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Bauer Digs Food, But Not Service, at Gracias Madre; Roth's Socks Knocked Off By Lazy Bear

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Plus slow fast food in the East Bay and Bowl'd BBQ hits its stride with more vegetarian options

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Bauer made his weekly update visit to Gracias Madre, his first time back since a 2010 review. Four years later, their vegan Mexican food has stood the test of time, "thanks to bold and sophisticated seasoning." The service, however, stayed true to its "lax and unfocused" beginnings. Among other offenses, the doors were opened five minutes late for an 11 am reservation, dishes weren't cleared, and the manager sat down for some quality hang-time with some friends burning incense (or sage) at a table in the dining room. However, the food—and especially the sweets— proved "how far vegan has come." A creamy flan was exceptional even without eggs, and a pear and apple cobbler was "as every bit as good as what [Bauer's had] at most places." There were a few disappointments, like a "gently massaged" kale salad that needed to get back on the massage table for more work, and "mole sauce that was bland and sweet." While the food was good, Bauer was bummed to find that "the service isn’t as professional as the kitchen staff, which deserves better." Two stars. [Chron]

Anna Roth's visit to Lazy Bear pretty much knocked her socks off from start to finish. The brick-and-mortar restaurant is styled after chef David Barzelay's original intimate pop-ups, as a big dinner party— this time with two seatings and a kitchen that is wide open, allowing diners to mingle with the chefs during a service that spans 13 courses. Despite the urge for an eye roll when an exceptionally hip waiter proferred an "oyster on a bed of polished river stones," Roth observed that every course was "served with enthusiasm, not snobbery." Even when, after securing a ticket through their online ticketing system (the same one used by Alinea), the critic realized that her credit card had revealed her identity to the restaurant, she observed that her "service and food seemed congruous with the rest of the dining room." And in a city awash with tasting menus by high-profile chefs, Roth found that "Lazy Bear is centered around the diners, not the chefs ego." In fact, Roth found the entire meal "playful and surprising" and "utterly delicious." In the end, she concluded that Lazy Bear lived up to the hype; diners are "buying more than a ticket for dinner: [they're] paying for a whole evening, an experience, an education." [SF Weekly]

Meanwhile, across the bay, Luke Tsai was sampling the best (or at least the most conscientious) fast food the East Bay has to offer. First up, Tsai visited Farm Burger, a Georgia-based chain that recently made its West Coast debut in Berkeley. The restaurant considers itself "slow" fast food, purchasing grass-fed, sustainable meat from BN Ranch and produce from farmer's market. Although the burgers themselves were a "mild disappointment," the salads, milkshakes and Southern-inspired snacks were part of the charm. Tsai deems Farm Burger fast food that "you can feel downright virtuous eating," although the "flavor didn't [always] quite live up to the feel-good narrative." Next, Tsai visited Boss Burger in Albany, a project from Jon Guhl (Little Star Pizza) and chef Ryan Murff. The burgers are simple, part of a retro theme that pervades the restaurant. Burgers made with beef from Five Dot Farms and the fried chicken sandwich were standouts, though the beef tallow fries were "just ok." In fact, Tsais favorite item was the chili, made with beef and no beans, that tasted like a "throwback to simpler times." [EBX]

In an area saturated with Korean restaurants, Oakland's Bowl'd BBQ has finally found its niche. On a recent visit to the Temescal spot, SF Weekly's Alix Wall found that the restaurant had "hit its stride" after a year of operations, when owners Chi Moon and Jessica Oh revamped their menu to better suit their customers. Now the typically meat-focused Korean BBQ offers vastly more vegetarian and gluten-free options on their menu. "Korean food isn't naturally vegetarian," explained Oh, but modifying it for picky customers wasn't too difficult. Wall found it a little pricier than neighboring Korean restaurants, but that "for those with dietary restrictions, those few extra bucks may be worth it for peace of mind." [SF Weekly]

The SF Examiner's Wendy Hector found sandwich artistry alive and well at The Lunchpad. The Hayes Valley pop-up, inside Noir Lounge, seems awfully permanent after two years, with a line forming around the block. And while Hector admits a disdain for San Franciscans' penchant for standing in lines, she has "no such qualms about this one." Hilariously decadent sandwiches like the B.L.Whaaat! with candied habanero bacon offer flavors "that are dynamic and ever-changing, each bite an evolution from the last, creating new sensations, never one-note or boring." The biggest takeaway: these sandwiches are "crazy delicious." [SF Examiner]

Bowl'd Korean Stone Grill

4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Gracias Madre

2211 Mission Street, , CA 94110 (415) 683-1346 Visit Website

The Lunchpad

581 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (415) 522-6647 Visit Website

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