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A Bauer Star Frenzy: 3 to Tosca, 3.5 to State Bird

In the kitchen at Tosca.
In the kitchen at Tosca.
Photo: Patricia Chang

Thanks to the holiday, this edition of Week in Reviews boasts a double dose of Bauer. First up: he's finally filed on Tosca Cafe, and the results pretty much qualify as a rave. "As much as Tosca Cafe has changed, it's firmly anchored in the past," he writes, citing the continued presence of former owner Jeannette Etheredge and what passes in SF for celebrities (Stanlee Gatti, Vanessa Getty, and Willie Brown). The new kitchen is "a stage for [April] Bloomfield's talents," with "excellent" dishes like a roast chicken with "crisp skin and succulent flesh," pork fat-crisped potatoes "that should be ordered with everything," and "intense" mussel soup. (Surprisingly, he doesn't comment about the much-discussed prices.) Overall, it's "a style of food that reflects the ethos of the place without falling into the retro mode...Tosca has been reincarnated as the place to go to understand where San Francisco has been, and where it's going." Three stars. [Chron]

As if one high-profile review in a week wasn't enough, Bauer also somehow managed to get into State Bird Provisions post-remodel, where he finds the food "even better" than before, while "better lighting and a more expansive space have made the restaurant way more comfortable." Notable dishes included "compelling" fried rabbit-and-cheese balls, an "interesting" seafood cart with a hamachi dish that looks "like an art installation," and the classically "brilliant combination" of the signature quail. Despite lines that stuck even "a well-known New York chef who has in town recently on a cookbook tour" (we're guessing Daniel Boulud) with a three-hour wait, it's among the best SF has to offer: "The redo has changed the character of the 60-seat space for the better." 3.5 stars, up from an original rating of 2.5 stars. [Chron]

Anna Roth took the week off from reviewing to focus on her cover story about flour; in her stead, Joe Eskenazi examined the culinary efforts behind KFC's Cajun deep-fried turkey, while Pete Kane pondered why SF rejects outside chains but embraces homegrown ones. [SF Weekly]

Kauffman is double-dipping on the spinoff front, with visits to TBD (from the AQ team) and James Syhabout's Box & Bells in the same week. First up, TBD, where the live fire "climbs up the back of the open kitchen, scenting the air with woodsmoke" and perfuming "unpredictable jolts of imagination" from the kitchen like roasted clams with cabbage and dashi or "sweet and almost custardy" roasted carrots. Throw in food and a mood "more casual than at its sister restaurant," and TBD is "quite figuratively, on fire," earning two stars out of three. Meanwhile, Box & Bells has been getting press for its hearty, meaty options, but Kauffman was "more impressed by the vegetables...as rich and layered as their meaty brethren." Standout dishes included a "mellow and earthy" celeriac roasted in beef tallow, and the 50/50, an equal mix of potatoes and butter that's "100 percent as opulent as it sounds." Overall, "it's a loud, dark tavern serving the kind of dishes the chef and his fellow cooks want to eat on their day off," doubling nicely as "a great neighborhood bar." One star out of three. [Tasting Table]

Cynthia Salaysay is a big fan of Dennis Leary's latest, Cafe Terminus, which offers "a home away from home for the go-getters of the Financial District." The "small, focused kitchen" turns out "the pulled-pork sandwich to end all pulled-pork sandwiches — spicy, sweet, crunchy with slaw, delightfully messy," as well as an "ample and fresh" turkey sandwich with cranberry dressing and a "confectionary and cartoonishly rustic" blueberry muffin. And of course, there are afternoon cocktails to close out the day, like the Citizen's Committee, "sweet but not girly sweet, efficient, gentle on the soul." [Examiner]

Alameda's new Lithuanian spot Mama Papa Lithuania was a big draw for Luke Tsai, who was excited to try the "underrepresented" cuisine (it's the West Coast's only Lithuanian restaurant, according to the owner). Unfortunately, the signature potato dumplings were "awfully starch-heavy...I wouldn't go out of my way to order it again," and the menu "is interesting but not particularly varied — potatoes, sour cream, and seasoned pork make many, many appearances." Still, there were gems like the stuffed cabbage, "one of the best [he's] had," and red borscht that's "well worth a try." Overall, "the place is arguably the quaintest, most charming little restaurant in an island city whose identity — gastronomically speaking — is defined by quaint, charming little restaurants." [EBX]

· All Week in Reviews [~ ESF ~]

Box & Bells

5912 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 510-923-2000 Visit Website

Tosca Cafe

242 Columbus Avenue, , CA 94133 (415) 986-9651 Visit Website

Cafe Terminus

16 California Street, , CA 94111 (415) 960-8405 Visit Website

State Bird Provisions

1529 Fillmore Street, , CA 94115 (415) 795-1272 Visit Website

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