In Noe Valley, Michael Bauer sat at the counter at Sharon Ardiana’s self-titled new restaurant to watch the chef at work. Ardiana’s other pizza restaurants, Gialina and Ragazza, have been fixture’s on Bauer’s Top 100 so he already knows she “has mastered the type of crust I lust for.” That is: thin, crispy and able to stand up to the “judiciously applied” toppings. Bauer’s top pick: the tomato, bacon, mozzarella and basil pie topped with wild arugula.
Pizza aside, Ardiana offers a larger menu of main dishes generous enough to serve two or three, especially if you order pizza, “which is practically a given.” The most impressive dish, Bauer says, is the one-pound short rib rubbed with coffee, brown sugar and plum chutney. But you also can’t go wrong with the pan-roasted chicken. Ardiana’s salads are also “generous,” Bauer says, using that word for the fifth time in his review. Standouts were the little gems with Green Goddess, the heirloom tomatoes with brown butter and wild nettle fettuccine. Two and a half stars, but three for the food.
In the Tenderloin, San Francisco Magazine critic Josh Sens finds regional Thai at Esan Classic, a venue “that’s at aesthetic war with itself.” Lao-Isan dishes show up on a lot of Thai menus, Sens notes, but “never in this city have I come upon their like in such abundance or in such varied forms.” In fact, Esan Classic’s 123-item menu is “almost paralyzing,” and covers everything from the usual suspects like papaya salad to unexpected items like frog and wok-fried alligator.
Cutting through the noise, Sens recommends the whole bass steamed in garlic-lemongrass broth, the “addictive” sun-dried calamari and — “one of the most interesting dishes I’ve enjoyed this year” — the grilled fish custard. On a second trip back, while his eardrums were “being attacked” by the bad house music and Monday Night Football coming from the bar TVs, Sens has another revelation over stir-fried cabbage, and “irresistible” fermented sausage: your senses might be getting assaulted, but “your taste buds sure get treated well.” Two stars.
For the Weekly, Pete Kane checks out James Beard nominee Jason Franey’s new “geek cooking” venture, Villon, in the Proper Hotel. The restaurant is “seductive” Kane says, and “Franey’s food is energetic. Take for example, the Everything Hawaiian Bread with “fight-you-for-the-rest-of-it strawberry chicken liver mousse” or the “statement dish” dashi flan with clams and maitake mushrooms. The baby back ribs, meanwhile, are a deception: they’re actually more like imperial rolls and “quite good.”
The best entrees were the sunchoke gnudi and the squid ink tagliatelle with uni and bottarga. Some more adventurous dishes, like fried skate wing in lobster bouillabaisse were “ultimately more opulent than delicious.” With an ambitious drinks list by the Trick Dog team, “smart” decor and none of the cynicism that he usually sees at boutique-hotel restaurants, Kane declares Villon “a sexy place to eat.”
In Berkeley, Express critic Janelle Bitker went in for a quality check at the second stateside outpost of the beloved Japanese ramen chain Ippudo. Bitker confesses she’s not a ramen obsessive — one of those people who waits for two hours at Mensho Tokyo or happily drives to San Mateo “when the craving calls” — but she does love ramen. Ippudo basically set the bar for premium tonkotsu ramen in Japan and Bitker is confident that the Berkeley location is now “serving some of the best traditional ramen in the inner East Bay,” although she notes there isn’t much competition.
Ippudo offers three variations of tonkotsu: Shiromaru Classic, Akamaru Modern, Karaka Spicy. The last two offer a little more balance than the “one-dimensional fatty” Shiromaru and the umami-packed Akamaru with miso and garlic was the clear winner. Unfortunately, Ipuudo’s soft-boiled eggs — “my favorite part of most ramen bowls” — were overcooked three out of four times. There were more disappointments as well: nothing that came out of the fryer was worthwhile and the tofu salad was sloppy and unevenly dressed. While the place feels “festive, if a little loud and chaotic” and the service is “exuberant,” Bitker felt it never quite lived up to the hype.
Michael Bauer did a fast casual hit on Cafe Claude, “one of my favorite French restaurants in the Bay Area.” Luke Tsai decided cold veal with tuna sauce is “the hot weather craving you didn’t know you had” and you can get it at Belotti Ristorante e Bottega in Rockridge.