Two Birds/One Stone
This week, Bauer heads to St. Helena where master chefs Douglas Keane (Cyrus) and Sang Yoon (Father’s Office, Lukshon) have teamed up for Two Birds/One Stone. Although Yoon apparently wanted to avoid traditional Japanese names for dishes like the okonomiyaki or chawanmushi (they’re listed as "savory Japanese pancake" and "warm duck egg custard," respectively) both dishes seem to exemplify the loose California-meets-yakitori vibe the culinary supergroup was going for. Bauer notes the pancake is a hot seller "enhanced with duck," while the latter gets some "unexpectedly bold" flavors from black truffles, uni and corn. Likewise, the California bonafides show through when the produce arrives in dishes like Tucker’s Daily Harvest — a rotating mix of grilled and pickled veggies from culinary gardener Tucker Taylor — or the creamed corn made with miso and "loads of butter."
But the two minds occasionally miss the mark in dishes like the "too-sweet" chicken wings or a dry-aged duck that needed to be rescued from its blandness. The service also suffers slightly from "the familiar trap of small plates," and the room at the Freemark Abbey Building, while beautiful, strikes Bauer as a little too cavernous.
The rating: Two and a half stars, and a really beautiful plate of Hirame sashimi.
Things are the other way around at the newly re-opened Mason Pacific, where chef Max Mackinnon has taken over a space that aims to appeal to Nob Hill’s moneyed set as well as the younger residents who have arrived in recent years. Bauer likes the more casual menu (think oysters and chicken liver mousse) in the slick lounge area that seems aimed squarely at the latter group. For the affluent folk, Bauer says the main dining room has "doubled down on its old-school charm" and pricey wine list.
While one halibut dish was "hopelessly overcooked," Bauer finds Mackinnon’s best ideas in a new menu section that creates interesting combinations of seasonal veggies and seafood. (See: potato with sea urchin and porcini mushrooms.) Appealing to two different audiences can be a tricky act to pull off, Bauer says, but Mason Pacific seems to be mostly on the right track.
The rating: Two and a half stars and an endive salad Bauer can’t stop thinking about.
At the Weekly, Pete Kane revisits Calavera in Oakland to check in on new chef Sophina Uong, who took over after Cristian Irabien decamped for Cala. The menu hasn’t changed too drastically, so he’s still got the hots for Jonathan’s gin-and-tonic, the "pricey" but "generous" guacamole and the smoky nopales in the quesadillas prehispanico. Uong’s expertise and varied background shows itself in the "practically exquisite" flat iron steak which Kane finds "courageous" and "a bit conservative" at the same time, even if he’s not sure where it fits in the canon of Mexican cuisine. The only disappointment was an octopus dish that was too chewy and loaded with unnecessary distractions. Overall: a positive update from Kane, plus a note to keep an eye on Calavera’s evolution (and order the churrodonas).
With Luke Tsai pondering cultural appropriation in ethnic cuisine, the Express’ Cynthia Salaysay reviews the Filipino-American fusion at the Curbside Kitchen truck. Compared to the sisig burritos at Señor Sisig, Curbside’s mashup of American fast food and Filipino flavors can be "by turns revelatory, confusing, and delicious." On the revelatory side: Salaysay recommends the adobo tacos that play off the traditional Mexican palette with Filipino flavors. The loaded fries with tocino (cubed bacon) and tart tamarind dressing was the confusing dish that was tasty (because loaded fries are always tasty) but "simply too rich." But the burger, loaded with tocino and marinated onion, hit the spot with an added "sunshiny sourness" from pickled carrots and daikon. All told: Curbside is "more interesting" than it is confusing, and it leaves our critic optimistic about the future of Filipino flavors in the Bay Area.
Bauer helps out Sacramento’s Convention and Visitors Bureau by putting together a top 10 list of restaurants in "America’s Farm to Fork Capital." Cynthia Salaysay checks out Ramen Shop’s breakfast pastries.