Bauer only filed one real review this week, so he used his space in the Sunday paper to track the Bay Area’s shift to fixed-price menus instead. (There’s also a bite-size listicle version of the same article, if that's more your speed.)
As for that full review, Bauer's late fall trips up to Napa continued this week with a checkup at Press in St. Helena, where Chef Sharon Li has been running the kitchen since Trevor Kunk departed earlier this summer. Although he starts off worrying about the exorbitant steak prices and an "overpriced" kabocha squash soup, the $62 New York strip was "as good as it was in my memory" and, luckily for the Chronicle’s expenses, it didn’t need any of the $3 or $4 add-on sauces. The "best deal" on the menu is a $57 roast chicken for two, which Bauer actually says he declined to order in favor of the confit chicken cassoulet with beef sausage and egg. According to Bauer, however, the dish tasted "as if it were assembled rather than cooked together," so it lacked some of the classic flavor.
While Bauer says he has a lot of "fond memories" of the place, he seems sort of ambivalent about the expensive food overall, but still advises diners to make the trek to St. Helena for the wine list and the "excellent service." Two and a half stars for the food that "lacks that subtle flair," but a three-star review overall.
Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane visits the newly renovated Elite Cafe in Pacific Heights where Sidecar Hospitality "did it right" by striking a balance between new and classic. The new iteration "re-centers itself over New Orleans and zooms in" by doubling down on the meetinghouse biscuits, muffaletta chopped salad and hefty portions of stewed staples like gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish étouffée. Of those three, Kane gravitates towards the jambalaya and the étouffée, with its rich uni butter that adds a California spin on Southern decadence. On Kevin Diedrich’s cocktail menu, Kane is a fan of the "elegant party-time mix" in the International Smoke and the milkshake-like, grown-up version of the over-served Hurricane that "tastes like you’re lounging in the Dominican Republic." Over all, Kane is a big fan of the neighborhood-y elitism, but recommends we all drop in with a big group of Southerners and locals alike.
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai is studying the art form of grilled chicken parts at Temescal’s Hina Yakitori. Co-owner/recovering DJ Tommy Cleary tells Tsai that he found a lot of similarities between DJing and grilling, but the restaurant itself is completely focused on "every single part of the chicken and little else besides that." And their focus apparently shows through in some precise knifework that not only make for pretty skewers, but also some juicier chicken than you might expect. Highlights include the sori maki "thigh oyster," a "blood-red" seared chicken liver that came out like a tender piece of foie gras and the hand-formed tsukune chicken meatballs dipped in raw egg yolk and tare sauce. While it didn’t come from the grill, Tsai thinks the fried tori nanban chicken breast deserves mention alongside any of the best fried chicken dishes in Oakland. All told, the "food at Hina is delicious, more or less without exception," but do yourself a favor and sit at the counter so you can watch the skewer DJs do their thing.