The fried okra at the newly renovated and recently re-opened Elite Cafe put a smile on Michael Bauer’s face, so he’s happy to indulge chef Chris Borges’ "desire to lighten up some popular flavors of Creole and Cajun cuisines." With okra being the benchmark, Bauer didn’t really review the rest of the "expected classics" like duck gumbo, crawfish etouffee and chicken jambalaya, so much as he simply lists them out (as he is wont to do). He did offer a little more feedback on the Southern fried chicken though: it "was a little dry," but "isn’t that why we love fried chicken anyway?"
Although he’s pleased with the food, Bauer found the service so "erratic" — professional one night and "radically different" on another night. Luckily for everyone, former Chronicle Bar Star Kevin Diedrich’s cocktails kept the critic in good spirits: Two and a half stars overall.
Pete Kane likes the change in focus at Hamlet, where owner John Dampeer and former Caskhouse chef Alex Gutierrez have truned the place into "a cocktail bar with good food" rather than the reverse. The price point is more affordable, but diners can expect "high-end pub food" like pork chile verde, a beer-cheese burger or $8 bacon butter pretzels. The drinks, meanwhile, "are boss" and Kane recommends the appropriately titled El Jefe, the Sally Wag or the seasonally appropriate rye and brandy Saratoga with maple syrup.
In Uptown Oakland, Luke Tsai pushes past "all the accoutrements of your typical hipster café" to find a decadent sort of healthy food. Case in point: co-owners Jack Lin and Clara Yun use duck fat in their gravy, rather than pork fat and their "refined takes on avocado toast" include Tsai’s favorite with pulled pork and slaw. Although items like a porchetta sandwich or biscuits and gravy might not seem healthy, the food "has a lighter touch than you would expect with this kind of hearty comfort fare," Tsai says. Of the more obviously healthy items, our critic says the salads are "some of the loveliest and most abundant meal-size salads" and that the Lemon Chicken Romain salad actually "makes you feel good about yourself after you’ve eaten it." Despite those hipster signifiers, Plenty sounds like a bargain, falling slightly cheaper than Oakland’s other cal-fresh comfort food spots and "maybe just a tick more expensive" than your typical East Bay coffee shop.