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Week in Reviews: Marin's Balboa Cafe Gets the Double

Carey Sweet takes the Thursday review this week, and she goes PlumpJacking in Marin, hitting up the Mill Valley spinoff of Balboa Cafe. Similar to the Marina spot, the sequel thrives on its vibe, but for all the bustling ambiance and flowing cocktails, this one lags in the food department:

Yet the excitement is probably less for the rest of the food, which isn't as accomplished as what chef Jose Lemus offers at the original restaurant. The first plate I sampled, in fact, a fried green tomato Napoleon ($9.50), arrived as a sloppy leaning tower of thin slabs of flavorless fruit, soggily breaded and slathered with lemon-basil goat cheese under an exceedingly tart corn salsa.
Service is on-point though, and Sweet does manage to find some encouraging improvements in subsequent visits, with winning dishes including chicken paillard, short ribs and the desserts. Her final assessment—"the din is there, but the dinner still needs some work"—comes out to an even two stars overall. [Chron]

Matthew Stafford is the first critic to file on Scott Howard's Five, and it's an encouraging first take: "Howard takes California cuisine to a new level, coaxing vibrant and often unexpected flavors out of classic American dishes through inventive combinations ... All in all, this is the ideal place to sample classic American cooking, delectably revitalized." [EBX]

Meredith Brody chooses to review Mercury Lounge, the curious restaurant/lounge on the corner of Folsom and 12th. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Brody finds the food (and cocktails) quite impressive for a place that evolves into a loud, DJ-centric place: "...at an early-evening dinner we couldn't have been happier with the delicious array of pan-Asian small plates. And, at a calm, relaxing Sunday brunch, everything we chose from an even more eclectic menu, including fried chicken and waffles and BLTs alongside Asian dishes, was tasty and satisfying." [SFW]

Paul Reidinger hits the Moss Room, where he muses on Loretta Keller's stylings, and how they work in an elegant setting like the Moss Room's. The most "Kelleresque" plates (especially the squid-ink spaghetti) shine brightly, but some of the small plates "reflect a certain restlessness." [SFBG]

THE ELSEWHERE: The PressDem ain't happy with the "mediocre" El Dorado in Sonoma, the MIJ is at Stinson's oldest restaurant in the Sand Dollar, the CoCo Times rounds up cheap eats destinations, Bar Bites does Sebastopol's Hopmonk Tavern, Bargain Bites goes to the lovely Tommy's Joynt on Van Ness, and finally, the Sunday review had 2.5 stars for Tavern at Lark Creek.

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