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Roth Finds Promise in Californios; Bauer Visits His Old Pal Jeremiah Tower in NYC

Plus: Tsai finds a community at Communitē Table, Bauer checks out Rasa and revisits Duende and ABV stuns Wendy Hector.

Patricia Chang

This week, Anna Roth paid a visit to Val Cantu's modern Mexican restaurant, Californios, where she found another iteration of the tasting menu-only format that is gaining popularity in the Bay Area dining scene. But while a $75 price tag "puts it on par with many of the more inventive tasting menus in the city," the restaurant "falls a little short" in comparison. Despite being "dazzled" by the procession of courses, Roth found herself "struggling a little without the printed signpost [of a menu], trying to understand where [she'd] been, where [she] was going, and what the journey meant overall." She found "a lot to like about the food," but wanted more of the Mexican influence that is purportedly driving the kitchen and cuisine; though the dishes showed technical prowess, she "never felt they added up to a cohesive whole." The restaurant "shows a lot of promise," and with more of Cantu's Mexican flavors, it could go from "something promising to something unmissable." [SF Weekly]

Bauer was busy this week, traveling across the country to check up on San Francisco's old flame Jeremiah Tower at his new residency at New York's Tavern on the Green. The storied SF chef is leading the kitchen there, following a turbulent re-opening last April; he's now "walking a fine line" as he tries to "construct a menu that appeals to both regulars and thousands of tourists." Bauer wonders why Tower "would choose such a large, touristy spot for his comeback, unless he's into the irony of two warhorses finding renewed relevance on a national stage." Though Bauer notes that back in his day, Tower was "unarguably one of the best chefs in the country," his dinner at Tavern on the Green "didn't necessarily show it." He felt the plating was a bit dated and that though the "food wasn't great," it was "good enough" when judged against other touristy spots. Tower can sleep well knowing that Bauer is "rooting for him," with hopes that he can be as "influential to tourist-heavy restaurants in the 2010s as he was with independent restaurants in the 1980s." [Inside Scoop]

Bauer also visited Duende, for this week's update review. When he visited the uptown Oakland restaurant soon after its opening two years ago, he bestowed the restaurant with two and a half stars, and felt sure that chef Paul Canales and his kitchen would improve with age. However on recent visits, Bauer was disappointed in the menu and in service he deemed "lethargic." The chef was absent, and he felt that the dishes "weren't fully realized." Long waits with no explanation, an unfocused staff who had to be reminded to bring water and fresh plates and inconsistencies between the menu and what was actually served contributed to the removal of half a star. These inconsistencies served as a reminder that "from start to finish, Duende isn't paying attention to the details that distinguish top restaurants." Two stars. [Chron]

This week's Sunday review took Bauer out to Rasa in Burlingame. The cuisine hails from Southern India, where owner Ajay Walia went to school and still travels frequently. This is Walia's second restaurant, a follow-up to the Northern Indian cuisine of Saffron Indian Bistro in San Carlos. The restaurant employs a somewhat "modern approach" to flavors and presentation under the guidance of Vijay Kumar, previously the chef at SF's Dosa. Dishes like Malabar chutney prawns expertly balance heat and flavor, while the Dahi Vada (lentil beignets frosted with yogurt, tamarind and chutney) is both delicious and "visually arresting." And for those who care, Bauer notes that most of the dishes at Rasa are gluten-free. Bauer felt that the food at Rasa is "mostly on point," and though the service is "well-meaning" it is "sometimes lacking." Ultimately the food "offers both innovation and tradition— a fine balance for a fine restaurant." 2.5 stars. [Chron]

In the East Bay, Tsai checked out Communitē Table, a new restaurant in Oakland's Laurel District from chef-owner Michele LeProhn (formerly at Berkeley's Poulet). The idea is focused on creating a community-oriented restaurant where young families and busy professionals can grab food to-go or have a quick meal. The menu changes weekly, and though Tsai felt the food "won't win prizes for originality," it has a "homeyness and honesty" that is "very appealing." Communitē Table aspires to be kid-friendly, healthful and convenient, including fruit and greens with each dish, a deli case with rotating salads and to-go items and frozen items to cook at home. Tsai found a warm and patient staff, so friendly that "the casual vibe makes it feel more like you're dining in a friend's kitchen." On his visits the dining room was packed, an indication of success in a neighborhood that was in need of "this kind of unassuming, practical community kitchen." [EBX]

The SF Examiner's Wendy Hector began a torrid love affair with ABV this week, lauding the excellent beverage program that pairs "stunningly well with the food." Chef Kevin Cimino's menu is a mixture of Southern and Asian leanings, resulting in a collection of small plates that "pop with big flavors and toe the line between fun bar food and sophisticated, thoughtfully crafted cuisine." Hector had a "deeply profound moment" with chicken pot pie empanadas and the pairing of a Gibson cocktail, but she truly "fell in love" with ABV after sampling the kimchee fritter combined with a Quicksand cocktail. Service was quick and knowledgeable, allowing Hector to feast for hours and geek out over the cocktails to her heart's content. In the end, Hector proclaims that while ABV may "just be a bar to some," for her it is a "culinary destination." [SF Examiner]

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