We knew it was coming since he Instagrammed it a month ago, but Chron critic Michael Bauer dropped his monster review for Mister Jiu’s this week, in which he starts with some deep thoughts about the ambitiousness of opening a modern, high-end Asian restaurant in Chinatown. Thankfully, Mikey Two Stars avoids veering into thinkpiece territory and sticks to the basics here: he likes the understated, neutral interior that is "legions ahead of other restaurants in Chinatown," and the neighborhood vibe "can’t get any more San Francisco." But despite the impressive team chef/owner Brandon Jew has lined up, Bauer thinks the menu itself is still finding the right balance "between tradition and innovation."
To wit: the Chinese menu staple of sizzling rice soup was "a bit wan" and on one trip Bauer got some bad garlic that apparently ruined the whole thing for him. Even fried rice didn’t work for Bauer, because it arrived too "sticky and gummy." Where Jew has success, however, is in the originals like his steak tartare with ginger, cilantro, dried fish and shiitake broth. Bauer’s favorites were that previously instagrammed Alaskan Halibut, a quail stuffed with sticky rice and a surprising version of salt-and-pepper squid that comes with frog legs, fennel, kumquats and green chiles.
But then there’s the format, which is meant to evoke Chinese banquets and big, family-style dinners, but Bauer feels like it might actually discourage large parties by limiting groups to only five dishes. The ultimate burn, though, comes with Bauer's opinion that pastry chef Melissa Chou’s desserts "are more successful than the savory course." The verdict? It’s two and a half stars for Mister Jiu’s, but you can just tell Bauer is itching to return so he can make that an even three.
Where to start with Bauer’s scathing review of Guaymas? The "authentic" Mexican restaurant has enjoyed its place on the Tiburon waterfront for the past 30 years, during which time Bauer said there's been a "long, slow slide" — funnily, that's just as long as Bauer has enjoyed his own place as the Chronicle’s food critic. He first reviewed the restaurant in 1991 and then waited 12 years to go back for an updated review. Here we are, another 13 years after the updated review, back for another round.
On this visit, Bauer celebrates his long history of visiting and then ignoring Guaymas with a too-sweet margarita and some complimentary tortilla chips which were, "the best part of the meal." Everything else just "tastes like the American version of the 1960s." That could be the whole review actually, so there’s not really much reason to read the rest, except to ponder the thought of Bauer reading Thrillist and growing baffled over the fact that in 2014, they named Guaymas "one of the 21 best Mexican restaurants in America" for some unknown reason. The verdict: One star for waterfront location.
Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane ate at the somewhat overlooked 3rd Cousin in Bernal Heights, where Chef Greg Lutes is running an "extensive menu" packed with "Ingredients That Chefs Love." It all sounds a bit overwhelming even in this town overrun with food buzz, and Kane finds a couple overcomplicated dishes like a wagyu bavette that hides the beef behind cheddar polenta, asparagus and a single onion ring.
On other other hand, "there is much to applaud" like nettle gnocchi with morels and ramps in a cream sauce, or a burrata dish that balances out the acidity of some grilled baby artichokes. And although it packs in not one but two buzzfoods into a single dish, the uni crème brûlée is "as close to a house special you’ll find" and the effect is "tasty as hell." Finally, we potential diners are implored to get the bread — a porridge loaf from Pain Bakery that Kane and his companions apparently found irresistible. Overall: positive vibes for Bernal Heights in general, really. Just call ahead if you’re planning to dine late.
The Butcher’s Son, Taqueria La Venganza
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai is pulling off a vegan two-for-one deal at The Butcher’s Son, Berkeley’s meatless delicatessen which gets a weekly taqueria pop-up in the form of Raul Medina’s Taqueria La Venganza. As buzzy or "Berkeley" as that sounds, Tsai seems pleasantly surprised to find the place feels exactly like "any other reputable taqueria" even if no animals were harmed in the making of the "meat" sizzling on the grill. Tsai concluded that the overstuffed sandwiches at The Butcher's Son have all of the satisfaction of meaty heroes and grinders and "by and large… pass muster." As for Taqueria La Venganza, its "carnitas" are actually marinated tofu skins with liquid smoke and Aztec spices, finished off in the traditional way with citrus and Coca-Cola. While "you may not see too many actual Mexican people dining here," Tsai says, there’s something to be said for real vegan street food. The verdict for both: "simple and unfussy" and filled with meaty nostalgia.