August 1 Five
In his review of modern Indian newcomer August 1 Five, Bauer is cooking up a new narrative for the Bay Area restaurant scene: tech people are “moving the San Francisco dining scene forward in an interesting way.” Like Tawla, August 1 Five is the product of a recovering Googler hoping to bring “unabashedly complex, well-balanced and modern” takes on the cuisine of her home country. And with chef Manish Tyagi (Amber Dhara, Amber India) running the kitchen, owner Hetal Shah has apparently hit her mark.
With more room to branch out, Tyagi’s “immense talent and creativity” are on full display here “and any familiar classics have been artfully re-imagined,” like the arancini with rice, lentils and goat cheese or the soy meatballs coated in chickpea batter and stuffed with Monterey Jack. And Bauer has a hard time picking favorites from a menu where every dish has “something distinctive” like the pistachio crust on the lamb chops, the spiced ground bison in the “new-age sloppy joe” or the “dramatic visual appeal” of the pork spare ribs. It might be Indian in theme, but August 1 Five “also feels like California,” Bauer says, “and you can’t get any better than that.” Three and a half stars (the highest rating of 2017 so far).
In Oakland, Bauer can’t stand the idea of dirty share plates, so he raked the waitstaff over the coals in Penrose’s ornate grill for this week’s update review. The family-style format, Bauer says can sometimes be “an excuse for sloppy or inefficient service” and his server’s attitude was so “languid” that it distracted from the “compelling, rustic sensibility” of Charlie Hallowell’s menu and the “chic” interior.
Case in point: Bauer liked the Little Gem salad and the local salt cod, but he didn’t appreciate when the remnants of the two dishes mingled. His favorite dish, the exemplary boudin blanc, happened to arrive with a set of clean plates. Although Bauer has plenty of praise for the kitchen staff’s work over that aforementioned wood-fired grill, he can’t keep his eyes off the wilting plants and the lackadaisical waitstaff hanging out by the entrance. Two and a half stars for the food, but two stars overall.
At the Weekly, Pete Kane checked in on Serpentine where chef-owner Tommy Halvorson has taken over from original owner Erin Rooney just before the restaurant’s 10th anniversary. Although the menu “hasn’t changed too much” Kane picks out a few favorites like the mac and cheese “tarted up with panko,” an “immensely refreshing” winter salad and some “lusty pork” albóndigas. The pork chop “remains Serpentine’s strength,” Kane says, and the “huge failure” brassica Caesar salad was quickly forgotten after a couple rounds of $12 cocktails. Overall: a positive review for Halvorson’s takeover.
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai steps into Rockridge’s new “hybrid cafe-pub” Duchess, where “everything looks very, very expensive.” The restaurant suffered a chef shuffle just a month after opening so menu items like the “comically oversized” fried chicken sandwich or the crab fries that Pete Kane enjoyed have disappeared and been replaced by more “tidy, upscale California comfort food.”
Everything was “competently executed,” Tsai says, but he seems let down by a slightly gristly Duchess burger with some less-than-crispy fries and that old chicken sandwich has been replaced by a carbon copy of Bakesale Betty’s famous sandwich that is now ubiquitous across Oakland. Still, with the menu in flux — and apparently adding more veggies and less fried pub food — it’s best to think of Duchess as “an upscale neighborhood watering hole” rather than a destination. In the meantime, it’s the daytime offerings like breakfast tacos and co-owner Caroline Conner’s “Rock Tarts” riffs on fancy pop tarts that really set the place apart.