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Bauer Finds Willi's Off Its Game; Roth Hits Snags at Caña

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The back porch at Willi's Wine Bar. [Photo: Lara M./Yelp]

Michael Bauer takes a Santa Rosa road trip to perennial Top 100 player Willi's Wine Bar, but finds the experience a bit lacking: "It's still good, and still worth a recommendation, but the fresh excitement I've experienced other times was missing." Lowlights included "overpowering" truffle oil in an arugula salad and "leathery" potstickers, as well as poor pacing and clumsy service. "Some of the food needed just a little more attention for [Willi's to keep its previous three-star rating," he concludes, knocking it down to two stars. [Chron]

Poor execution also plagued Anna Roth during her visit to Caña, the new Mission Cuban spot that's an offshoot of the restaurant of the same name in Oakland. "As the mistakes started to add up, I couldn't help but think that the owners and staff could learn a trick or two from watching Restaurant: Impossible," an episode of which was playing over the bar during her visit. Too-close-together tables, a "presumptuous" cash-only policy (despite $50+ per-person tabs), and a lack of a Cuban staple, coffee, all rubbed her the wrong way, though the food, like a "glorious" Cubano and "flaky" empanadas, helped make up for the problems. Overall, "Caña is close, but sloppiness is keeping it from becoming the sleek destination restaurant it's trying to be. As a diner, I don't want to worry about tripping a waiter or knocking over shrubbery when I'm led to my table. I don't want half of my $20 entree to be cold, and I don't want to be denied coffee on a Sunday morning." [SF Weekly]

As we learned yesterday, Examiner critic Jesse Hirsch is a self-proclaimed lame duck, which is why he's decided to throw over tradition and go on a quest for one of his favorite dishes, prawn tacos. "Are prawn tacos hot right now? Is it an emergent trend to explore? Nope. They're simply one of my favorite things to eat." His benchmarks are the "ocean-fresh mammoth prawns" at Pancho Villa in the Mission, and the "solid B" version at Taqueria Guadalajara and the "sloppy" offering at Dante's Weird Fish couldn't compete. He and celebrity dining companion John Avalos were surprised, however, by the quality of the tacos at Mamacita, a restaurant that makes "Mexican food for gueros" but proved to be irresistible: "a complex, evocative showcase of flavors...Similar to Tacolicious, I liked these tacos more than I wanted to." [Examiner]

We hope Patricia Unterman will forgive us for accidentally leaving out her trip to Ramen Shop last week, especially since it's a rave: "This is ramen at its purest yet most expressive...Slurping a bowl at the Ramen Shop invigorates like a walk in the park, though actually scoring a seat at the narrow counter can turn into a marathon." Her favorite dishes include, well, everything: "Everything I put in my mouth at Ramen Shop, which happened to be every dish on the menu, delighted me." [Unterman on Food]

Finally, Luke Tsai digs up an amazing-sounding Indian spot on a barren stretch of International Boulevard deep in East Oakland. Masala Cuisine is owned by couple Rooplal and Sushil Masih; Rooplal, a former Indian Navy chef, opened up shop after a tech layoff a few years back. The duo are the only staff, and while the home cooking "takes time, at least an hour for a sit-down lunch," it's well worth it for saag that's "better than the usual by several orders of magnitude," "delicious" rotis, "potent, excellent hot chai," and "toothsome and generously portioned" butter chicken. Overall, "you'd hard-pressed to find better-tasting Indian food, served with as much warmth and enthusiasm, anywhere in the city." We get the feeling that the Masihs are about to be overrun; see you in line. [EBX]

Ramen Shop

5812 College Avenue, , CA 94618 (510) 640-5034 Visit Website

Willi's Wine Bar

4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95403