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Bauer Wants Better for Bon Marché; Kane Likes Nostra's Reboot

Plus, Anna Roth heads to It's Tops Coffee Shop and Luke Tsai checks out Big Momma’s Kitchen.

Mr. Michael Bauer stopped by the Twitter building this week to review Bon Marché, which he concluded “probably seemed right as a concept” but ended up being “one of the most discombobulated designs” he’s ever encountered. Design complaints aside, Bauer loved the food, which evoked “thoughts of a Parisian brasserie” and offered “something for everyone.” He particularly enjoyed the French onion soup, duck and leg of lamb. Service was “inconsistent,” but “the service is not nearly as distracting as the physical surroundings, which diminish the impact of the often-excellent food and renders the experience less than the sum of its parts.” 2 stars. [The Chron]

It’s Contigo in Noe Valley for Bauer’s update review this week, which “continues to be a bright light in its neighborhood.” “The majority of dishes are medium to large and continually blend those deep flavors with sparks of California freshness,” specifically the smoked eggplant with raw tuna, pa amb tomaquet (tomato toast) and squid alla plancha. Not-so-favorites were the too-sweet patatas bravas and albondigas. He felt “welcome” there, though, by Contigo’s “counter in front of the open kitchen, communal table and back patio” which “blends the best of Catalonia and California under one roof.” All in all, “it’s easy to see why Contigo continues to be packed. Service is sharp, the food satisfies, and the Emersons’ love letter to Spain still warms the neighborhood.” 2 ½ stars. [The Chron]

Meanwhile, Peter Kane found himself at the newly-reconcepted Nostra Spaghetteria and Bar Mia in the Mission, which used to be Plin and still has the same chef and owners. The two are similar, Kane found, except that Nostra “introduced a custom pasta option that could please picky children and trend-chasing foodies alike.” The signature raviolo al uovo, or egg-stuffed ravioli, was “genuinely jaw-dropping,” but it was the build-your-own pasta that really caught Kane’s attention. “Choosing a pasta ($9) and adding a sauce ($3), a vegetable ($3), and a meat ($4) is like matching Mrs. Peacock to the lead pipe in the conservatory,” and can fall flat in the wrong hands, but the best one Kane had was the “pappardelle with tomato basil sauce, fontina, and oxtail.” The cocktails generally work, and while the decor “doesn’t entirely cohere,” “an inexpensive and democratic house of pasta could be a great strategy for lasting success.”

Anna Roth visited It’s Tops Coffee Shop in the Mission to find it largely as unchanged as ever. “Walking into the diner is like walking into a time portal to the mid-20th century. Its cherry-red booths and stools, knotty-pine-paneled walls, vintage pink uniformed waitresses and oldies from the chrome tabletop jukeboxes wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Happy Days.’” The menu abides by that vibe, with “comfort-food standards like pancakes, burgers and two eggs any style that have fed customers for the past 80 years.” Roth is clearly enamored with the family that runs the diner, which is why she wrote, “I wish I could tell you that the food at It’s Tops is excellent, that the pancakes and burgers cooked on the original Wolf griddle are worth crossing town for.” The burger was “completely average” and the fries “soggy,” though the pancakes were “fluffy.” That’s not why you go, though, according to Roth. “It feels important to preserve these corners of San Francisco that are so obviously tied to the past,” she concluded.

Over in the East Bay, Luke Tsai visited Big Momma’s Kitchen in Oakland and found a “certain charm” at the New Orleans-inspired cafe. “These po'boys are the real deal,”’ he wrote and the “rest of the menu at Big Momma's consists of the standard array of dishes that you'll find at any other soul food restaurant in town.” There were both hits (shrimp rice, fried chicken, smothered turkey wings) and misses (red beans and rice, mac and cheese) at the two-month-old restaurant that is “still in soft opening mode, which means it hasn't yet hired and trained enough staff to start opening early for breakfast,” but Tsai is looking forward to that day.

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