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Week in Reviews: Bauer Dishes on Valette, Kane Basques in Aatxe's Glow

Also: dreaming of the nineties at The House.

Patricia Chang

Despite being out on a cruise this week, Michael Bauer queued up a couple of reviews for your reading pleasure. First there's a re-visit to The House in North Beach, which is the place to go "if you want to what 1990s food is." Bauer is surprised that the age range of the diners is so broad, given "the trendy nature of the dining scene" and in the ten years since he last reviewed the place, they never changed the nightly special of miso cod topped with a roll of crab and avocado sushi. The rest of the menu caters to folks whose "tastes still tend toward the sweet." Appetizers sound underwhelming and the shrimp dumplings, "pale in comparison to the dumplings at most dim sum parlors."

Bauer does, however, find something he likes: the "excellent" and awkwardly tall deep-fried soft-shell crab special "with its feelers sticking up nearly a foot high, was standing on its hind legs in a tangle of noodles." Two and a half stars overall, two stars for the food.

Elsewhere on planet Bauer, his big lengthy review focused on Healdburg's Valette, which has a deep family history for chef Dustin Valette and his brother/front-of-house man Aaron Garzini. The building, which was the restaurant Zin before, used to be owned by Valette's great-grandfather and "[t]hese types of emotional connections are the heart of the best restaurants." Unfortunately, Bauer seems to think Valette has a little too much "unbridled enthusiasm" for running a restaurant and may be getting ahead of himself on the plates that "could use a little more restraint." A dish of barbecued lamb bacon — cooked sous vide for 36 hours before getting finished on the grill was, according to the waiter, "inspired by a picnic" and came with grilled slaw, pastry-fried potato salad and deep-fried pickled cauliflower. Each item was a good idea on it's own, Bauer says, but altogether it was too much for him to handle.

He finds love in a Kobe place, though: "if every main course were as good" as the American Kobe New York steak with foie gras on a bed of artichoke and morels, Valette would be three-stars for sure. A roasted eggplant tart "shows off the chef's skill" with a cream of eggplant and goats milk yogurt in a puff pastry, and the other straightforward presentations like the charcuterie plate with lamb salami and duck prosciutto come out nicely. Bauer seems to like the "drama" in the scallops wrapped in puff pastry and the carrot soup was "excellent." Unfortunately, a lot of other items like busy salads and gummy halibut brought the place down to two and a half stars overall, two stars for the food.

At SF Weekly, Pete Kane makes the rounds to Aatxe, the new Basque place inside Cafe Du Nord from the Flour + Water team. Riding high on an "easily" 10-inch-tall "statement cocktail" called the Sickle, Kane sampled the pinxto flight with its "beautiful array of salty delights like the anchovy gilda and the chorizo deviled egg. He didn't care for the "comically tiny shavings of pulpo" in the octopus salad, but basically everything else was "just damn impressive." Thrice-cooked patatas bravas and the "exquisite" trumpet mushrooms a la plancha with "perfectly pickled" ramps were "a stunner." Likewise, Kane's got nothing but love for pork trotter balls and the lamb albóndingas with their sweet spot of fava beans. No complaints at the dessert course either: the cheese plate was "generous" with three types of dairy represented plus quince membrillo, "like little cubes of concentrated quince essence." The only thing Kane didn't like? The sound level, which can be noisier than the shows that used to play downstairs.

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