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Bauer Thinks Aster Is Still Finding Its Way; Scoma's Still Seaworthy After 50 Years

Plus, Palmento a Dopo brings a Sicilian spark to Piedmont and Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen brings soulful food to the Tenderloin.

Patricia Chang

Last week, Bauer headed over to Aster, the new Mission restaurant that is a partnership between chef Brett Cooper and Daniel Patterson (COI). His first critique of the restaurant focuses on the decor, pointing out some sloppily applied paint and fraying burlap (which he notes is repaired and updated between his visits). That becomes an analogy for the entire review, in which says,  "The food has a spark that gives it a distinct edge. The space says something different." And while Bauer acknowledges that "the chef's stage is what's on the plate, not what's in the room," he was still distracted by the disparity between the food, the dining space and the service. Bauer felt that the service was "disjointed" at times, and "had a way to go to match the sophistication of Cooper's food." Dishes like a cold appetizer of cucumber and cherries "works on all levels," while a porchetta di testa was beautiful, but "flopped" in the texture department.  A black cod wrapped in chard leaves, seated atop a slice of miso levain and surrounded by a lemony smoked bone broth was "the star." Ultimately, though some aspects are very good, "it feels as if Aster is still trying to find its way," and that Cooper is a chef to watch. 2.5 Stars. [Chron]

Bauer also headed over to Scoma's for an Update Review in honor of the restaurant's 50th anniversary. And after five decades in the business, he found that the restaurant is definitely more than a tourist trap, offering fresh fish and classic dishes that haven't gone out of style. A new chef, Gordon Drysdale, is in charge of the kitchen and "things are improving." Old favorites like Lazy Man's Cioppino (also the subject of Eater's Classic Week Hot Dish feature) will likely never change, but a great Caesar salad and updated sides like kale and wax beans seem to indicate that though Drysdale "has a way to go to turn the ship around...the turn is happening." Two Stars. [Chron]

Over in the East Bay, Luke Tsai checked out Palmento a Dopo, the new Sicilican-focused iteration of 12-year-old Dopo. The restaurant, located in Oakland's Piedmont neighborhood, has been successfully serving "rustic Italian" food for years, but decided to go full-Sicilian in a typically passionate, Sicilian move earlier this year. Though concerned for the "winning formula" and consistently delicious food he's eaten for 12 years, Tsai found that the food "remains reliably good," but now with a "Sicilian-inspired spark." Chef-owner Jon Smulewitz's pasta dishes are "some of the best in town," including a ravioli dish topped with a dusting of grated chocolate, and penne in a fennel cream sauce with fennel salami. Tsai notes that since tipping has been eliminated and integrated into menu prices prices may seem high, but they're "on par" with other restaurants in the upscale Italian category. [EBX]

The SF Examiner's Cynthia Salaysay ventured into the Tenderloin for a taste of Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen. The cozy, 10 table eatery is good enough to compete with Oakland's more robust Ethiopian food scene, offering addictive dishes like tender lamb cooked with chili and onion and sambussa (Ethiopian samosas). The friendly servers make an effort to translate dishes for the unfamiliar, making it an "unintimidating place to eat." Overall, "deeply soulful food" from proprietor Elias Shawel makes Tadu a "cheery" and "peaceful" place to eat Ethiopian food in the confines of San Francisco. [SF Examiner]