clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bauer Gives Californios Three Stars; Tsai Finds Flavorful Indo-Cali Cuisine at Tigerlily

Plus: Zuni's still got it, and Made in China is equal parts bizarre and delicious.

Patricia Chang

This week's update review took Michael Bauer to Zuni Café, the iconic Civic Center restaurant from the late chef Judy Rodgers. Now under the leadership of chef Rebecca Boice (a ten-year Zuni veteran) and Rodgers' former partner Gilbert Pilgram, the restaurant "remains vital," able to "embrace the minted tech crowd while satisfying diners who have been coming there for decades." (Good roots help: Rodgers' concept "was so ahead of its time that it still feels current, even after 36 years.") Despite one misstep, a Caesar salad that lacked acid, everything else was "flawless." A ricotta gnocchi was so good that if Bauer's had better, "[he] can't remember when," and the classic roast chicken for two "looked like an offering to the culinary gods." Pastry chef Kaitlyn Brenner gave the meal an equally impressive finish with a "stellar" rose geranium panna cotta and a bread pudding "that others should emulate." Ultimately, Bauer found Zuni worthy of Rodgers' legacy, and hopes it will "continue to be San Francisco's wonderfully eclectic dining room." 3.5 stars. [Chron]

Bauer also visited Californios, the Mission restaurant from chef Val M. Cantu that boasts a luxe interior, refined food, and a Mexican-inspired prix fixe menu. Designed by wife Carolyn Cantu, it's full of glittery chandeliers, dark-paneled walls and tufted banquets with white tablecloths, prompting Bauer to wonder if this "often-banished" form of luxury might be on its way back. Each of his three visits revealed a "stellar team" of "seasoned veterans," including beverage director Charlotte Randolph (French Laundry). "Earnest waiters" described each dish as it was delivered, though the menu was not delivered until the end; even then, courses were described in one word each. Bauer found that Cantu is an "extremely talented chef," without question, but that the experience "seems to be missing any fun and whimsy." The chef's intellectual prowess is obvious in each finely-tuned course, leaving Bauer wondering if "the devotion to technique overshadowed the equally important passion." He concludes that a more "emotional connection from the kitchen" would take the food into an "even more rarefied class." Three stars. [Chron]

There's no SF Weekly review this week, as Anna Roth left the paper last Friday, and her replacement has yet to be announced. [SF Weekly]

In the East Bay, Luke Tsai visited Tigerlily in Berkeley. The restaurant has the "telltale markings of a trendy Bay Area restaurant," offering an "ingredient-focused menu, $11 craft cocktails, Edison bulbs and lots and lots of succulents." However, proprietor Deepak Aggarwhal (Khana Peena, East Bay Spice Company) and chef Joel Lamaica (Ramen Shop, Pizzaiolo) are aiming for more than "just a handsome farm-to-table restaurant," offering "prettily plated modern California cuisine" with "a flavor palette mostly made up of South Asian spices." Dishes can "be a little bit over-complicated" as Tigerlily "embraces the challenge of using every ingredient to its full potential." One standout: a tikka masala fried chicken that's "just about perfect," with a crispy crust and "altogether wonderful" sauce. The interior is less successful, with a "remodel [that] seems to have combined every trendy design element... into one single restaurant," including Edison bulbs attached to plumbing pipes. "Affable" service is also a work in progress; Tsai waited 20 minutes for a cup of coffee during brunch. But "all was forgiven" after sampling the brunch menu's winning dishes, like a trout Benedict with turmeric hollaindaise and cardamom-infused blackberry coffee cake. [EBX]

Alex Hochman visited Made in China in the Outer Sunset, a newish restaurant with an "enormous, bizarrely translated menu covering many regions." Hochman tried a variety of mysterious dishes, including the Shenyang cauliflower (which did not contain any cauliflower), the saliva chicken (luckily, no saliva), and acid droplet beans (which turned out to be a "hash of crunchy pickled long beans...dotted with bits of pork shrapnel"). The Hunan chicken was "the real deal," with fried chunks of dark meat surrounded by "an army of peppercorns and chile peppers." Hochman concludes that this is "probably not" the place to take a Chinese-food novice, though less-intimidating dishes like the chow mein were also delicious. After visiting several times, Hochman looks forward to returning not only for the food, but for the exploration of mysterious dishes like the "griddled yellow croaker." [SF Examiner]