Although there’s been plenty of talk about the world-changing potential of Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s fast food venture LocoL, we haven't actually seen a critical review of the food itself from any of our local experts. As East Bay Express critic Luke Tsai notes in this week’s review, "it’s easy to get caught up in the narrative" and forget that even revolutionary food still has to taste like something people actually want to eat. With that in mind, both Tsai and the Weekly’s Pete Kane turned in reviews of LocoL’s first Northern California location, which arrived in Uptown Oakland in May. While each of them found some favorites on the friendly cartoon-branded menu, the two reviews feel like they arrived from completely opposite places, and not just because one managed to provoke Choi’s ire.
Case in point: both critics seemed to agree that the most successful menu items were those that came closest to what diners tend to expect from a fast food restaurant, namely the $5 flagship "Cheeseburg." Engineered from 70 percent beef, 30 percent grains, and some seaweed for an extra umami kick, the burger is in the running for "the best cheeseburger in Oakland you can buy for $5," Tsai went so far to say (are there others?).
Both critics described the Veggie Burg (and corresponding bunless "Nug" version) as "falafel-like," but where Kane found a vegetarian burger he "genuinely enjoyed" for the first time ever, Tsai thought it had an "unappealing gummy texture" that didn’t work. Same for the Noodleman bowl, which Kane singled out as one of his favorites with a "simple broth of ginger, chile, and lime," but Tsai thought was simply bland.
So, if we’re trying to glean some overarching narrative from two critical (if mostly positive) reviews, it seems that LocoL either has some extremely divisive menu items, or some major consistency issues to work out. While neither explanation is necessarily damning for a brand new and rapidly adapting chain, if Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson truly want to take on McDonald’s and its ilk, then there are still some rules they’ll need to play by: Namely that people like to know exactly what they’re going to get no matter if they’re in Oakland or Oklahoma. On a human level, however, LocoL appears to have already achieved one of its biggest goals. Despite Kane's clunky complaint about the noise, both critics raved about the restaurant's warm and friendly staff — something you don’t often hear about at McDonald’s.
Over at the Chronicle, Michael Bauer remains silent on LocoL (for now?), but he’s excited for chef Curtis Di Fede’s latest project in Napa. Bauer was a fan of Di Fede’s Southern Italian fare at Oenotri, and he’s no less enthralled by Miminashi, an izakaya concept that Di Fede brought back from his travels abroad hoping it would spice up the offerings in downtown Napa. Luckily for Di Fede and company, as soon as Bauer steps into the "breathtaking interior," our longtime critic is already on the hook. From there on out, Bauer is overwhelmingly positive.
Here, Di Fede repeats Oenotri’s successes by sticking to traditional techniques "but with enough flair to create excitement and engage Northern California diners." In other words: it’s technically proficient Japanese food, with a focus on "pristine produce" and perfectly sourced ingredients. Chicken "dominates the menu" and the yakitori kitchen uses virtual every bit of it, beak-to-talon. He loves a summer salad, a squab dish, even a $16.50 bowl of fried rice with squid and cabbage kimchi gave each piece the opportunity to "blossom." In fact, the only dishes Bauer couldn’t get behind were two types of ramen and a "soft and sticky" donburi. But even those missteps are easily overlooked when you factor in a wine list that "defies expectations" even for Napa, a "perfectly balanced" cocktail menu and the constantly changing desserts, all of which are chef-y takes on soft-serve sundaes.
The rating: Three stars for the "very impressive" Miminashi.