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Sens Feasts Medieval-Style at Cockscomb; Mateo's Service Disappoints Bauer

Plus: Tsai visits two wine bars in Oakland, and an evaluation of The Market.

Patricia Chang

This week, Josh Sens dipped his toe into the "alpha-male" atmosphere of Cockscomb, where chef Chris Cosentino has retained his "hardcore carnivorousness," as well as his "culinary swagger." Sens notes that the cuisine is best labeled as "conqueror's cuisine," more the "the kind of food you wash down with the blood of your enemies during a banquet overlooking the battlefield" than modern Barbary Coast fare. The bloodlust extends to decor that Sens describes as "Tywin Lannister meets Tony Hawk," where the "urbanized medieval feasting" comes complete with oversized dishes like a roasted pig's head and a seafood platter with "an estuary's worth of shellfish." While the pig's head delivered the desired amount of bravado and "rubbernecking from nearby tables," it was overly rich and lacked balance, causing Sens to ultimately lose interest. Ultimately Sens concludes that even when "[Cosentino's] entrees fail, Cockscomb works as entertainment," and for many, that is enough. 2.5 stars. [SF Mag]

This week's Bauer update took readers to Mateo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, a restaurant that has consistently won a spot on his Top 100 list since 2011. While Bauer notes that the food has always been better than the service, his recent visit revealed a service breakdown that couldn't be ignored, "mak[ing] the restaurant hard to recommend for anyone but the most tolerant diner." A full restaurant with a severely understaffed dining room led to mix-ups, long wait times, and a waiter doubling as a bartender (though his margaritas were still on-point). While meticulous sourcing and unique flavors that captures chef Mateo Granados' personality go "a long way toward softening the frustration with the service," the snafu left him feeling trapped in "an amateur production." Despite the service shortcomings, he only tasted one unsuccessful dish (the chicken); he recommends that diners who "go with the patience of Job" will be "well served." 2.5 stars. [Chron]

In the East Bay, Luke Tsai revisits the concept of wine bars, which have seemingly fallen by the wayside as craft beers gain popularity. He checks out two newish Oakland venues, the first of which is The Barrel Room in Rockridge. "Sleek and romantic," like a "wealthy person's library," it switches up the entire wine list every three months, focusing on a different growing region each time. The full-service restaurant builds a new menu to match, from the ground up, each time the wine list changes. Tsai says chef Manuel Hewitt "is up to the task," as "nearly every dish [Tsai tried] was an unqualified success." The "only downside" is a pricey selection of wines, though they are "spectacular."

Next up from Tsai is Downtown Wine Merchants, which falls into the "classic wine bar mold." With no stove, the menu is limited to small plates, and several dishes (like the lamb chop) were underwhelming. Tsai found that the menu is "more successful when it veers away from its predictable rehashing of the European small-plates oeuvre," and toward more homey fare like crunchy, chewy baked spätzle (a childhood favorite of owner Susanne Breen). Ultimately, Tsai finds Downtown's location to be the wine bar's "biggest virtue," in close proximity to office workers in need of wine. The "bright and lively" atmosphere and "smooth wines" make it a good place "to while away a couple of hours." [EBX]

The Examiner's Molly Gore goes into the belly of the beast, visiting the highly anticipated, much-discussed The Market. Located in the Twitter building, the collection of food stations ranges from sushi to tapas to tacos, with a vast array of grocery aisles filled with "everything from $10 jam to Top Ramen." While the taco station is "half-hearted," the pizza and sandwich counters offer some "inoffensive options," like a tasty chicken confit sandwich. The whole concept throws "a handful of varied influences" into one room, which "makes all of the tastes similar." The one exception is Azalina's Malaysian, which offers its own menu (without the curation of The Market's food team), and serves authentic, bold flavors. Overall, The Market is "doing some good," even if the "atmosphere is disjointed, as if Whole Foods was dropped into an art museum." [Examiner]