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Josh Sens Finds More Bad Omens in Black Cat's Kitchen

Plus Old Bus Tavern, Aina, and a damn fine cheeseburger in the East Bay

Black Cat's upstairs bar.
Black Cat's upstairs bar.
Patricia Chang

Black Cat

In this month’s San Francisco Magazine, critic Josh Sens heads to Black Cat, "a nighttime destination that aims to transport you to a bygone, more romantic Tenderloin." While the aesthetic "could be described as glampire," Sens says, the menu veers more toward the "chaotic" with an "oddball mélange" that comes out ringing like "a jumble of discordant notes."

The bad omens started with an undercooked order of patatas bravas at the bar and continued in the dim, unflattering light of the jazz venue downstairs where the chicken-and-pork terrine came out "too cold for its flavors to open up" and the meatballs "resemble chew toys." Sens finds "some virtue" in the rabbit pot pie — "mostly hollow" as it was — as well as the "perfectly cooked" King salmon, but the service is so disjointed that the lively jazz and the excellent drinks are really the Black Cat’s only saving grace. One and a half stars.

Old Bus Tavern

Michael Bauer’s late autumn update tour brings him back to Old Bus Tavern in Bernal Heights, where he previously dropped two and a half stars for chef Max Snyder’s "new standard" of brewpub food. With Snyder out, former Mourad sous David Zboray is now in charge of pairing food with Old Bus’s housebrewed Lemon Basil Saison and Chile Porter. A main course of "tad chewy" beet spaetzle shows off "the best of what Zboray brings to the party," Bauer says, and the "unified combination" of chantrelle mushrooms with broccoli and fuji apples "provided intense pops of flavor."

While Zboray seems to have his technique nailed — as in the "expertly cooked" swordfish or the sliced New York steak arranged over greens — Bauer found his presentation was often "unrefined" and "unappealing," which is hardly what his former employer is known for. On the other hand, the "must-order" brined and poached quail eggs are still on the menu and everyone on staff seems to know their way around a dining room, as well as their beer and cocktail list, so our critic had a generally pleasant experience. Overall, Zboray and company maintained their two and a half-star rating.

‘Aina

Now in it’s full-time home, Pete Kane visits nouveau Hawaiian spot ‘Aina for a full-time review. Rather than going "rustic," Kane says chef-owner Jordan Keao has opted for precision in dishes like the "zhuzhed-up California version" of Loco Moco with a hunk of short rib meat or the perfectly fried eggs speckled with furikake. Although Keao launched as a brunch spot, Kane says the dinner is better, recommending the shoyu-cured pipikaula (thin-sliced beef) and homemade spam "prettified with trout roe" and a nestled in a beet-dyed bao bun that "couldn’t be more telegenic if it tried."

If you can stand the 10 a.m. lines, Kane’s favorite dish was a "texture orgy" of hon shimeji and king oyster mushrooms with lap cheong and sweet potato puree under poached eggs. And even with no trace of Tiki, the low-ABV cocktails are "sexier than most," so if you’re thinking of making the trip to the Dogpatch, do it sooner than later. "It’s going to get big."

Good Time Fixins

In the East Bay, Luke Tsai skips the $14 chef burgers in favor of the "the excellent $6 cheeseburger" at Good Time Fixins — a perma-pop-up inside The Lodge on Piedmont Ave. When dive bar Egbert Souse's departed the neighborhood, the locals apparently feared it would take the working class drinkers with it, but Tsai says chef Renatto Specia’s "elevated bar food" menu "feels a lot more down-to-earth" than the kitchen that came before it.

With zero bells and whistles, Tsai says the $6 Royale with Cheese should be guaranteed entry into any conversation about the best fast-food style burgers in the East Bay. On the other end of the "fixins" spectrum is the 8-hour Smoked Apple Jacked Sandwich with pork shoulder, fennel slaw and neon-colored sugary kid’s cereal that "somehow" works. Likewise, the rest of the menu "doesn’t take itself too seriously" with Tachos (tater tot nachos, for the uninitiated) and one daily special beef soup that feels like "a rainy-day meal at grandma’s house" rather than something you order from a window at a bar.

Elsewhere

Pete Kane gets tipsy at Market Street’s newest food hall. Michael Bauer takes a holiday shopping tour of Union Square’s best restaurants.

Aina

900 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107 (415) 814-3815 Visit Website

Old Bus Tavern

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

Black Cat

400 Eddy Street, , CA 94109 (415) 358-1999 Visit Website

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