Up in sleepy Mill Valley, Michael Bauer finds life on a weeknight at Playa, the new "refined" home for Mexican and margaritas from Bill and Vanessa Higgins (Bar Bocce, Zero Zero, Fog City). With a strong front of house team, Bauer says "something must have inspired" chef Omar Huerta (Copita, Credo) because everything that comes after the "precisely seasoned" guacamole is "meticulously realized." To wit: Huerta’s Tijuana Caesar salad a "truly a brilliant reinvention" with rounds of lettuce wrapped in cucumbers dusted with Parmesan and masa chips. Each taco option includes "a distinguishing element," but it's the shrimp taco that is the most surprising with its faux tortilla made of thinly sliced jicama. Elsewhere on the menu, Bauer says Huerta’s red mole, which covers the beef cheek enchiladas, has "a certain delicacy, like a classic French sauce."
There’s a miss or two (over-fried flautas, tasteless carnitas), but with every other element so carefully thought out Bauer is fine to let them slide — especially after a couple of Higgins’ Kill Bill margaritas. Three stars across the board.
Mill Valley Beerworks
It’s a Marin County twofer this week and Bauer is updating his review of the expanded Mill Valley Beerworks, now with Rob Hurd in the kitchen. On Hurd’s menu, vegetables are "celebrated" as in the Bauer-favorite deep-fried Brussels sprouts fritto. While everything is "satisfying and well crafted," some dishes "lack the precise balance" of Hurd’s predecessor. Despite the slight downgrade to two and a half stars, it’s the local beers from the owners’ other operation, Fort Point Beer Company, and simple, locally sourced food in a warm atmosphere that make Mill Valley Beerworks a fine neighborhood restaurant.
At the Weekly, Pete Kane is comparing Kim Alter’s Nightbird to Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy and making Twin Peaks references while getting tipsy on the owl-themed cocktail list. He and Bauer both compared Alter’s cubist take on Hawaiian Bread to the form of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SoMa and the "cleverest dish" was the second course - "Variations of corn" with hutlacoche, baby corn and popcorn. A seemingly prep-intensive and ostentatious bacon-wrapped vadouvan rabbit "shouldn’t go unappreciated" and dessert included a "dazzling" taken on an It’s-It with bergamot marshmallow ice cream. Nightbird’s biggest problem, according to Kane, is that it’s expensive and the decor is a little boring ("minimal" would have been too charitable, apparently). Despite the surroundings, it’s a positive review for the sort of interesting cuisine you’d expect from someone with Alter’s pedigree.
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai drops by newly re-branded Nepalese-Indian Annapurna, which he’s happy to inform readers "might be my new go-to spot" for take-out curry. Highlights include the butter chicken and a "particularly flavorful" palak paneer, but everything here is "a bit fresher-tasting and more vivid" than the rest of Oakland’s Indian joints. From the Himalayan/Nepalese side of the menu, Tsai recommends the "excellent" lamb momo steamed dumplings and choila marinated chicken baked in the tandoor oven, but for a truly authentic experience it’s the "Indian spicy" rogan josh goat curry that left him "drenched in sweat" and "sweet exquisite pleasure."
Anna Roth puts her money on jianbing becoming the next big food trend.