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Kane Enjoyed the Tactile Approach of Aster; Bauer Indulged in Jersey's Pizza

Plus, Bauer relaxes at La Taberna and Tsia goes deep into East Oakland for shawarma.

Patricia Chang

This week Peter Kane hit up Aster, the new restaurant from chef Brett Cooper. As Kane pointed out, it would be "damn near impossible to have a better employment history than Brett Cooper," who has spent time at Rubicon, Coi, Saison and Outerlands. However, according to Kane, his solo project is the apex (but not the zenith) of Cooper's career. Every dish felt "endlessly" refined, with a focus on texture, especially the upscale chicharrones "as crackly as fireplace logs." Apps like pork head croquettes were deemed "a must," though Kane felt a little less dressing would have made the dish flawless. Entrees were "better still," especially the black cod wrapped in chard and the lamb shoulder on a bed of cabbage and wheatberries. Dessert from pastry chef Sean Ehland was "by far the chicest course," offering a "more is more" philosophy. Ultimately Kane enjoyed the "homey vibe," though the "prices are steep," declaring that "it won't be easy [for Brett Cooper] to climb any higher." [SF Weekly]

Meanwhile, Michael Bauer checked out Jersey, the new Jersey-style pizza place from brothers and restaurateurs Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal. Apparently the quest for the perfect pizza helped Steven Rosenthal pack on the pounds, causing Bauer to proclaim that "[his] sacrifice is our gain." The menu includes pizza in both California- and Neapolitan-styles, an item Bauer notes is "deceptively complex to execute," and is "as easy to deal with as an infant who has missed a bottle." In addition to well-executed pizza, the menu includes salads and pastas that "seesaw between the diverse styes of the coasts." Crostini is topped with meatballs or fava beans, and a crab salad with Thai chili "comes out of left field," causing the menu to be "schizophrenic or enlightening," based on perspective. The service is polished and knowledgeable, and ultimately Bauer found that the cuisine bridges East and West Coast cultures successfully. [Chron]

Later, Michael Bauer headed up to Napa, where he thoroughly enjoyed an evening at La Taberna. The tapas-focused sister to nearby restaurant ZuZu, La Taberna "felt like a place everyone wanted to be," offering a relaxed place for a glass of wine and a light meal in the fine-dining haven of downtown Napa. The menu changes nightly, with a slant towards proteins like the suckling pig in a casserole, or blood sausage with squid. These "bold treatments" pair well with a mostly Spanish wine list, including a selection of ciders, sherries and beers. According to Bauer, the best items are the bocadillos, filled with items like merguez, meatballs or tuna. Ultimately, the critic felt that La Taberna scratches an itch in Napa Valley with "come-as-you-are, casual fun." [Chron]

Over in the East Bay, Luke Tsai went deep into East Oakland for a taste of Ali Baba, a newly-opened shawarma and kebab restaurant. The super-small space offers shawarma alongside perfectly cooked rice, grilled vegetables and house-made cucumber-yogurt sauce. He found food served quickly, made fresh and of high quality. Tsai also found a variety of Mediterranean cuisines in the mix, including an exceptionally meaty gyro sandwich that caused the veggie options to pale in comparison. "Top-notch hummus" was worth mentioning, as were the Americanized portions of the menu. The fried chicken wings were tossed in fresh herbs and panko for a flavorful crunch, while the Philly-style cheesesteak was made with shawarma and topped with melted American cheese. Tsai admits that though it was a "salt bomb," he polished the whole thing off. [EBX]

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