Bauer has released his Sunday review of the newly opened Liholiho Yacht Club, the Hawaiian-inspired restaurant from chef Ravi Kapur and the team behind Nopa, Allyson Jossel and Jeff Hanak. It's a rave worth breaking a bottle of Champagne over the bow for: the glowing report drops three stars on Liholiho, making it one of the year's best-reviewed newcomers.
Bauer thinks Liholiho is "personal, precise and displays a strong sense of place," pulling from both Kapur's Hawaiian background and a "San Francisco sensibility" that is the result of many years cooking the city's best kitchens (like Boulevard and Prospect). He's particularly poetic about the twice-cooked pork belly with pineapple, Fresno chiles, fennel and Thai basil, a dish so Hawaiian that diners can "almost hear the rustle of hula skirts" while eating it. The country pork steak topped with charred cabbage, miso mustard honey and Tokyo turnips is so well balanced that it "takes a master to pull [it] off," and desserts from Penelope Lao are "classic," with "island relevance," and the cocktails "have a fruity, tropical bent but don’t overpower the food."
Naturally, Bauer dedicates a few rambling paragraphs of his review exploring the question of "What is California cuisine?," noting the departure from the Italian and Mediterranean influences of years past. While he cites a number of chefs who "embrace the California ethos but use the perspective of their ethnic backgrounds to inform what they do," such as Val M. Cantu's Mexican-focused Californios, Kapur "creates dishes that won't be found on any other menu."
Ultimately the critic found few flaws with any aspect of the restaurant, from excellent food to friendly, professional service to the welcoming atmosphere. He concludes that "it takes inspiration, a great chef and the San Francisco sensibility to create this unique blend," calling it the "essence of California cuisine."