Hard to believe it’s been two whole years since Michael Bauer first bestowed three shiny ones on April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s reinvigorated Tosca Cafe. Now that the restaurant has settled into the hype and Bloomfield has long since stepped out of the kitchen, leaving New York transplant Josh Even in charge, his Bauerness has deemed it high time for an updated review.
Truth be told, Even has been with the restaurant from the start and Bloomfield handed over most of the responsibilities pretty early on, so it would be a major disappointment if the food fell off now that the headlining chef only drops in every few months for a checkup. With that in mind, Bauer’s review is mostly a list of new dishes that he enjoys and some happy thoughts about the "joyful presence" that now fills a space that was little more than Sean Penn’s seedy backroom hangout for years.
Anyhow: Bauer notes that Even seems right at home in California, striking the right balance between freshness and retro nostalgia. He recommends the roast chicken for two, the $55 per person family-style meal Even cooks every Thursday (and occasional Fridays), the chopped salad with cured tuna hearts and the $14 off-menu meatball dish "that will go into my Hall of Fame." Two years later and it’s the same three stars for Tosca.
On Valencia Street, Pete Kane took his SF Weekly expense account to Tawla, where the restaurant’s strict "no hummus" policy means a dinner full of Mediterranean deep cuts, that is "an adventure without being overly challenging."
On that adventure, Kane tried out a couple items that seemed to confuse before they delighted him: a patty of raw lamb sirloin was "somewhat-less-than-gorgeous" but still a "must-have," and the ful medames plate was disappointing only because our critic was hoping for whole fava beans and not the puree that eventually won him over with pickled onions and a yolky Jidori-style egg. The musaka — a dish of blistered eggplant and cherry tomatoes — had a "flawless" char and "looked like a giant oyster with the toppings of a Grandma pizza."
An octopus dish was a little to rubbery to recommend, but Kane liked the bowl of lemon-saffron mussels so much, he apparently became the restaurant’s first customer to ask request a to-go container so he could take the broth home. On the main courses, Kane steered away from the $140 leg of lamb for four and went for the halibut molokhia, which arrives wrapped in leaves and looking like "a big dolma," but apparently could have brought a little more flavor to the table.
Of the low-proof drinks, which were carefully curated by the oft-hyped Bon Vivants, Kane tried two, both of which were descriptively reviewed as "well worth trying." Overall: it’s a positive review for Tawla’s forward-thinking approach to Mediterranean food, even though Kane really doesn’t like the sound the chairs make when they scrape on the tile floor, and he's really bummed there's an unused patio.
Before he’s even made his way through the eight-course $65 omakase menu at Oakland’s Delage, East Bay Express Critic Luke Tsai is ready to call it: "I realized that my meal at Delage would probably wind up being my most enjoyable dining experience so far this year." While the Bay Area is currently having a spree of minimalist omakase sushi restaurants (see also), what stuck with our reviewer here wasn’t just the perfect sashimi or seared toro, it was the "overwhelmingly pleasant" experience.
For Tsai, Delage is the platonic ideal of a restaurant: one that belongs in a Haruki Murakami novel, the kind of place where you feel "like you were lucky enough to have been invited to dine at your incredibly talented chef-friend’s home." The nigiri from legendary sushi chef Masa Sasaki are accompanied by cooked dishes from Keisuke Akabori, who brings expertise in high-end French technique. While Tsai finds everything to be excellent, it’s the surf ’n’ turf or seared A5 Miyazaki beef and a piece of salmon eaten off a block of sea salt like an oyster shooter that pushed things into the "sublime." That transcendental dish was followed by Sasaki’s sushi, which is "the best I’ve had in Oakland."
Overall, tasting his way through the menu took a leisurely two hours, with pristine fish courses punctuated by salads and soups that "made the most of California’s awe-inspiring early-summer bounty." Overall, Tsai finds one of the best deals in Oakland, although that comes with the caveat that Sasaki will be departing for his own venture in the San Francisco sometime around the end of the summer.