Bauer pulled an East Bay double this week, adding his voice to the critical reviews of Oakland’s newly reborn The Wolf. Although he went in with “high expectations” for Rich and Rebekah Wood’s (Wood Tavern) new project, he “left with the feeling that it could be just about any restaurant in any city in the United States.” The food, Bauer says, “seems generic and oddly trapped in the 1990s.”
While the staff and the Woods have a hospitable attitude, “nothing stands out” on Chef Yang Peng’s “totally within the box” menu: the steak tartare was “imprecise” and the pommes Dauphine that other critics have praised came out “like gluey mashed potatoes” on Bauer’s visit. He does, however, find a couple good options like the arugula salad, the nightly changing soup and the olive oil-poached tuna that “showed where the kitchen might go with a little more focus.” Overall, two stars for The Wolf while it tries to find a point of view.
Meanwhile, in Berkeley, Bauer found some old favorites to wax nostalgic about at Rivoli, where chef-owner Wendy Brucker is back in the kitchen making her signature mushroom fritters. Brucker has an “elevated yet homey style,” Bauer says, and the portions are as bountiful as they were when the restaurant opened in 1994. Making Bauer’s highlight reel are those aforementioned fritters, the “airy” ricotta gnocchi and a “beautifully dressed” and sharable Little Gem salad. For the mains, Bauer recommends anything with grill marks on it, like the “perfectly cooked” pork chop and the Mount Lassen trout on a bed of red quinoa. Three stars.
At the Weekly, Pete Kane ponders where Rooh fits in to the recent trend of high-end contemporary Indian restaurants in the city. Around the corner from Saison in SoMa, Rooh is “the priciest and most daring” entry into the category Kane says, “but it’s worth it.”
Walking readers through a typical dinner, Kane recommends starting with the “liquid liver foie gras plate,” the “ceviche-like” tuna bhel and the “perfectly cooked sea bass with Madras curry. Lunch is a slightly different affair, but Kane was a fan of the wild salmon, the “non-vegetarian tasting menu” and the deep-fried Chicken 65. “The only genuine flop,” Kane says, was a “caveman-ish” lamb shank on the dinner menu covered in “humdrum gravy.”
At the East Bay Express, Cynthia Salaysay is filling the critic’s seat now that Luke Tsai has departed for San Francisco Magazine. To set the tone, Salaysay heads to West Oakland’s newest “third-wave cafe and farm-to-table restaurant” Drip Line, where the Chef Nora Dunning has created a habit-forming and “seemingly effortless fusion of Singaporean and California cuisine.” The Southeast Asian influence is subtle in Dunning’s food, Salaysay says, and “they didn’t bop me over the head with funk or spice, but amiably tingled and smoked.”
With the East Bay’s plethora of produce, Dunning is able to insert “pops and wallops” of staples like homemade sambal, Japanese matcha, Chinese five-spice and coconut into everything from burgers and fried chicken to morning buns and pop tarts. That sambal is on display in the “beautiful,” “almost-vegan” gado gado or a smokey aioli that accompanies a rich, buttery burger and sweet potato fries. Despite “a few quibbles” with the noise level and the crowds Drip Line “gives people what they want” in the form of good coffee, a good burger and a few surprises.
Bauer reviewed the local traffic again. Pete Kane drinks at Tequila Mockingbird. A.K. Carroll gets a look at Mestiza Taqueria in SoMa.