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Bauer Says Old Bus Tavern Raises the Bar; Sens On the Best Restaurant You've Never Heard Of

Plus, Bauer revisits Absinthe, Kane is impressed by Bon Marché's "sexy kitchen staff," and Luke Tsai eats fried grasshopers at Calavera in Uptown Oakland.

The bar at Old Bus Tavern.
The bar at Old Bus Tavern.
Patricia Chang

Michael Bauer thinks Old Bus Tavern is raising the bar for San Francisco brewpubs thanks to "the creativity in the kitchen and the passion evident in the beverage menu." About the chili, he writes, "I've judged a few chili cook offs in my time, but few recipes are better than what Snyder makes here." He also enjoyed the "unique approach to Mexican street corn" and pickled quail eggs. One misstep was the $18 burger, which Bauer says was difficult to eat due to the two patties. He also tried the beer brewed in house, writing that owners Jimmy Simpson, John Zirinsky and Bennett Buchanan clearly "respect tradition, but also have fun with blends such as the Texas Breakfast Chili Porter" which "crashes into the palate like a bus hitting a brick wall." (In a good way, if you're into that kind of thing.) While he wasn't wowed by the décor ("What used to be cutting-edge decor is now standard"), that didn't stop him from moving Old Bus Tavern "to the top of [his] list of this growing genre of restaurant/bar/brewpub." 2.5 stars [Chron]

Bauer also revisited Absinthe, which has now been open for 17 years where he says the French Deco vibe has held up and service (mostly) "went off without a hitch." He writes that chef Adam Keough's talent "shines on the generous mound of clams and mussels ($15) in a charred tomato broth with loads of basil," and that the French onion soup that takes three days to prepare remains a favorite for good reason. Still, of the dinner menu, he wishes "there were more unexpected flourishes like those on the brunch menu," which features dishes like a twist on the classic French dip with pork and a green chili dipping sauce. Though it might be hard to find a spot at the bar for a pre-theater drink or while waiting for one's table (Bauer could not), he says he understands "the bar's popularity because the cocktails are excellent." 2.5 stars [Chron]

Peter Kane visited Bon Marché, the new French-inspired restaurant, brewery, wine bar in the Twitter building, and found it to be a "a much-needed corrective" for the typical French food found in the States. He notes the menu is "as animal-heavy as Wyoming is Republican-heavy" meaning "apart from two soups, a handful of nibbles, and most of the salads, the menu is pretty much all meat, and whatever isn't meat comes from the raw bar." He enjoyed the mushroom beignets, which he writes "were exceptionally flavorful" as well as the eggplant terrine which "sitting atop a North African chermoula vinaigrette like a finely ground pesto, managed to be both gorgeous and delicious." Still, he says, "The food had some uneven patches — occasionally beautiful and flavorless, sometimes ugly and delicious." He did love the big risk Bon Marché took on its kitchen, "which is open enough to render the boundary between it and the dining room nonexistent" and is home to a "sexy kitchen staff." Though he writes, the restaurant "opts for pared-down precision over comprehensiveness," he's certain it will "come into its own," if only because "the biggest pleasure in life is dining in the house of people who harbor contempt for the idea of caring about cholesterol." [SF Weekly]

Josh Sens has high praise for 1601 Bar & Kitchen, calling it "the best restaurant you've never heard of" thanks to chef and owner Brian Fernando's Sri Lankan-inspired dishes. Fernando recently revamped his menu, which Sens writes "speaks more feistily to [Fernando's] heritage: unafraid to throw its elbows, unapologetic about its fire and funk." The $85 degustation menu is "a sparkling procession" of 15 "exuberant" courses and also "a stunning bargain by Bay Area standards." Sens favorite dishes included a maldive fish ("Shaved flakes of cured tuna, it looks like bonito but acts more like fish sauce, kicking salt into the sweetness of the onion sambal that accompanies the chef's egg hopper") and "the chef's high-end homage to Sri Lankan braised mutton," a slow-cooked goat stew served in a small clay pot. He was also impressed by the service, which he says was "poised" and "attentive." The concept is a bit confusing, though not in a bad way; Sens writes he first thought of the restaurant "as a misfit" describing it as a "generically named place lodged in a dormant patch of SoMa" with a "chef bent on following his culinary passions if not the laws of supply and demand." None of that matters though since ultimately Sens feels 1601 Bar & Kitchen is "a beautifully kept secret." One he urges diners to share with others. [SF Mag]

Anna Roth discovered another restaurant serving a cuisine that's almost impossible to find in San Francisco. Uyghur Taamliri, a three-month-old pop-up in the Outer Sunset, serves Uighur food — the cuisine of the Muslims of northwest  China — cooked by a father and son team, Bahtiyar Tursun and Zulpukar "Carl" Bahtiyar. Roth explains "Uighur food is heavy on Silk Road influences." She writes, "There is some heat, but it's the dull kind that hits you in the back of the throat." Roth enjoyed the "excellently chewy hand-pulled noodles" which are "spotlighted in the laghman, where they're draped with a richly spiced gravy and a heap of vegetables" and says, "Lamb fans will be won over by a flat pie called gösnan, which covers chopped meat and vegetables with a flaky pastry shell glistening with butter." For those nervous about trying what may be a totally new type of food, Roth writes "Bahtiyar is happy to explain whatever questions you have," but that "the best way to try it is just to jump in." [Chron]

Over in Uptown Oakland, Luke Tsai found himself eating fried grasshoppers at Calavera, Oakland's new high-end Mexican spot. About the food, Tsai writes it's clear chef Christian Irabien and his team "mean business." Tsai reports, everything is in being done "in the proper, Mexican way" from the cooking techniques to the ingredients. The menu is "filled with interesting, boldly spiced dishes that offer a window into a wide swath of regional and modern influences beyond the restaurant's Oaxacan, mezcal-centric roots." His favorite dishes included the "Ceviche de atun estile Jose: line-caught tuna topped with crunchy toasted amaranth seeds" and the grilled red snapper. Tsai also writes that Calavera serves "what are probably the prettiest tacos in town" though at $3.50-$5, he's not sure if they're worth it when you can get delicious street tacos for $1.50. Unfortunately, "Calavera isn't for everyone" as it's easy "for two diners to spend upwards of $100 even after bypassing the impressive selection of cocktails, $60-plus bottles of wine, and by-the-ounce craft mezcals and tequilas." Still, if you do go, the fried grasshoppers (available as an add-on to the guacamole) "are worth trying at least once." [East Bay Express]

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

398 Hayes Street, , CA 94102 (415) 551-1590 Visit Website

Bon Marché

1355 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 802-1700 Visit Website

uyghur taamliri

, San Francisco, CA

1601 Bar & Kitchen

1601 Howard Street, , CA 94103 (415) 552-1601 Visit Website

Old Bus Tavern

3193 Mission Street, , CA 94110 (415) 843-1938 Visit Website

Calavera

2337 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612 (510) 338-3273 Visit Website

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