Perhaps exhausted from all his time spent issuing retrograde opinions to the New York Times, Michael Bauer only filed a single review this week, dropping into “consummate restaurateur” Adriano Paganini’s latest, the upscale-casual Flores on Union Street. The layout reminds Bauer of the twice-departed Betelnut, with hour-long waits and a full bar crowd to match, but the servers tend to keep up with the pace "for the most part."
Most of the dishes "are good" Bauer states plainly, "and a few are memorable" including the sikil p’ak (an “alternative” to guacamole), the perfectly cooked fish tacos and the Chile Colorado braised short ribs. The crab tostada and the posole with tomatillo and hominy also deserved a mention, but on the large-format meat plates, Bauer found the carnitas had a nice crust even though, "I've had better." For dessert, the churros are apparently the only way to go but it's the chiclets presented with the check that have Bauer overlooking some disappointing enchiladas. Two and a half stars.
Back on the hotel restaurant beat, Pete Kane reviewed Phlox Commons in the Hotel Carlton, where the decor seems designed by "(hipster) committee" and the breakfast service "was a solid D."
"Do not get the Mt. Lassen Benedict," Kane implores, instead order like you're in a diner: coffee and apple fritters. Dinner fared better: a roasted tomato and garlic flatbread called the Marge caught Kane’s attention and the cheese-smothered cauliflower gratin won him over. The requisite $16 burger was also “free of gimmicks” and the “bacon-dusted” fries were “good stuff.” Overall, the “cringe-inducing” details can be overlook and it sounds like you could do a lot worse in a hotel bar.
With a Michelin star under its belt, Michael Mina’s eponymous Union Square flagship is basically the definition of consistent and “rigorous execution,” Pete Kane says in his second review of the week, this one for the Examiner. And the only way to fly is the $135 tasting menu, which stays “current without sacrificing dignity to any goofy trends.”
The five courses are generous, with a few different items per round, and the “pace is deliberate” to help diners appreciate “the artistry and precision” of dishes like a Dungeness crab chawanmushi and ribeye “shabu shabu.” Likewise the ricotta gnudi was “a masterpiece” followed by a “heavenly” dish of squab with foie gras among the trio of proteins. By the time he gets to the “uninhibited” desserts, delight sets in and Kane is floating out the door on an effervescent bite of lemongrass tapioca.
Tastee Steam Kitchen
In the East Bay, Luke Tsai checked out Oakland’s “flashiest new seafood restaurant” Tastee Steam Kitchen, where every item on the menu is steamed to order at the table. A relatively new alternative to traditional (broth-based) hot pot restaurants, here the server does the cooking and the juices from the steamed seafood, veggies and meats drip down into a bowl of porridge diners pick out at the beginning of the meal. Dinner can last a leisurely couple of hours and Tsai says it’s worth splurging on the most luxurious shrimp possible (“more like mini-lobsters than your run-of-the-mill shrimp”) and the “plump” razor clams.
Although he’s usually a more price-conscious critic than his counterparts in the West Bay, Tsai says he actually appreciates how Tastee is “unapologetically an expensive, special-occasion type of place,” and that bowl of porridge was “one of the most satisfying meal endings” he’s had in recent memory.