The first thing 30-year Chron critic Michael Bauer notices about dinner at The Saratoga is that “spirits are king” here, but the food is just as “carefully conceived and executed as the drinks.” According to Bauer, The Saratoga’s concept is just a logical extension of what Bacchus Management Group discovered at Village Pub and Spruce — that diners love a comfortable bar with an approachable (but elevated) dinner menu.
Although that menu is “weighted heavily to carbs,” Bauer gravitates toward the New York steak “smothered” in Cognac peppercorn sauce until it “practically floats,” and a “spreadable” bagna cauda poached tomato vegetable dish. The $15 burger, meanwhile, is “one of the best to be found,” and although our critic glosses over some of the smaller items, he does mention the rest of the menu shows “a similar mastery of technique.” Although the food is clearly a supporting act for the gallons of liquor behind the bar, Bauer notes that chef Mark Sullivan’s menu “easily holds its own” while adding a great deal to The Saratoga’s vibe in the process. Three stars and disclosure alert that Sullivan happens to be part of Michael Murphy’s IfOnly network.
In the Castro, unapologetic brunch aficionado Pete Kane tries out day drinking at Finn Town and “on that score, it passes.” While showboat chef Ryan Scott’s latest restaurant “isn’t always the world’s most imaginative endeavor,” Kane says both brunch and dinner should be praised for “competence, execution, and atmosphere.”
Some menu highlights: the necessary avocado toast comes “Ryan style” here with melted white cheddar, and the lobster Benedict was both “delicious and massive” but somehow still lacking in lobster, while the burger — a reinvented Double-Double with “much better fries” — was high-quality, but as “overdressed as an Ike’s sandwich.” Overall, Finn Town isn’t going to change the local food world, but Kane thinks it’s a fine place to eat well while drinking too much on a Sunday.
Over in the East Bay, Luke Tsai is beaming with Oaklandish pride for the city’s “wealth of Ethiopian and Eritrean food.” In particular, this week’s love goes to breakfast and lunch spot Alem’s Coffee, which is both a fine place to get coffee across from the Temescal DMV and also an excellent place to get the traditional Eritrean fava bean dip shihan phool for breakfast. Although it’s the phool that keeps him coming back, Tsai also recommends diners expand their Eritrean repertoire with the saucy, seared-dough kitcha fitfit as an “alternative to your run-of-the-mill toast” and the berbere-tinged fata bread salad for something completely new.
While Bauer was out on Christmas break, Pete Kane snuck in a mostly positive review of August 1 Five and pondered some of 2016’s eye-roll-inducing food trends in the process. Cynthia Salaysay checked out Berkeley’s Burmese newcomer Tharaphu Burmese Street Food.