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Bauer Likes Madrona Manor; Boer Into Juhu Beach Club

Madrona Manor. [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

The Bauer Power Hour descends on Healdsburg's Madrona Manor this week, where Jesse Mallgren, "one of the Bay Area's most underrated chefs," is putting out "a finely honed meal that seemed generous and a great value" at $91 for five courses, plus another $68 for wine pairings. Unfortunately, the service is "personable and well-meaning, but doesn't match the sophistication of the food," and the staff's uniforms get special mention: "The staff at restaurants of this caliber generally is impeccably dressed; here they wear ill-fitting black suits and scuffed shoes, like a ragtag team." (Perhaps they're the Bad News Bears on their day off.) In the end, though "Madrona delivers in a Sonoma sort of way," and could even be dubbed "a poor man's Meadowood." Final verdict: three stars. [Chron]

Meanwhile, Nicholas Boer continues on the East Bay beat with a trip to Juhu Beach Club, where "the best word to describe" the cuisine is "fun." He's enamored with most of the pavs, particularly the meat versions; the vegetarian Sloppy Lil' P is "too starchy" for his taste. He's also not big on "the sulfur-y punch of black salt," which chef Preeti Mistry thinks "Americans are totally ready for." But with a "hard to forget" atmosphere and servers "obviously jazzed about the food," Boer thinks Mistry has "a bright future built on her food." Two stars. [Chron]

Anna Roth scooted over to Divisadero's Wine Kitchen, which she sees as a metaphor for the under-construction neighborhood: on every block between Fell and Geary, "there's at least one storefront boarded up with plywood or a land parcel set aside for condo development." She digs Wine Kitchen's "impressive wine selection" and "ambitious, though less impressive, small plates menu," but dubs the space "strangely soulless," with a "lack of personality that starts with the interior" and carries through to the yuppie crowd. "Gentrification is par for the course in a city like San Francisco, and there's nothing wrong with ambition when it's executed well. I just hope that it doesn't mean a neighborhood as gritty as Divisadero has to lose its roots." [SF Weekly]

Josh Sens did a double-dip this month, visiting Charles Phan at both of his new Southern outposts, South at SFJAZZ and Hard Water. South is the weaker of the two, in his opinion: it "hits a lot of flat notes, like a saxophonist with shoddy embouchure." The cocktails are excellent, and bar bites are good, but the whole thing feels messed-up as a dinner concept: "Sit for a full-length dinner, and you're asking for frustration." Meanwhile, Hard Water's "terrific" cocktails, "more composed" food like sausage and Gulf flounder, and "clearer sense of identity" are all to the good, until it's time to flag down a server: even Phan himself, who unwittingly sat down next to Sens, had some trouble getting his order in. Two stars for Hard Water, and 1.5 stars for South. [SF Mag]

The Examiner's Cynthia Salaysay was also on the scene at Hard Water, where the "towering shrine to brown liquor...outshines the accompanying food." Though there were a few standouts, like buttery oysters St. Charles and the much-lauded fried celery hearts, and the "rustic-meets-Space Age" room is a winner, Salaysay wasn't impressed by her entrees: "None of the entrees I ordered lived up to the beauty of the drinks," and to make matters worse, "dining at the bar made for some confusion." Overall, she gets "the sense that Hard Water is still figuring out its marriage of top-notch bartending and fine dining, [but she'll] surely be back to drink a few more whiskeys." [Examiner]

Jonathan Kauffman found the tortas at closet-size (well, "practically an armoire") La Ciudad de Mexico in the Richmond to be worth packing into the small space: Chef Luis Bolaños, a La Torta Gorda alum, makes tortas "as good as anything you'll eat in the Mission or Oakland," and burritos should be ignored in favor of "freshly-made quesadillas" with nopales or squash blossoms. One out of three stars. [Tasting Table]

Luke Tsai headlines his review of Ben's Restaurant as "The Best Chinese Restaurant in Oakland That You've Never Heard Of," and indeed, he's pleased by the "simple, tasty, inexpensive Chinese food — mainly rice plates, priced at around six bucks each." Westernized standards rule the menu, but ingredients are fresh and "even the most Americanized dishes are cooked the way the chef himself would like to eat them." Off-menu specials like Wednesday fried chicken or curry chicken fried rice are his favorites, and it's best to go sooner rather than later: Ben's a one-man kitchen operation, and he's retiring in a couple of years. [EBX]

Hard Water

Pier 3, San Francisco, CA 94105 415-392-3021

Juhu Beach Club

5179 Telegraph Avenue, , CA 94609 (510) 652-7350 Visit Website

Madrona Manor

1001 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448