While Michael Bauer didn’t partake in any of the spa services at bathhouse-restaurant hybrid Onsen, he was surprised by “how good, and how reasonably priced” the food was. Bauer raved over the mushroom dumplings with katsuoboshi broth that have already become a staple on Chef George Meza’s (Oro, Ame) nightly changing menu. A bowl of duck leg udon, the vegetarian-friendly plate of charred carrots with carrot-top salsa verde, and a “surprisingly robust” smoked trout also got a special call-out. “Every plate is carefully considered,” Bauer says, “but simply and artfully presented.” Although the baths may be the main draw here, Bauer says it was “the integrity and passion displayed in the food” that keeps him coming back for “the best kind of happy ending.” Three stars.
August 1 Five and Babu Ji
For the March issue of San Francisco Magazine, critic Josh Sens pulls a two-for-one with the city’s two high-profile new Indian openings: the “more refined” August 1 Five and the “casual chic” Babu Ji in the Mission. Although they differ in vibe, they both share “a cheeky attitude toward tradition and an endearing openness to adventure,” Sens says. At August 1 Five, Sens appreciates chef Manish Tyagi’s technique that pushes street food staples like palak chaat to dream dish status. And Sens adds his own praise for the bison keema pao that his colleagues at the newspapers have been raving over. Three stars for August 1 Five.
At Babu Ji, Sens opts for the tasting menu and a Kingfisher from the self-serve beer fridge. Although the dishes are spot-on and the tandoori chicken “impeccable,” the pacing was a little stressful. On a second, a la carte visit, Sens picks out some favorites: the Colonel Tso’s cauliflower, the “beautiful” yogurt kebabs and the “complex and layered” four-day lentil dal. Two and a half stars for Babu Ji.
In the Mission, the Weekly’s Pete Kane finds a beer sweet spot at Almanac Taproom. Kane recommends getting weird with the charcuterie-heavy menu and “the odder the item, the better it is.” He recommends the “vivacious” lonza, the “rich and deep” mushroom pâté and the smoky ’nduja — especially when paired with an ACLIBU IPA. Prices across the board “are reasonable,” aside from the $16 fry-less burger Kane says, and the range of beer offered by a single gypsy brewer is “pretty dazzling.” The only drawbacks Kane calls out are Alamanac’s sour beer-heavy lineup and the noise level in the taproom that gives the place an almost too-casual vibe, but it’s all “true to the spirit of extraordinary craft beer.”
Noodles Pho Me
At San Leandro’s Noodles Pho Me, Luke Tsai finds an elegant way to start off a meal: with a broth tasting designed to make sure diners get exactly the soup their heart desires. Chef-owner Cindy Sengsourith makes a Lao-style pho that’s “darker, creamier and more intensely flavored” than its traditional Vietnamese counterpart. The khao poon coconut-curry and the khao soy savory tomato broth were “just as notable,” Tsai says, and all of the Lao specialties on the menu are “better than solid,” especially the sour sai gok sausage with homemade jeow chili dip. Resisting the urge to call it an “obscure find,” Tsai says the least surprising thing about Noodles Pho Me is the constantly bustling vibe and the enthusiastic clientele.