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Bauer Predicts Big Things for Ninebark, Still Loves Frances

Plus, Pete Kane blows up Dat Spot, Anna Roth heads to a cemetery restaurant and Luke Tsai reviews La Marcha.

NInebark's dining room.
NInebark's dining room.
Bob McClenahan

Out in Napa, roving eater Michael Bauer was enamored with Ninebark at first pickled vegetable bite. “I knew the rest of the dinner would be excellent,” he wrote, after having that first course. Chef Matthew Lightner is a recent Napa transplant, some Bauer noted, writing, “It’s always fascinating to see how chefs from different geographic areas adapt and embrace the California sensibility. It changes their cooking, but the best, such as Lightner, also advance our emerging local cuisine.” Bauer liked nearly every dish that came his way, particularly the grilled broccoli, curried baby turnips, the skewers and “on-point” Petrale sole. Some not-so-favorites included the chicken and shrimp dumplings, aged beef tartare and “flavorless” rib-eye. But “when you add it all together — a high-profile chef, creative designers and professional service — Ninebark is destined to become a Napa Valley star.” 3 stars. [The Chron]

Since chef Melissa Perello opened Octavia, she left Frances in the Castro under chef de cuisine Michaela Rahorst’s care, and Bauer found that the “sensibility is similar to when Perello was in the kitchen nightly,” but that while, “all the savory dishes were good ... a few were missing that final flourish to lift them from excellent into the stratosphere, something that Perello is always able to do.” Still, he especially enjoyed the spaghetti al pomodoro, red trout main and duck confit. A dish that missed the mark was the grilled Tokyo turnips. Pastry chef Sarah Bonar’s desserts stood out to Bauer, particularly the “perfect” toasted brown butter pound cake. All in all, Frances “seamlessly balances today’s love of casualness, but goes above and beyond the expected in both service and the sophistication found in the menu.” 3 stars. [The Chron]

Peter Kane found a charming neighborhood joint in Potrero Hill’s Dat Spot, that despite its “off-fleek” name, is “basically everything you could want in a cozy neighborhood restaurant. The portions are big, the prices are decent, and the staff checks in often enough to suggest they realize that most of the diners probably live nearby, so it's best to keep them happy.” Dishes that worked for Kane were the ”zingy” bacon and potato chowder, “flawless” rotisserie chicken and “amazing” mac and cheese. Dishes that didn’t were the “dry” steamed artichoke, “gummy-waxy” chicken fat potatoes and “a little dry” pork chop. [SF Weekly]

Dat Spot

Photo: Emily P./Yelp

Anna Roth, ever able to sniff out the area’s most unassuming places, visited Cafe Colma, “a 24-hour diner inside a casino inside a graveyard in Colma — the city of cemeteries that famously has more dead residents than alive” where she found “ a warm center of the world, saturated in holiday cheer and bursting with life … all the more poignant for the silent rows of headstones surrounding it.” Located in the back of Lucky Chances casino, Cafe Colma serves Filipino food, of which “the best of the bunch is the longsilog, fat, garlicky little sausages that ooze grease when you bite into them.” The tosilog and tapsilog (pork and beef sausages) were “dry and tough” but “would do at 2 in the morning” — and the “same went for many of the other menu items, which were acceptable if not exceptional.” [The Chron]

Luke Tsai somehow managed to quote Anna Karenina in his review of Berkeley's La Marcha, which he found some of the “best versions” of tapas he’s had. “La Marcha's menu is sprinkled with modern touches and seasonally appropriate local ingredients, but the tapas aren't overly fussy,” like the “simple” tortilla, “smooth and light” albondigas and “stunningly crisp and light” patatas bravas. Others, like the “clammy” spiced almonds and “bland” calamares didn’t impress as much. Tsai said the smart move is to visit during happy hour and “grab a seat at the enormous, U-shaped bar counter that dominates the dining room. (That last part is pivotal: Only customers seated at the bar can order off the happy hour menu.)” Skip the dinner offering, which was a “less consistently enjoyable experience.” [East Bay Express]

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