informed Inside Scoop SF yesterday that they will be transforming the restaurant back into Betelnut.
Chef Alexander Ong will continue to lead the kitchen at Betelnut, and some of the new Hutong menu items will be available on the revamped Betelnut menu. The transformation from Betelnut to Hutong took a week. Real Restaurants, the group that owns Betelnut/Hutong, says the change back will also take about a week with Friday as a possible re-open date.
Plenty of positive reviews have been filed in Hutong's seven weeks of existence. Grubstreet SF enjoyed the short ribs and snap peas, and Tasting Table praised Ong's "newfound playfulness." Bauer's review was more skeptical" "I'm still not sure what was gained in the transition. It seems like a back-alley version of a formerly street-smart restaurant." Questions naturally arise when an insitution like Betelnut transforms into something new; more perplexing is the decision to quickly abandon the changes. Is Michael Bauer really that powerful?
The answer seems to be yes. Real Restaurants unconvincingly claims that Bauer's review was not the motivating reason behind the switchback: "We took a risk ... The correct thing to do is listen to what everyone, not just Michael Bauer, was saying. Betelnut is something that people know and love. Hopefully people will come and try some of the newer things, too." The negative review from Bauer would likely keep Hutong from a spot on his annual "Top 100" restaurants list, whereas Betelnut was a perennial favorite. Bauer's reaction to the switch on Twitter was shockingly nonchalant: "Hutong (formerly Betelnut), which I reviewed yesterday, is again becoming Betlenut!"
Restaurants have made changes based on poor reviews before. Guy Fieri took a watermelon margarita off his menu when New York Times critic Pete Wells called it "nuclear waste," and Eric Ripert removed a dover sole dish Wells didn't like. Still, editing certain dishes hardly seems comparable to abandoning an entire concept.