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Week in Reviews: Mustards, Chez TJ, Maria Maria, Poesia

The Bauer has two stars for Cindy Pawlcyn's Mustards Grill, but the review reads a bit oddly, spending the majority of its time praising Pawlcyn's lifetime achievements while sneaking in a few little criticisms:

Although favorites pepper the menu, offerings continue to expand with new dishes. Yet, some of them seem in a time warp. The special one night was New Zealand grouper ($25.95) served with asparagus, fingerling potatoes and shocking-pink strawberry Cabernet sauce. It had a 1980s feel and tasted nearly as strange as it sounded. On a subsequent visit we tried a more successful new dish from the printed menu: a rabbit roulade ($23.50) where the meat, wrapped in bacon, encased a cornbread stuffing and a cider mustard sauce.
The dated feel, rushed service—three courses in one hour, which Bauer didn't mind?—and execution shortcomings all dock Mustards a half-star in Bauer's book to a very innocuous, almost nostalgic deuce. [Chron]

The Merc's Aleta Watson hits a biggie in the recently-overhauled Chez TJ, the Mountain View resto that nabbed two Michelin stars back in the fall. She discovers that it's a different scene entirely, but impressive nonetheless: "Now there's a new chef in the kitchen, working with an entirely new crew of cooks, and turning out a new menu punctuated with Asian flavors. Although the food is still unmistakably French and technically impressive, the personality has changed. The drama and virtuosity that Kostow often brought to the plate has been replaced by the quiet elegance and sophistication of veteran Chef Bruno Chemel ... At Chez TJ, dinner is a meticulously orchestrated culinary ballet from beginning to end." [SJMN]

The Chron's secondary review has another two stars for Maria Maria, the Walnut Creek (over)production by Dudum and Carlos Santana, who "even chose the servers' flowery guayabera shirts." The food is still not firing on all cylinders, but the scene is a hot one: "The decor creates an elegant backdrop for the restaurant's busy social scene. Arriving on a Saturday night at the early hour of 5:45 p.m., we waited 45 minutes for a table ... As for the food, Maria Maria scores points for creativity. But execution was lacking in many dishes, with seafood that had seen better days and flavors that got lost in too much seasoning." [Chron]

Paul Reidinger is the first to take a stab at Castro Italian newbie Poesia, where to his delight, they're showing movies a la Foreign Cinema: "Poesia's second-story digs, across the street from the venerable Midnight Sun, have recently been home to Ararat and La Mooné, a pair of worthy ventures that seemed to get lost in the Castro shuffle ... So, sweeten the deal with a movie! Screen it, and they will come. And if they come hungry, all the better. Poesia's food is rich in friendly elegance and would be worth seeking out even without a cinematic enticement. It also reminds us that classic Italian cooking doesn't (on the one hand) need tinkering with but (on the other) does accept flourishes, even California-style ones, without losing its essential honesty." [SFBG]

In another two-fer, Meredith Brody makes the epic trek to this "unfamiliar place" called West Portal to go to the Village Place, a diner that is revealed to be, well, pretty much your standard, quality diner: "The menu is full of familiar dishes (two eggs any style, French toast, burger, BLT, meatloaf, fish and chips, chili), with some interesting surprises tucked in (Belgian waffles, French toast stuffed with ham and cheese, homemade quiche). Almost everything is under $10 (the six-ounce New York steak sandwich tops the list at $11.30)." Now that that's settled. [SFW]

THE ELSEWHERE: The East Bay Express does underground dining, La Hopper is at Orson, the MIJ checked in with Scott Howard at Left Bank last week, and Mandy Erickson took the Sunday Chron review to Burlingame's Archipelago.

[Photo courtesy: Flickr/Jassy-50]

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