After four visits to Nomica, the latest from Sushi Ran owner Yoshi Tome, Bauer is hooked on what will “undoubtedly” become Chef Hiroo Nagahara’s signature dish: The whole chicken in brioche. And the critic ought to know: Bauer feasted on the $100 dish each of the four times he visited the restaurant. Each bird requires 24 hours notice to order and is “ample enough for four,” Bauer says, but if you don’t have that much foresight you can always order the other items “destined for signature status” — the glazed brioche roles with mushroom duxelles or the karaage chicken served “in a bowl filled with crumpled newspapers.”
On the other hand, a literally “mouthwatering” crab donabe dish was hampered by overcooked rice and Bauer found that at the staff could be “tone-deaf” at times, despite some lovely table-side presentations. Although he likes a lot of the items on their own, the menu started to feel like “I was living the culinary equivalent of ‘Groundhog Day.’” Luckily, things turned around by his fourth visit when a root vegetable appetizer arrived on the menu to save him from his sisyphean dining experience. While there’s “much to love,” Nomica still needs a little work in Bauer’s opinion. Two stars for food. Two and a half stars overall.
Over in Oakland, chicken was also the centerpiece of Bauer’s update review at Shakewell, where chef Jen Biesty pairs three boneless, fried pieces with red chile sauce and thick fenugreek yogurt. The menu has a Spanish-Mediterranean-meets-Oakland vibe and in the two years since opening, the kitchen has apparently gotten the knack of wood-fired cooking. Case in point: Biesty’s unique paella that forms a crunch on top, rather than in the pan, which Bauer has some praise for although he points out it’s still not as good as Bellota. With a capable dessert menu by pastry chef Tim Nugent, a full bar, a well-trained staff and a “grounded” but “fun” atmosphere, Bauer awards Biesty and company two and a half stars overall.
At the Weekly, Pete Kane gets the honor of filing the first review of the season’s most anticipated opening at The Morris. Paul Einbund’s project “exerts strong industry-insider appeal,” Kane says and the concept revolves around its proprietor’s extensive wine cellar. Even calling it a “New American” restaurant seems reductive and Kane falls in love with the foie gras dumpling “flavor grenades,” the side-item duck offal confit paired with Tartine bread and the “deceptively simple” squid with blistered pole beans.
Although there were a couple dull misses, obfuscated by the “coy menu descriptions,” that much-hyped smoked duck is a big “wow” in Kane’s book, and it might even do for duck what Zuni did for chicken. Either way, The Morris is “a sexy spot to eat in.”
Larb Thai Food & Tapas
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai goes to the limit of his jurisdiction in El Cerrito to find a restaurant with the already-out-of-style conceit of “Asian tapas.” Despite the regrettable concept, Larb goes for authenticity with the “funky, sour, often tear-inducingly spicy cuisine” of Northern Thailand and “caters to American sensibilities without compromising on flavor.” Our critic recommends you start with the beef larb and go easy on the spiciness because even the “medium” level was pushing Tsai to the limit.
Of the so-called tapas, Tsai enjoyed the offal cuts of skewered meats like the chicken liver and the fried pork intestines, as well as the Isaan-style fermented sausage. Far more interesting, however, was the roast chicken with lemongrass and fish sauce marinade, the boat noodles stuffed with “porcine goodness” and thickened with pork blood, and the dry Tom Yum noodles that really stood out.