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Week in Reviews: Circolo Knocked Down to the 1.5

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Circolo has always been more about the scene than the food, but with new chef Garret Martindale aboard after Patrick Kehler defected to Urban Tavern a few months ago, MB finds the food should be even more of an afterthought:

It's a little too Asia de Cuba for me - the combinations seem forced and dated.

...Each dish, while sometimes flawed, had glimmers of Martindale's obvious talent, and even given the incongruities, the food was pretty good. However, it felt as if he was cooking from his head instead of his heart ... As I sat trying to eat the dismal crispy banana and peanut butter rolls ($8), with slices of egg roll-wrapped fruit on a gelatinous coconut caramel sauce, it become obvious Circolo has an identity crisis. Is it a nightclub or a restaurant?

Aside from the objective brilliance of turning Asia de Cuba into an adjective, it's vintage Bauer, who loves the soulful, rustic joints (c.f. Sunday's Scopa review) but has never been big on forcibly trendy places. End result for Circolo: a demotion from the two stars it got in '04 to the other side of the Mendoza line, 1.5 stars. [Chron]

Nick Boer continues to provide welcome takes on the East Bay, and today, the ex-CoCo Times reviewer has 2.5 stars for Lafayette's Chevalier: "... opting for an inside table is crucial; the intimate space concentrates the aromas and enhances the experience. Chevalier's sprawling heated patio, which accounts for more than half of the restaurant's 100 seats, might be cozier if plans to enclose it go forward." Staff cutbacks make busy nights inconsistent, but on less crowded nights, "most everything was flawless." [Chron]

Meredith Brody takes her turn at Urban Tavern, where three visits result in several up-and-down experiences: "At dinner a month after the disappointing lunch, the kitchen had noticeably improved, but slow and rather clueless service persisted. Our server was earnest, but she didn't tell us what the soup of the day was (we overheard it later from another server), didn't know what lumache pasta was (an ingredient in the shellfish casserole which turns out to be large shells), and, when we wanted to know which four cheeses were on the cheese plate, promised to find out but never told us. .. Still, there's nothing quite like the rather glamorous Urban Tavern in its gritty downtown neighborhood." [SFW]

Paul Reidinger employs puns in the title and everything in his overwhelmingly positive review of the Castro branch of Brandy Ho's: "Brandy Ho's in the Castro isn't just a Chinese restaurant: it's a good Chinese restaurant, and it's a Hunan Chinese restaurant ... Considering the quality and noteworthiness of the food and the restrained high style of the setting, Brandy Ho's is notably inexpensive. Although portions are generous, many of the dishes cost less than $10, and even the pricier ones struggle to reach into the low teens." [SFBG]

Earlier in the week, we had Josh Sens' take on Oakland's Camino, and today the EBX shares its thoughts on the Chez Panisse spinoff as well: "Camino also eschews soda, vodka, tonic, cocktails with cute names, decaf coffee, fish that isn't local or caught sustainably, shrimp, lobster, nonorganic vegetables, store-bought vinegar, refined sugar, and tables made from felled trees ... This is food by philosophy, but it's not an easy philosophy to pin down. To hear Moore tell it, there's a guiding principle behind every single aspect of the dining experience." [EBX]

THE ELSEWHERE: BiteClub tries Santa Rosa's Bruno's, the NVR stops by downtown Napa's Elements, the CCT is at Pleasant Hill's Sichuan Fortune House, NoSAM gets touristy at Farallon, and of course, the Sunday Chron review had 2.5 stars for Healdsburg's Scopa.

[Photo courtesy]