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Roth Finds Adventure at Hawker Fare; Bauer Mostly Enjoys Solbar

Plus: Tsai finds homey flavors at Da Nang Quan and Padrecito stuns with their homemade tortillas.

Hawker Fare
Hawker Fare
Patricia Chang

This week Anna Roth was the recipient of a "vivid assault of [her] senses," at the Mission iteration of James Syhabout's Oakland restaurant, Hawker Fare. First, she was "hit by a burst of fish sauce," threatened by "assertive" chili sauce and, finally, "socked in the tastebuds" by lime juice. Syhabout's "bombastic" flavors are served in a "lively dining room," designed to mimic the bustling outdoor atmosphere of Thai markets. Roth found that "Syhabout has proven to be smart with bar snacks," offering peanuts coated with chiles, lime leaves, fish sauce and plenty of salt that "prepare the palate for what happens next." The next thing, according to Roth, should be a Tiki drink to balance the fiery flavors of the food. She found many dishes "more challenging" than what is served by other Thai restaurants, including head-on grilled shrimp, beef tartare with tripe and beef bile, and catfish jungle curry. Ultimately, she found Hawker Fare to be "transportive," inspiring wanderlust in its diners via an experience "that is a lot of fun" and food that "packs a punch." [SF Weekly]

Meanwhile, Michael Bauer traveled North to Calistoga for his Sunday Review of Solbar. The restaurant, located in the Solage resort, has been helmed by its original chef, Brandon Sharp, for the past eight years. After Solage underwent an ownership change last year, the restaurant received a $1 million-plus makeover that left it with a "new, polished look." It still employs the "winning formula" established by Sharp, in a "more refined, elegant" atmosphere. Bauer also noticed that the service has "taken on a more profession edge," more befitting the "stature of the institution." Bauer felt that the "appetizers stood out," featuring a Dungeness crab salad that "looked like a spring wreath on a plate." However, some of the food, which "remains a global mishmash," "slightly missed the mark" despite its updated surroundings. The lemongrass-poached petrale sole "looked like it was clinging to life atop a life raft of jasmine rice," waiting for salvation from a "flood of coconut milk." Bauer's most jarring criticism compared eating a "mushy," "lightly smoked" duck breast to "kissing a heavy smoker." While Bauer discerned "several highlights," the kitchen "seems still to be settling in." 2.5 Stars. [Chron]

Back in San Francisco, Cynthia Salaysay of the SF Examiner sampled Padrecito in Cole Valley. The "upscale Mexican" restaurant is a "cozy spot in a cozy neighborhood," offering exceptional chips made from the restaurant's handmade tortillas and accompanied by a trio of salsas that work together like "a singing trio from the 1940s." Expertly crafted tortillas elevate the tacos, though the generously portioned fillings still happily spill out onto the plate. In particular, Salaysay was pleased by the fried calamari tacos whose satisfying nature stemmed from the fact that she'd "never had so many rings of calamari in [her] mouth at once." And while Salaysay found that the "gusto" of many dishes "can approach overkill," she ultimately found "efficient service" and "plenty of good food." [SF Examiner]

In the East Bay, Luke Tsai ventured down to the San Antonio district of Oakland to check out Da Nang Quan. According to Tsai, the "newish" Vietnamese restaurant offers a "fascinating, and quite delicious, education" for adventurous diners. The restaurant, which opened last August, is "bright and modern-looking" with a generous selection of regional dishes and Vietnamese favorites. However, Tsai found that the menu "may be daunting to newcomers to the cuisine," as there is a lack of the usual suspects like grilled pork chop rice plates or a large array of phos. Some Vietnamese standards do grace the menu, such as "one of the [Oakland's] better versions" of the crispy crepe called banh xeo, and a bun bo hue with a clean, flavorful broth. Tsai was particularly enamored of any dishes featuring baby clams, including a noodle dish that was "a lot more memorable than your run-of-the-mill clam linguine" and a platter of the little clams with shrimp chips for scooping, "like oceanic nachos." Overall he found that the delicious, reasonably priced food has a "homey depth of flavor" that is typically associated with "long-cherished recipes passed down by someone's grandmother." [EBX]

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