Eater’s Rachel Levin was underwhelmed by Dennis, David, and Daniel Lee’s fast-casual Namu outpost on Divisadero. The chicken tacos were disappointing, the titular stone pots lacked the punch of the same dish at Namu Gaji and the Raging Ramen was “timid, in fact.” That said, you should still indulge in Crispy Crack chicken, the okonomoyaki or the “garlicky, tongue-scorching” sisig.
Michael Bauer followed chef Ron Siegel from his short-lived stint at Rancho Nicasio to his new kitchen at San Anselmo’s Madcap for this week’s review. The critic was a three-star fan of the roadhouse-meets-tasting menu vibe at the Rancho, but he’s an even bigger fan now that Siegel has moved to a less rural address. Madcap is “the best cooking in Marin,” the headline blares, and despite some initial apprehension at the “edgy” menu offerings, Bauer says Siegel’s dishes “excite but never overwhelm the senses.”
Siegel’s precision shows up in dishes like the rabbit tortelloni with Parmesan spuma, the subtly Japanese Mt. Lassen trout in a bowl of dashi or the rabbit liver mousse that “could easily be served at the French Laundry.” Straightforward comfort foods also take on an exciting element at Madcap, Bauer says. The roast chicken with potato puree “felt familiar and exotic at the same time,” and Siegel likes to dream up creative takes on a “surf-and-turf” theme by pairing items like black cod with pork belly or ling cod with short ribs. While this is Siegel’s “everyday food,” Bauer’s budget-conscious side is also excited by the $80, eight-course tasting menu — a steal when you consider Siegel’s Ritz-Carlton and Iron Chef pedigrees. With expert staff and a comfortable interior, the result is “a coveted blend of comfort and luxury that should delight every food-loving citizen of Marin.” Three and a half stars.
Bitesize Bauer also filed an unstarred update from Oakland’s Camino, where chef Russell Moore’s “devotion to the flame” and “pure, unwavering vision” is in a league of its own. More importantly, you can experience that vision on a budget with the restaurant’s rotating prix-fixe menus that range from about $48-$58 with tip included. While Bauer deemed Camino’s fire-roasted paella worthy of Instagramming, the critic is already tying on his bib for whatever the hearth turns out during Dungeness season.
In the Tenderloin, Pete Kane finds the latest Korean stonepot hotspot at Barnzu, an offshoot of the Kokio Republic food truck with a “truly forgettable” interior and “hands down, some of the juiciest, tenderest fried chicken out there.” While it’s hard to argue with fried chicken, especially the now-ubiquitous KFC variety, Kane says the Korean staples like bibimbop, seafood jeon and stonepots were all “excellent” — particularly the latter, which “nearly defeated” the crispy-rice-loving critic. While the galbi jjim had some disappointingly sweet beef short ribs, the kitchen redeems itself with a couple “fun oddities” like corn cheese (“sort of elote-off-the-cob”) and wild mushroom pasta.
In Oakland, Express critic Janelle Bitker weighs in on Shinmai, the high-profile izakaya that has already garnered rave reviews from the Weekly and comparisons to Ippudo for its tonkotsu ramen. After being let down by Ippudo’s overcooked ramen eggs last week, Bitker notes that Shinmai’s ramen chef Andy Liu actually knows how to keep his soft-boiled eggs at the right consistency, but the vegetarian ramen with “thick and springy” green spinach noodles and shoyu broth was the real highlight.
But with seats for 100 and multiple bars, Shinmai is more than a ramen joint, and its biggest strength are its dozen or so izakaya-style dishes. Bitker raves over the “light-hearted, whimsical, and brilliant” potato salad, with deep fried spuds dressed up in furikake, caviar, bonito flakes and truffle aioli. The grilled pork belly with red curry, roasted apples and “funky fish sauce caramel” also hit all the right “briny, tangy, savory, and sweet notes” to create something that felt “both new and familiar.” Finally, while you’ll find an “excellent version” of chicken karaage on the menu, Bitker appreciated that executive chef Vincent Bryant rounded out the traditionally meat-heavy izakaya menu with some decent vegetarian options. Order the “generous” helping of fried okra or the grilled king trumpet mushrooms with ponzu and be sure to save room for the lone dessert: a sweet-salty black sesame and fig panna cotta drizzled in shiso oil.
- Namu Stonepot Needs More Time to Simmer [Eater SF]
- The best cooking in Marin? It’s at the new Madcap in San Anselmo [Chronicle]
- Oakland’s Camino is still on fire. In the best way [Chronicle]
- Kokio Republic Offshoot Barnzu Goes Big [SF Weekly]
- Shinmai Is Oakland’s New-Wave Izakaya [East Bay Express]