Addressing the inevitable comparison between Barcino and its Absinthe Group big brother Bellota, Michael Bauer says the former is working hard to make a name for itself through “a more experimental approach” to the Catalonian-inspired cuisine. Like Eater’s own Rachel Levin discovered, however, the results can often be uneven and, per Bauer, occasionally lacks precision in its execution.
Case in point: the two rotating paella had a 50 percent success rate for Bauer. A meaty version with squid and pork belly was a hit, but a seafood version with a whole fried fish atop the rice was mostly an impressive looking disappointment. The bravas, on the other hand, are “a brilliant reinvention,” of the Catalonian staple. The raw bar platter, meanwhile, “sounded much better” than any of the dishes on it actually tasted. But when it comes to drinks, Bauer is a fan of the DIY gin/tonic menu and the “efficient” service, clocking in a final tally of two and a half stars for “a good addition to Hayes Valley’s ever-expanding dining scene.”
Elsewhere on Bauer’s fast-casual food blog, the critic went to Maybeck’s in the Marina where Chef Blake Askew is giving weekly lessons on the history of Beef Wellington and reportedly doing a great job on a tricky dish. Bauer also sucked up his distaste for food trucks and braved the line for El Sur’s empanadas, which he’s ready to call “one of my favorite truck-to-building success stories.”
Despite a very early chef shuffle, SF Weekly critic Pete Kane is ready to call Shinmai “Oakland’s best new restaurant of 2017 (so far)”. With Chef Vincent Bryant now in charge of the 100-seat izakaya and ramen concept, Kane says there are “virtually no creases to iron out.” Bryant knows when to experiment and when to keep things subtle, Kane says, like with the Izakaya mainstay chicken karaage with "excellent" dipping sauce of tsuyu and mirin. Even as a salad-averse diner, Kane says the mizuna salad achieves, "achieve what might be considered a lower order of perfection.”
Things mostly get better from there, with a “simply stunning” and “pillowy” ribeye, and a dish of furikake-covered fried potato salad. Although a couple dishes were “merely OK,” and there were some pacing issues when ordering small plates in bulk, both of the ramens on the menu were a success, especially the creative veggie ramen with lotus root and sun-dried tomatoes. With solid, creative cocktails Kane says Shinmai “manages to make ordinary things remarkable.”
Finally, in the East Bay, Express critic Janelle Bitker found near-perfect carbonara at Contrasto in Adam’s Point. Unfortunately it cost her multiple trips and one disappointing $70 tasting menu dinner before she opted for the a la carte options. Chef Alessandro Campitelli, formerly of San Francisco’s Chiaroscuro, moved to Oakland to open a more casual, family-style tasting menu.
That menu, Bitker says, was hampered by “instantly forgettable” dishes alongside service and ambience that didn’t match the price point. Although a few dishes were promising, the main courses were “hopelessly underwhelming.” It wasn’t until she returned for brunch — where the menu never changes — that she found two “exquisite” pasta dishes. The fettuccine al ragu, for one, “particularly demonstrated Campitelli's delicate handiwork” but the aforementioned carbonara, was “a perfect version of an often-butchered classic.”
- Barcino, from the team behind Bellota, makes a name for itself [SF Chronicle]
- Shinmai Is Oakland’s Best New Restaurant of 2017 (So Far) [SF Weekly]
- At Contrasto, Pasta Dazzles but Tasting Menu Disappoints [East Bay Express]