Michael Bauer starts this week’s big review of In Situ in a fever dream induced by the globe-spanning menu at Corey Lee’s already celebrated two-month-old concept. While experiencing flashbacks from his 30 years as a critic and noting that a lot of fellow diners are half his age, Bauer reaches many of the same conclusions that New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells did last month: In Situ is "probably the most ambitious and unique restaurant I’ve ever experienced," Bauer says. It’s as compelling as Benu, but "even more complex" due to the wild variation in dishes and over four visits (one of them in the lounge), Bauer is amazed by the kitchen’s consistency with such an unconventional approach.
While Bauer’s review dishes take him through memories both real (The French Laundry’s Liberty duck breast) and imagined (umami soup from Miyamasou in Kyoto), his nostalgia trip does make a fine point that we haven’t seen in other reviews of the place: if a dish here is good, then it is assumed to be a faithful recreation of the original and a testament to the kitchen’s skill. When a dish is bad (as was the "unpleasantly gritty" uni with nori and panko) then diners can shrug it off as "a disconnect" — a piece that just didn’t survive the translation to San Francisco. Still, Bauer says Lee and his chef-lieutenant Brandon Rodgers "deserve accolades" for something that is "even more challenging than creating their own cuisine." Three and a half stars for In Situ, which puts it in league with Commis and Coi, but still half a star shy of Lee’s own Benu.
In the Mission, San Francisco Magazine’s Josh Sens gives us our latest tour of the eastern Mediterranean at Tawla. "As is the case with other products spun out of the tech world," he admits he had mixed reactions — occasionally wondering how he’d ever gotten by before Tawla existed, but at other times finding "an odd user experience." While the eggplant maqluba and whole roasted rockfish are standouts on the Cal-Med menu, there were some misses like oversalted sardine lakerda or "mealy" charred octopus. Likewise, Sens finds the decor to be a little too chilly "in both temperature and spirit," lacking some of the warmth that comes out of chef Joseph Magidow’s kitchen. The rating: Two and a half stars, with the hope that version 2.1 works out some of the bugs.
Pete Kane returned to Smokestack in the Dogpatch now that Namu chef Dennis Lee is off hanging with the family. Chef Brandon Korf is now manning the smokers and the sausage makers. In a ranking of available meats, Kane’s list goes: brisket and Thai chili-cheddar pork sausage, followed by the ribs and the chicken. Also: "the sides can be magical" like the baked beans stewed with burnt brisket ends or the Texas caviar (corn and black-eyed pea salad). The verdict: the barbecue is still great and the service has improved with a slightly adjusted layout.
The East Bay Express’ Cynthia Salaysay acknowledges the East Bay’s sudden surge in pizza joints at Philomena, a New York-style spot on 14th Avenue. While it boasts some East and West Coast influences, Philomena is still "all-American, red-blooded and straightforward." The pizzas can be delicate, but never sloppy, and the oven apparently does some wonderful things to the soppressata and pork belly pies. Overall, there were "more hits than misses" and diners shouldn’t sleep on The Dubs sandwich or the indulgent Philomena Cheesesteak.
Bauer felt The Corner Store on Masonic has lost its edge with the new simplified menu of burgers and sandwiches. "The execution was lackluster" on what sounds like his single return visit, after which he dropped the neighborhood spot down to 1.5 stars.
Meanwhile, Anna Roth finds the glory of the old-school butcher shop (and a very large sandwich) at Guerra Quality Meats. Kane says the Orbit Room is still "a stylish anomaly" with good drinks, but now there’s also breakfast. And, on Treasure Island, Woods Island Club has beer and also sand.