Bauer’s Top Ten
For his year-end listicle, Michael Bauer showed enough restraint to only include one “Trump” pun before introducing his top 10 new restaurants of 2016. “No ordinary museum restaurant,” In Situ gets the Restaurant of the Year nod with its meticulous preparations of French Laundry duck and WD-50 shrimp grits. Original Joe’s Westlake, Daly City’s midcentury time capsule and throwback to the heady days of veal Marsala, picks up Bauer’s number 2 spot and David Kinch’s casual spinoff The Bywater rounds out the top three.
Those who have been paying attention all year won’t have a hard time guessing the other seven either: the disclosure-prompting Leo’s Oyster Bar, Ju-Ni’s delicate omakase, the “much-needed” Napa izakaya Miminashi, Bellota’s temple of paella, Nightbird’s “intricately conceived” tasting menu, Corridor’s casual fare with a “fine-dining pedigree,” and Playa — the only place to get a late-night margarita in Mill Valley.
Although Bauer sounds optimistic for 2017, don’t miss the all-important footnote that reminds us the Chronicle critic has almost as many conflicts of interest with this list as the Trump administration has with Russia.
With Bar Tartine set to close at the end of the year, Nick Balla and Cortney Burns’ latest, temporary project Motze gets a check-in from the Weekly’s Pete Kane. Our critic recommends you skip the a la carte options in favor of the “great deal” $58, seven-course menu of “global” but Japanese-centric cuisine. Like Balla and Burns’ celebrated cookbook, diners can expect a lot of pickled, fermented and technique-driven dishes, but the temporary vibe means Motze is “basically a place for them to have fun” and the menu is never intimidating or “weird for weird’s sake.”
A matsutake mushroom soup, for example, had a “forest-floor miso broth” that tasted like Japanese minestrone and the chicken nake rice porridge was “basically a soupier bibimbap, but with schmaltz right out of the Mission Chinese playbook.” Lunch is “also lovely,” although your a la carte options may vary, but the big letdown seems to be the $12 price tag on the “limited” soju and vermouth cocktails. In summary: stick to the wine and beer list and let the prix fixe do the talking.
Just Potato Salad
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai finds a vision from god at Pastor/restaurateur C. D. Bennett’s “no-frills” barbecue joint Just Potato Salad. Bennett and his wife Tammy run a ministry of slow-smoked meats and despite the in-joke of a name, “the ribs alone are worth a visit.” While the rest of the meat dishes get the job done, the titular potato salad is indeed the “the most delicious thing on the menu.” Although Bennett wouldn’t divulge the secret, Tsai says it’s on the sweet side like Hawaiian or Japanese potato salad with less vinegar kick than other American versions.
Likewise, the baked mac and cheese and “very soft and very savory” green beans seem to hit all the right comfort food notes, but it’s Bennett’s new ministry that really gives the restaurant its feel-good vibe. Although he’s left the pulpit, Bennett hopes the restaurant will one day grow big enough to become a training center and job provider for the formerly incarcerated. It probably doesn’t hurt that in the meantime, Bennett is cooking up “some of the best smothered oxtails I've ever had.”