Our restaurant-chronicling critic took another trip down memory lane at the Tenderloin’s hot new Jazz joint Black Cat, which takes its name from a couple historic spots from San Francisco history. While Bauer is on board with the ambiance, that’s "a tad elegant, a bit sexy and a little secondhand Rose," the bar and the music are apparently the only selling points here and the food "turns out to be the least compelling element."
While the entertainment and cocktails are a real draw, the menu is list of disappointments: The deviled eggs are too salty (even for an admitted salt addict), the patatas bravas were underdone, the smell of the Monterey Bay squid overpowered the chimichurri sauce, the Dijon soubise on the chicken al mattone "barely whispered" and the pork loin came with a side of polenta that "had an unexplained medicinal quality." In general everything comes across as bland and and poorly executed, leading to a meager one and a half stars for food, but with three stars for atmosphere, the rating mercifully balances out to two stars overall.
Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane had a similar, if somewhat more generous, dining experience at Black Cat. "There are venues that are simply so enjoyable to be in," Kane starts off, "it almost doesn’t matter what the food is like." The restaurant must have received a better shipment of tomatoes when Kane dropped in because an "otherwise unremarkable" panzanella salad was "elevated to the stratosphere by some of the most flavorful tomatoes I have had all summer." (Although he even admits that might have been "dumb luck.") On the other hand, Kane found the salmon pastrami to be "deep and complex" and thought the squid dish Bauer disliked was "well-executed". Still, you’re best served here if you come for the drinks and stay for the atmosphere.
At San Francisco Magazine, Josh Sens is the latest to add his praise to Corey Lee and executive chef Brandon Rodgers’ "intentionally derivative but delightfully distinctive" In Situ. Sens strolls through the "gallery" of menu items on loan from a worldwide lineup of chefs, where "almost everything on the menu is linked thematically by the fact that it tastes very good." While the concept could easily have come off as disjointed or pretentious or pedantic, it simply isn’t, Sens reports. Even when he wants to roll his eyes at a Redzepi quote on the menu, our critic finds it hard to argue with Noma’s wood sorrel granita when it is sitting in front of him.
Not every dish was perfect, however: a $38 bowl of udon, for example, was "more notable for the price than flavor." But Sens’ biggest beef is actually the restaurant’s blind spot for female talent. Only 14 percent of the chefs featured on the rotating menu are women, which is "emblematic of the swinging-dick swagger of most restaurant kitchens," but that’s another matter altogether. Three and a half stars from Sens.
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai heads south to Hayward where accomplished Cantonese chef Che Heng "Veggie" Lee is putting his experience (and his name) to good use at Veggie Lee, a vegetarian restaurant in a quiet shopping plaza. To make a "legitimately great" Cantonese spot without all the meat, Lee uses a lot of seitan, tofu skin and other meat-alternatives, including a "quite enjoyable vegan General Tso’s chicken" and vegan shark’s fin soup made from plant-based gelatin. While the soup was bland, it does serve to highlight the texture of the faux fins, "which made the dish quite authentic to my experience of actual shark’s fin soup," Tsai says.
More flavorful was the eggplant and vegan fish-steak that was "uncannily fish-like" with a "deeply savory, fishy flavor." But the best dishes, like a "classic Cantonese prep" of salt-and-pepper pumpkin, simply don’t need any nods to animal products at all to work. All told: Veggie Lee is the kind of place worth rounding up your vegan friends for.