Daniel Patterson has been playing musical chairs with staff at his group of Bay Area restaurants, and Bauer notes that "it's confusing even when you know the players." But, he asks, how's the food when all is said and done? In a recent revisit to Oakland's Haven, Bauer found the interior once again "almost painfully on trend," though the open kitchen saves it somewhat. The food under former chef Kim Alter "had an earthy countenance," but "subtle isn't a word that you'd use to describe [new chef] Charlie Parker's style," with "distinctive presentations where just about every dish is arranged off-center on large plates."
Bone marrow with chimichurri and radishes is "a perfect foil to the cocktails," carnitas are "an interesting marriage of refined and rustic" and potato dumplings "have heft," but "things can be overdone on some main courses," where Bauer got "an impression of sameness because too many ingredients ... are repeated." Service was improved from previous visits, though servers' descriptions "were a little vague." All told, Bauer says "it's nice to have Parker back in the Bay Area ... I hope as he settles into Northern California he will evolve the menu and make Haven the food destination it deserves to be." 2.5 stars. [Chron]
Josh Sens tried to wrap his mind around The Coachman, Charles Phan's latest, and found Phan's venture has "lost the feel of passion projects and acquired the corporate spirit of the plus-size restaurant group that he now runs." As for the interior, "you'd find more atmosphere in outer space," though "If there's a hive of activity, it's the bar." "The menu has a better chance to move you," but "it deserves a better stage." "Heartfelt" and "hearty," it's "British fare modified for California palates." "Despite his staff's best efforts," though, the result is a "disjointed" downer. "What was Phan thinking?" [SF Mag]
Anna Roth visited two newly revamped hotel bars in this week's review, starting at the Palomar Hotel's Dirty Habit (Fifth Floor's replacement). Here, an effortful revamp is "undeniably good-looking, but all a little too much, like a fabulously unreal loft in a romantic comedy." "Pulsing club music" and guests "straight from Nightclub Central Casting" add to the effect, but "once you get past all the silliness, there are great food and drinks to be had," from cocktails like the "tour de force" Chupacabra and "grassy and spirituous" Green Thumb to dishes like the "brilliant and original" pork croquettes with frozen raita and "crisp and juicy" chicken wings.
Over at the Lounge at Big 4, "the median age is at least 25 years older than Dirty Habit's," and the short bar menu is "designed to soothe, not to stimulate." Food was mixed, and cocktails tended towards "sweet and forgettable." The color scheme, white tablecloths and live piano music "feel like their from another era," and "in the age of casual dining, it feels like a fossil." "But it's nice to be able to escape from the present for a while." [SF Weekly]
Cynthia Salaysay stopped by Kaiju Eats to sample the "playful" izakaya menu, where "the food is something of a blitzkrieg of cultural influences," with tortilla chips, basil and curry all working their way in. Soups are "soothing and stimulating," with the "deeply meaty and garlicky" Kaiju Kobe the centerpiece. Coconut shoyu "is a good bet," though the karaage ramen was "slightly over the top." Though service can be slow, "there's enough good stuff here to put together a low-key, inexpensive, delicious dinner." [Examiner]
Meanwhile, Luke Tsai paid a visit to AlaMar, where he found "a studied blend of high and low," from the "understated" nautical theme to the requisite plastic bibs. "The differences between AlaMar and standard Asian-Cajun restaurants aren't merely aesthetic," notes Tsai: here, most of the seafood isn't boiled, and "the sauces are the thing," with a distinct recipe for each type of shellfish. Though Tsai loves "the kind of Asian-Cajun restaurant that AlaMar clearly isn't," "AlaMar is notable ... because it's so different." "Reliably great service" doesn't hurt. "That, along with those delicious sauces, is reason enough for me to come back soon." [EBX]