Rolling into his thirty-first year of critical writing for the Chronicle, Michael Bauer approached his review of Contrada with a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia for pizza. Nostalgia for meatballs. Nostalgia for crudo and chicory salad and gnocchi and roast chicken — nostalgia for “the ubiquitous greatest hits that define just about every Cal-Ital restaurant.” It’s been ten years since Bauer maintained a pizza blog on SF Gate dot com, our critic remembers fondly, before noting that he prefers chef Jason Tuley’s “pastrylike” crust to “the more breadlike Neapolitan style.” Unfortunately, the “inexplicably “muted” nettle pesto and house made sausage on top failed to trigger any important memories for him.
Speaking of bread, Bauer notes the trendiness of serving Josey Baker Bread with Tuley’s brisket and pork meatballs, without discussing much else about the meatballs. Although the first visit was promising, Bauer’s second visit was less nostalgic and more “depressing,” he says and every dish was a mess. Still, you should get the fingerling potatoes or the chicory salad, “something I could eat once a week and never be bored.” Two stars for Contrada.
For an equally nostalgic update review, Bauer peers into the kitchen again at Comstock Saloon, which has a new executive chef Michael Miller handling the short menu of more-than-bar-bites. The bar’s excellent drinks aside, Miller’s preparations “artfully balance our love of seasonal” with bar-friendly preparations.
The confit artichoke salad was “excellent and large,” the Caesar was “bold,” and the duck confit was “contemporary.” The main courses — a half roast chicken and a burger that gets a four-star rating “on the sloppiness factor — are “straightforward and substantial.” With a smear of pimento cheese and a side of “excellent” fries” the burger is “an unbeatable way to dampen the effects of alcohol.” Two and a half stars for Comstock.
At San Francisco Magazine, critic Josh Sens on a review mission to the much-anticipated China Live is immediately spotted by chef George Chen, who has also happened to spot the Michael Bauer on his own review of the space. By giving Chen an opportunity to address his critics — as well as “other food-world pooh-bahs, including a big-name local chef and a swarm of suspected power Yelpers” — directly, we get a much more conversational review of the ambitious, $20 million food complex.
Although the project isn’t done yet, what currently exists in the Market Restaurant is “a rollicking crash course that’s by turns delightful and disorienting in the expanse of the terrain it covers.” The peking duck, for example, is familiar but exciting and the xioa long bao that both Michael Bauer and Pete Kane seemed disappointed by could not have been better in Sens’ opinion. A medley of pork and tree ear mushrooms cooked in anchovies and fermented black bean soy sauce likewise highlighted that Chinese cuisine could be “something more than mix-and-match stir-fries,” and the preserved century egg with roasted peppers and group Sichuan peppercorns was “stunning.” Three stars from Sens.
At Khai Duong’s new nine-course eponymous Vietnamese tasting menu spot, Khai the Weekly’s Pete Kane finds a $145 tasting menu with a level of craft that belies the tiny staff. Duong works the floor along with one other server, making it a very personal tasting. And the space normally houses a pastry shop during the day, so Kane can forgive the mismatch with the decor.
As for the food, Kane points to dishes like rice crackers and mushroom paté — presented on a mound of coral — and the Dungeness crab-and-matsutake-mushroom sausage as testaments to Duong’s careful technique. Other highlights on the tasting menu included a shrimp chip cracker with lemongrass beef tartare, a classic black cod in fish sauce, the “gratifying” fried quail and a “satisfying” spice-rubbed lamb with eggplant that ended the savory courses. Although one of the wine pairings was bland and Duong’s “near-total absence of theatrics” might throw diners off in today’s celebrity chef-obessed world, Kane heartily recommends Khai, saying the courses were “nine for nine.”
For the East Bay Express, Momo Chang found farm-to-table credentials in Alameda at Neptune’s. Now soft-open inside a former Fosters Freeze, Neptune’s offers edible flowers, freshly picked microgreens and silog-style fried chicken for breakfast and lunch. According to Hawaii-born chef Naomi Elze-Harris, the menu is an reflection of the fast food (Popeye’s) and classic Filipino dishes her co-owners remember from growing up in the Bay Area.
Everything fits the bill at Neptune’s: there’s a burger on housemade brioche and local, Straus Creamery soft serve is on its way as a nod to the building’s former life. The fried chicken was “sweet, sticky, peppercorn-flavored” and disappeared quickly on Chang’s review trip, and the Chili and Rice bowl is a “perfect bowl of comfort food.” The salads were fresh with “no-frills dressing” and Elze-Harris plans to achieve the ultimate in locavore bonafides: more pickled products and housemade kimchi soon. A fond and positive review for Neptune’s.
Michael Bauer plucked 20 bargain restaurantsfrom his Top 100. Pete Kane drinks at the new hotel bar in the Tilden Hotel, the Douglas Room.