Michael Bauer has a soft spot for New Orleans, so he immediately takes to the wrought-iron Bourbon Street decor of Alba Ray’s in the Mission. Although he feels that most Cajun or Creole places in the Bay Area are “mediocre imitations,” Bauer is impressed by chef Adam Rosenblum’s (Causwells) “earthy, fragrant” barbecued shrimp, the “briny essence” of his char-broiled oysters and the “seductive aroma” of his rabbit stew. But it’s the salted caramel beignets and the impressive talent behind the bar that really gets Bauer dreaming of the Big Easy.
An expensive pork entree and some over-fancified mac and cheese dragged down his review, but Bauer is otherwise a fan of the regional specialties like the mirliton slaw, the flounder stuffed with blue crab and the “smooth and creamy” praline bark for dessert. Two and a half stars, which puts Alba Ray’s on par, in Bauer’s book, with Elite Café’s recent revamp.
Bauer also ventured to the Sunset for an update review at Outerlands this week. Yoni Levy’s (Alta) menu spans breakfast to dinner, when it’s focused to just five appetizers and four entrees. Bauer’s recent tandouts included Dungeness crab salad with grapefruit and black garlic or the “rustic” hanger steak with sunchokes and “an appropriate amount of sea greens.” While Levy has “the right approach” with the menu “Outerlands is also a state of mind,” Bauer says. And that state of mind is worth two and a half stars.
Oakland’s The Wolf, “is not a reincarnation of Bay Wolf,” critic Josh Sens writes in the April issue of San Francisco Magazine, “but a kindred spirit occupying the same Piedmont Avenue location where that estimable restaurant stood for 40 years.” Although husband and wife team Rebekah and Rich Wood (Wood Tavern) have kept many elements of “the Chez Panisse of Oakland” intact, they’ve also opened up the kitchen and installed “the world’s most polite sports bar” with TVs that only light up when the Warriors are playing.
Chef Yang Peng’s new menu “revolves around classic brasserie dishes” with some updates sprinkled throughout: think steak tartare and a wintry beet salad. The pommes dauphine potato fritters with dill and trout roe were a standout, but the heartier meat dishes lean towards “a kind of hefty uniformity” with lots of buttery starches paired with heavy braises. Ultimately, “the absence of surprises” and the overall maturity of the restaurant are its biggest selling points. Two and a half stars.
For the Weekly, Pete Kane ventured out of city limits to San Mateo’s “fanciful Italian” eatery Pausa, where the wines are all Italian, the pizza is wood-fired and the charcuterie is house-made. With less overhead in the suburbs, Pausa “exudes warmth on par with its oven,” Kane says, even if that charcuterie was “uneven.” The “judiciously enhanced” hamachi crudo and the pizza stracciatella with bottarga and scallops seemed “counterintuitive” but in the end both were standouts. The sausage ragu in the stinging nettle rigatoni also made up for the inconsistencies in the charcuterie, but it’s the 37-minute Caltrain commute to San Mateo that makes Kane defensive, noting there’s free parking next door after 6 p.m.
East Bay Express critic Luke Tsai is retiring from the criticism game after five years on the job. Tsai will be the new food editor at San Francisco Magazine, but he promises to return to write about his beloved East Bay mom and pop joints. In the meantime, he filed one more review of Nyum Bai — a Cambodian street food spot inside the Public Market food court in Emeryville. Despite the “unfortunate location,” Nyum Bai’s main attractions are the noodle dishes. Like the Phnom Penh Noodle Soup that had a more earthy peppery punch than its pho broth cousin. What Nyum Bai chef-owner Nite Yun specializes in are these “compulsively eatable comfort-foods dishes,” like the pork and rice bowl set with a host of accompaniments, or Kampot cold noodles dressed in coconut milk and sweet fish sauce with lemongrass beef. Nyum Bai has “big ambitions,” Tsai says, and it’s worth seeking out the food court to “expand out vocabular of Asian noodle soups.”