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Bauer Still Digs Town Hall; Kauffman Savors Stones Throw

This week saw Bauer revisit 10-year-old Town Hall to find the restaurant "as good or better than when [it] opened." The food, though "not for the diet-conscious," is "worth the splurge" thanks to appealing buttermilk fried chicken, "excellent" gumbo, and other New Orleans-inspired menu items. "At Town Hall, it all feels right." He even got to taste a "favorite dessert": the chocolate and butterscotch pot de créme, capped with "generous shards of chocolate butter crunch." With a "a more distinguished, mature patina" than when it first opened, Town Hall is Bauer's kind of place. Three stars. [Chron]

With Anna Roth still recovering from her cover story on flour, Pete Kane found "silky" ma po tofu with fish and "undeniably delicious" cumin lamb at Xi An Gourmet, Molly Gore enjoyed Nopalito's tequila-spiked Mexican coffee, and Trevor Flech approved of Mission Bowling Club's vegan burger. [SF Weekly]

There's a "secret aptitude for opulence" at newcomer Stones Throw, where Jonathan Kauffman stopped in to sample the "lavish" touches of chef Jason Halverson's menu. There, he found a duck dish with a "crisp-skinned and pink-centered breast" and "ridiculously juicy thigh," but richness abounded in more unexpected places, like the braised octopus with the texture of "just-pounded mochi" and potato puffs with cauliflower mousse that were "almost too rich to enjoy" (almost). "Seafood is the sweet spot here, with quenelles of Dungeness crab salad and buttery house-made squid ink conchiglie." Paired with the "well-tempered acidity of Rocca del Principe's 2009 Fiano di Avellino," this new spot's fare gets a star from Kauffman's celestial arsenal. [Tasting Table]

Alex Hochman visited the unpretentious Queen's Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe in search of a classic New Orleans-style po-boy. There, he found a plethora of po'boy perfection: fried oysters "overflowing with briny liquor that tastes of the sea," fried catfish "loaded up with a moist, fleshy filet," and "fiery" hot sausage links. Other Cajun classic also impressed, like a "deep and soulful" gumbo and "dense, corn-laden" hushpuppies with honey butter. "On the tail end of a yet-to-be-gentrified commercial strip near the 'Stick, this shop looks very much the part of a hole-in-the-wall far outside the French Quarter." [Examiner]

Luke Tsai ventured to newly open Venga Paella, the brick-and-mortar spinoff of Eduardo Balaguer's longtime catering operation. Instead of the upscale paella most Bay Area diners are used to, the spot serves a generous plate of comfort fare ("only a little bit smaller than many restaurants' 'paella for two'") with an efficacy that welcomes hurried lunch diners as well as the romantic tapas crowd. Three rice dishes keep the menu simple: Tsai especially liked the "traditional" paella, studded with a classic mixture of meat and seafood including "tender" calamari rings and "two perfectly cooked shrimp." He found the arroz negro a bit too mild, though: "I missed the shot of intensely garlicky allioli that's often mixed into this dish." And on the whole, the batch-heated paella method left something to be desired: Tsai encountered undercooked rice and "little if any socarrat" — the prized caramelized rice crust from the bottom of the pan. Still, if Tsai's has "innovative and better-executed paellas" at higher-end restaurants, "Venga's are the only ones I'd add to my regular lunch rotation." [EBX]

· All Week in Reviews [~ ESF ~]

Town Hall Restaurant

342 Howard Street, , CA 94105 (415) 908-3900 Visit Website

Stones Throw

1896 Hyde Street, , CA 94109 (415) 796-2901 Visit Website