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Bauer Pans Wood Tavern; Bustamante Likes El Sur

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[Photo: Steven T./Yelp]

Bauer hopped over to Oakland to revisit Wood Tavern, where the food "still came across as lax" after his first visit. Imbalances were everywhere, from the overdressed warm calamari and Italian butter bean salad to the "imprecise" and "muddled" half chicken. When it came to the semolina-crusted halibut, Bauer "wanted to yell stop. Enough is enough." The only saving graces were the cocktails ("the restaurant still makes one of the best Manhattans in the city") and pastry chef Sarah Ballard's desserts, like the "excellent" coffee toffee semifreddo. The whole state of affairs left Bauer feeling sad. But "while it's not what it once was," packed tables show that "Wood Tavern is obviously good enough to continue to entice the neighborhood." Two stars. [Chron]

While Anna Roth took a break to live off food stamps for a week, Lou Bustamante tried El Sur's empanadas, which come straight out of an "adorable" 1970 Citroen H-Van. He found all the options on the menu to be "very good," but it was the traditional empanada with hand-cut beef, onions, pimentón, hard-boiled egg and olives that "wowed." French Laundry alum Marianne Despres channels her Parisian and Peruvian background into a street-food lineup that goes the extra mile. "Despres makes empanadas that make for very fine eating." [SF Weekly]

Meanwhile, Molly Gore paid a visit to Dante's Weird Fish, where she found the food "manic and confused," but said "sometimes, it tastes good." When it comes to fried fish, Dante's knows its stuff: the seitan dressed up as chicken wings does a "bang-up job of approximating the real thing," and the fried catfish Buffalo Boys have "a virile punch." Less impressive were the tacos and sandwiches, which "lacked heart." As for the interior, it "feels a bit like Tim Burton dropped in to film an Anthropologie ad underwater," but not in a bad way. Stick to the basics, says Gore: Dante's "does well with traditions such as fried fish and potatoes." [Examiner]

Luke Tsai went full dumpling this week, visiting the takeout window at Tian Jin Dumplings, a new spot that specializes in dumplings and other northern Chinese xiaochi, or "small eats." There, he found that "the handmade dumplings, in particular, are the best I've had in Oakland — arguably the best in the East Bay." The pork-and-cabbage dumplings showed their true colors a few bites in: "their juiciness, the slight crunch of the vegetables, how the filling had just the right amount of ginger and scallion." But Tsai's favorite dumplings were the beef-and-carrot ones, which "gushed with meaty, sesame-oil-tinged juices when I bit into them." The spot also sells frozen dumplings and savory baked shaobing, which Tsai calls "so, so good," especially in the morning. "I can't think of too many finer ways to start a day." [EBX]

· All Week in Reviews [~ ESF ~]

Wood Tavern

6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA