For his big review this week, Michael Bauer ponders his crush on Daniel Patterson, the chef/thought leader who handed over the reins to Coi earlier this year to focus on his progressive fast food project Loco’l. With Matthew Kirkley now running the kitchen, "the multi-course $225 extravaganza" is more seafood focused and international than Patterson’s locally sourced, foraged menu of seaweeds and ice plants.
And Bauer loves how Kirkley’s "precise techniques and innovative approach do not overshadow the innate flavors of the ingredients." He’s positively mesmerized by the asparagus with caviar and yuzu (which he helpfully Instagrammed), and the turbot of fish that has become one of Kirkley’s (also Instagrammable) signature dishes.
Although the food has "blossomed" under Kirkley’s direction, the service has unfortunately fallen off a bit. On one occasion, a waiter apologized that they couldn’t print the menu, and on another visit Mr. Bauer was peeved to find out he had to arrive at either 7 or 8 when he tried to change a reservation to 7:30 p.m. But the ultimate offense here was the waiters’ uniforms — brown cotton sport coats that match the soft interior but weren’t well-tailored enough for Bauer. "This observation may seem like nitpicking," he says, but when you’re dropping $900 on dinner for two, they can threaten to make the whole experience "ill-fitting." For that nitpick, Coi loses half a shiner: Three and a half stars.
For his midweek review, Bauer has another update: a revisit to Les Clos, more casual wine bar from Saison somm Mark Bright. When he first reviewed the spot in 2014, Bauer claimed "the food steals the show" while the wine service was a particularly frustrating experience. This time around, Bauer lightly plagiarizes himself on his description of the interior before jumping right into what is now a concise, edited wine list, "offering some lesser-known wines in an approachable format." The food menu has also shifted to include a three-course fixed price option based on dishes that Bright brings back from his trips to France. At $48 including wine pairings, it’s "one of the best deals in the city," with generous portions and "modest" win pours.
While the main courses like a poulet Basque and rack of lamb satisfy Bauer’s physical hunger, it’s the roasted beet salad that seems to give our critic the most satisfaction. With "tenderly cooked" beets arranged with tangy goat cheese over peppery arugula, it’s a "beautiful take on the traditional salad that everyone used to serve, but fell into disfavor when it became the cynic’s symbol of California cuisine." Funnily enough, we can blame that cynicism on Bauer himself. Two and a half stars for Les Clos.
San Francisco Magazine’s Josh Sens is back after a month off and he has "met the city’s most environmentally conscious salad" at The Perennial. That salad, by the way, is simply "a small cluster of greens with the carbon footprint of a beslippered ladybug." Your humble reviews reviewer profiled the Perennial earlier this year, so we’ll skip the restaurant’s politics here, but suffice to say Sens is skeptical of how the eco-friendly ethos plays out on the plate.
Where the menu says à la carte options come in "sustainable portions," Sens finds a shelled-pea dish that’s gone faster than the springtime it is meant to evoke. The pumpkin-seed bisque and pickled mackerel starters were likewise "fleeting," but nonetheless delicious and worthwhile in the name of saving the planet. Others, like the pork jowl with sliced fennel for instance, didn’t have quite the feel-good effect and the critic says, "I’d rather spend my money on solar panels."
While carbon-farming livestock is commendable, those cows apparently don’t make for very good beef tartare. But there are still winners here: the trout does well swimming with mussels and bone marrow broth, the much-hyped Kernza bread is "hearty" and pairs nicely with pork cicioli, and the cocktails are a consistent strength, so you can certainly drink with eco-friendly bliss. Ultimately, "cerebral cooking only goes so far." Two stars for the Perennial.
Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane filed his Mister Jiu’s review right on time. Kane recommends the $69 banquet-style menu, which comes with highlights like roast quail and salt-and-pepper squid that are "imaginative updates on Cantonese cooking" and don’t seem too "hung up on questions of authenticity." On the dim sum menu, Jiu’s daikon cake is a "lighter, snappier" version of Kane’s favorite turnip cakes, but over on the pared-down bar menu Kane had a hard time with the "challenging" BBQ pork buns — "which I enjoyed without entirely understanding."
Through the lens of a couple "auspiciously" named cocktails like "Wealth," "Wisdom" and "Longevity," the rest of Kane’s review turns into a thinkpiece about what it means to have the culinary supergroup of Brandon Jew, Sara Hauman, Melissa Chou, Danny Louie and John Herbstritt carefully curating every aspect of the restaurant. With a clunky comparison to the "hideously lit, aggressively hip Mission Chinese Food," Kane dismisses any worries about whether or not the restaurant will be a hit among the foodies or the tourists or the Chinatown power brokers. In the end, it’s the level of care and refinement here that will make it a success. A positive, if slightly gin-soaked review from the Weekly.
For the East Bay Express, Luke Tsai heads to a basement beneath an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue spot in search of Blind Tiger — Oakland’s "loudest-looking new speakeasy." The space is a former nightclub setup to look like an outdoor picnic complete with Chinese-style paper lanterns, loud music and, on the weekends, it’s "crammed to the gills with twentysomethings." Luckily, the food has nothing to do with the clientele.
Tsai describes the place as "part izakaya, part soju bang, and part trendy Californian cocktail bar." And Chef Deena Chafetz is "intensely aware of the culinary atrocities" committed during the heyday of Asian Fusion, so the menu tends to stick to straightforward interpretations of Asian street food, with the occasional twist. On Tsai’s must-eat list are the Thai-style grilled duck hearts, the hot and sour clams with glass noodles and a dangerously fusion-y dish of Massaman curry fries that turned out to be "a solid-if-not-exceptional interpretation" of the "Fries With Stuff On It" genre. There are also two $1 oyster happy hours and "one of the better $10 burgers you can buy in Oakland." But what Mr. Tsai really like was "the friendliness of the service" and the staff that didn’t make it weird when he came in alone and had a three-course meal. The verdict? Positive vibes and some advice to try the poke.
Tender Loving Food
Humanizing Michael Bauer’s review machine, Anna Roth went to the "no-frills" and "slightly dingy" Tender Loving Food. What the place lacks in ambiance it makes up for with generous Burmese food and tons of character, apparently. Chef-owner William Lue uses his restaurants to mentor younger immigrant chefs like his current cook who goes by the name of "Chicken" and also hails from Myanmar.
Chicken is apparently turning out excellent Mohinga catfish stews and ohno khao swe, and Lue works with local farms to source his hard-to-find Burmese ingredients. So, behind this thriving takeout business is a heart of gold.
Michael Bauer wrote a listicle of Marin County spots. Pete Kane liked drinking at Oakland’s Classic Cars West. Esther Mobley judged the Judgment of Paris.