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Bauer Goes Deep at Hapa Ramen; Tsai Finds Cheap, Flavorful Fare at Hasnia

And Molly Gore gets down with Hawker Fare's funkiness.

Hapa Ramen
Hapa Ramen
Patricia Chang

This week Bauer visited Hapa Ramen, the brick-and-mortar Mission location of Richie Nakano's popular ramen pop-up that opened last fall. Bauer, who thinks ramen is a trend fueled by tech workers who eat instant versions at their desks, found that though ramen is the "main event," the "restaurant's strength" is in the appetizer section, "including a contender for the best fried chicken around." The fried chicken is heaped onto a steamed bun with bread-and-butter pickles and hot sauce, a craveable dish that sets an example for the "style of cross-cultural mixing" that seems to be the kitchen's strength. Other "irrational blends of ingredients" are found in dishes like the terrine of foie gras with white chocolate foam and rhubarb gelee, which Bauer suspects Nakano learned at "one of the Western restaurants" where he previously worked. Bauer was surprised to find that the ramen feels like a work in progress, experiencing too-soft noodles on one visit and weak broth on another; he determined that the most interesting version is the Miso Market Ramen, with its roasted carrot broth and "subtly sweet, complex flavor." Bauer did find consistently excellent service from a staff with solid understanding of the cocktails and food. Ultimately, Bauer determined that Hapa is a "great addition to its neighborhoood, but as far as its namesake noodles go, it has a way to go." 2.5 stars. [Chron]

In the East Bay, Luke Tsai ventured into North African territory at Hasnia in Berkeley. The Algerian restaurant, recently opened by owner Slimane Djili, is the result of a Djili's desire to create a place for the community to enjoy the cuisine. A "cuisine of tadjines (aka tajines) and kebabs and lots and lots of turmeric," the food at Hasnia is cooked by Said Ghozali, who is both an Algerian native and veteran expediter at SF restaurants like Gary Danko (though the dishes here are not fine dining). Tsai found that one of the "notable things about Hasnia" is that they serve couscous prepared traditionally in a big ceramic couscousiere, resulting in a fluffy, light delight. Though Algerian cooks traditionally don't use as much spice as other North African cuisines, Tsai found himself "longing for bolder flavors" at times, though he admits it might be a cultural preference. It's a great place for grilled meat skewers, a cup of minty Algerian tea and a very sweet semolina cake called kalbelouz, which Ghozali calls "their version of Red Bull." Ultimately, Hasnia is the ideal restaurant for a "better-than-respectable" lunch for under $10, with "the feel of a local hangout you might stumble upon in a foreign city." [EBX]

The Examiner's Molly Gore checked out Hawker Fare, James Syhabout's new Valencia location of his popular Oakland restaurant. Gore found "home-cooked food inspired by [Syhabout's] roots," that is "faithful to the food his mother cooked." She also found the fried chicken to be "a revelation," fried crisp in rice flour batter and coated with "a hefty backbone" of soy and chili sauce. Generally, a "certain funk underpins almost every dish," offering the suggestion of "actual fish rotting in the kitchen- but not in a bad way." Syhabout's background, which incorporates extremely authentic flavors of both Thailand and Laos, is evident in dishes like beef tartare with tripe and beef bile. The food is exciting, spicy and "occasionally and delightfully offensive," in "an area where restaurants are increasingly normal." [SF Examiner]