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Michael Bauer Dishes on Dirty Water; Peter Kane Finds a 'Mezcal Revolution' at Calavera

Plus, Anna Roth tells it like it is at The Square and Luke Tsai actually goes to a real restaurant — El Mono — this week.

Dirty Water
Dirty Water
Patricia Chang

Michael Bauer hit up Dirty Water this week, where he found that pretty much "everything is well executed," despite going on to say otherwise. That includes the grilled shishito and padron peppers over cultured grits with lemon and saba, which Bauer called "a brilliant combination because the grits become infused with the mildly spicy pepper essence." Not so much for the watermelon salad, hangar steak and axis deer tartare, three dishes that were deconstructed before plating, making Bauer wish they had melded better. Bauer was split down the middle on most of the food — some dishes, like the "massive" pork chop and "unctuous" duck confit salad, stood out, while others, like the "unfinished" diver scallops and "anemic" grilled quail were "merely acceptable." Service "needs attention" despite "obviously trying," he wrote, but that didn’t stop the restaurant from being busy every time he went. 2 stars. [Chron]

Farallon has been Bauer's "go-to seafood suggestion since it opened 18 years ago," so he decided it was time for an update. What he found boils down to this: "still good, but nowhere near the 3.5-star rating it has held since 2010, especially when you now pay around $20 for appetizers, more than $30 for main courses, and a 5 percent surcharge, one of the highest in the city." For his first time ever, Bauer sat in the "cave-like" upstairs and left with a backache — probably not what a restaurant wants to have happen to the city's top critic. The food also took a dip in his opinion, with many of the dishes, like the fried softshell crab, pan-roasted petrale sole and milk-poached halibut, having "too many components" making any one flavor difficult to "break out of the muddle." All in all, Bauer said Farallon "wouldn't now be at the top of my list of recommendations," leading him to give it… 2 stars. [Chron]

Peter Kane headed to Oakland's Calavera this week, where dream restaurant team chef Christian Irabien (Oyamel), bar manager Michael Iglesias (Oyamel, Coqueta), wine director Jessica Sackler (Oyamel, Coqueta) and partner Chris Pastena (Chop Bar, Lungomare) are making "magical" tacos. The lamb sweetbread tacos, in particular, stood out to Kane who loved them "to a degree that's almost embarrassing." Other standouts are the queso flameado con huitlacoche and octopus ceviche, but the chile rellenos "didn't sit well" with him. As for drinks, the watermelon margarita with "salt air" is "just remarkable," as well as the mezcal gin and tonic and mezcal old-fashioned. Calavera "might have the most dazzling interior of any Oakland restaurant to open this year" and Kane took the time to comment on the "conscientious" service. He concludes that the restaurant is a "well-thought-out project at the vanguard of high-end, regionally inspired Mexican cuisine, light years from the Velvet Cantinas of the world." [SF Weekly]

Anna Roth visited The Square in North Beach, which she basically said is having a major identity crisis. After opening with a more formal concept, owners (and Michelin-starred chefs) Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty switched gears to a less casual, neighborhood vibe, but they aren't very happy about it, and Roth said "their lack of passion for the cuisine shows." "Bar basics like the cheeseburger, chicken tenders and hot wings are perfectly fine and technically correct, but they lack something essential that we may as well call heart," she wrote. It's a very honest review of a restaurant she thinks is struggling, even prompting her to ask at one point, "Why stay open at all instead of cutting their losses and moving on?" Roth's recommendation to improve is that McNamara and Moriarty "swallow their egos even more." [Chron]

In El Cerrito, Luke Tsai went to El Mono, a "serious" Peruvian spot from owners Mattand Daniela Khadivian born out of a coffee shop that eventually morphed into a popular Peruvian wine bar, eliciting the need for a larger space. Tsai pretty much liked every dish on the menu, but he laid out his ultimate meal starting with the "bold, bright" ceviche de pescado, followed by the "showstopper" pescado a lo macho, which is a whole fried fish served with a seafood stew. There's also the chupe camarones, or "creamy shrimp chowder," and the "elegantly presented" causa de atun, or tuna and potato salad. As for the ambiance, Tsai commented on the fact that the servers wear earpieces, which "lent an unfortunate fast food drive-thru window vibe to the proceedings," though he said the vibe still manages to be "warm" and "festive." [East Bay Express]