[Photo: Cherylynn N./Yelp]
This week, SF Mag's Josh Sens took on Monsieur Benjamin, "the most buzzed-about new bistro of the year." While Sens dreams of the "simple food at modest prices" of the indulgent Parisian bistros of yesteryear, he finds in M. Benjamin "a very pretty place, reflective of today's shiny-money San Francisco," prices and all. Here, he'd do the "tart" and "buttery" camembert beignets, "plump" seafood sausage, "moist" duck confit and "impeccable" gâteau marjolaine. "At which point, I'd wish I owned some Twitter stock."
With pricing that "categorically rejects the modest price tags synonymous with the quintessential bistros of yore," M. Benjamin is too twee to fill Sens' lusty bistro cravings. "At Monsieur Benjamin, there's bone marrow on the menu," but "I'm still waiting for a bistro that makes me feel like I'm sucking the marrow out of life." 2.5 stars. [SF Mag]
With Michael Bauer vacationing in Memphis, Chron wine editor Jon Bonné took over critical duties for the week, stopping by Loló Cevichería for a taste of the newish restaurant's ceviches and more. The space, which used to house Loló until the first restaurant's move to Valencia, "still sports a garish, bric-a-brac interior," and Bonné was pleased with the Peruvian-inflected ceviches, which "pleasantly stick to basics." The mixto was "vibrant if a touch mild," and the "the promised fire of aji amarillo, the yellow chile that defines much Peruvian cooking, never quite appeared." The ceviche negro fared better, sporting "not just burn but a real brightness, one echoed in a silken aji amarillo salsa served with tortilla chips." A "lovely, assertive michelada" and "low-proof tamarind margarita" rounded out the meal, and Bonné left relatively happy. "If these efforts don't hit the brilliant intensity of the ceviches at nearby Cholo Soy, they are refreshing and precisely flavored." [Chron]
Meanwhile, Anna Roth tried out Dinner Lab, the members-only pop-up supper series that hopes to capture "that fleeting, ephemeral feeling that comes with dinners that only happen once." The evening's meal, which took place in a school gymnasium (complete with fairy lights strung from basketball hoops), featured the stylings of Timmy Malloy (chef de cuisine at Local's Corner), who had fun with cured halibut accompanied by an "earthy turnip puree and bright Meyer lemon, a "startlingly good" seared tuna and "intense" celery semifreddo that "paired well with concentrated melon, lime sorbet, and cilantro." Comment cards "give diners a chance to feel like they're in control," and using them throughout the night can "free up mental energy to drink wine, talk to your neighbors, and focus on the exquisite food." "Dinner Lab seems to have figured out a way to keep the spontaneity and fun of pop-ups while creating an infrastructure that allows both chefs and diners to have a reliably good time." Dinner Lab's exposure to new chefs and flavors "is what brings its members back," and "the result is an evening full of surprises where everyone seems to leave happy." [SF Weekly]
Molly Gore found little to sing about at The Ramen Bar, Michael Mina's newly opened casual concept that neighbors the more upscale Pabu. A "baffling" entrance got her off on the wrong foot, and the experience was inconsistent, with a "delightful" wakame salad followed by "chalky and dry" pork buns. In terms of ramen, while the buttery miso broth with braised pork was "hearty," the Kurobuta pork proved "more monotoned." "Craving variety, texture and intrigue, I felt bored," admitted Gore, and "sludgy and gamey" pork rib curry, disappointing sesame salmon and "less than memorable" pre-packaged desserts didn't help. "With some tweaks," Ramen Bar "may redeem itself"...and in the meantime, "there's always the $3 PBR." [Examiner]
In Uptown Oakland, Luke Tsai chowed down at Belly, a Korean-Mexican fusion spot that's got a "modern-looking" but still "homey, mom-and-pop" feel. A San Diego-style burrito sported steak is seasoned with house-made Korean-style marinade, and Tsai was "surprised at how well the nominally Mexican ingredients — with their tangy, spicy, and creamy elements — cohered with the mild sweetness of the beef." Tacos were "overly complicated" and a disappointing burger rang false, but the steak-and-eggs burrito had Tsai singing to the rooftops, with "every component of the burrito working together just so." Service was "friendly and attentive," and "any restaurant that can put out a dish as delicious as that steak-and-eggs burrito is one I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt." [EBX]