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The Critics Agree: Ippudo Berkeley Tastes Like a Chain Restaurant

Also: Michael Bauer discusses the Bay Area’s four-star kitchens

Ippudo Berkeley

Ippudo

Pete Kane chased the unsinkable ramen trend to Berkeley this week, giving us our second critical review of Ippudo — the beloved Japanese chain that critics are obliged to mention is actually owned by the same mega conglomerate that unleashed Panda Express upon the world. Despite the efficient kitchen, Kane says wait times are almost a given at the chain’s second stateside outpost and you’ll probably feel rushed once you’ve got a table anyway. Still, the ramen is “solid” and Kane gravitates towards the Akamaru Special with Umami Dama miso paste, as well as the somewhat-spicy-but-still-kinda-mild Karaka Special. Unfortunately, as Express critic Janelle Bitker found out last week, all of Ippudo’s soft-boiled eggs are “throughly hard-boiled.”

Also disappointing were the “too tough” pork buns, but if you need something noodle-free, Kane recommends you skip steer yourself to the chicken kara-age or the mantaiko rice with cod roe — a nice novelty in a restaurant where “the flavor profiles otherwise err on the side of the mainstream.”


Bauer Blog

After inducting Californios into his four-star club last week, Michael Bauer snuck in a round of updates to keep up with the Michelin inspectors. When he first reviewed Coi under chef Matthew Kirkley, Bauer was displeased with the service, which he rated a mediocre 2.5 stars. Now that Michelin is hip to Kirkley’s seafood-focused tasting menu, Bauer is ready to update his score as well. In an unstarred post, Bauer says “the staff has stepped up” and Coi has “strengthened its status as one of our top-tier dining rooms.” In other top-tier dining room news: Bauer blogged about one of his best dinners this year at Commonwealth and wrote an explainer on why 4-star restaurants are so expensive. Finally, the noted meal-haver supported fire relief by dining around Sonoma County at Glen Ellen Star and El Molino Central.


Ruth’s Buka

Elsewhere in the East Bay, Express critic Janelle Bitker finds “bare-bones” Nigerian homecooking at Ruth’s Buka. The family-run restaurant can be empty during the day, but the space transforms into a lively community gathering place as service starts to wind down for the evening. The service is often sluggish, Bitker says, but patient diners are rewarded with some West African flavors that can be hard to find in the area.

Bitker says every soup she tried was “tasty,” but with winter approaching, the “sinus-clearing” and “slurpable” pepper soup especially stood out. The Nigerian classic egusi, a thicker stew-like option, was “complex and fiery” while the efo riro with leafy greens and tomatoes was “simple and comforting.” For newcomers to the cuisine, Bitker recommends ordering a “wholesome and hearty” jollof rice combo with sautéed greens, plantains or the “impressive” whole tilapia.


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