Hitachino Beer & Wagyu
The first American outpost of Hitachino Beer & Wagyu is “one of the most confusing restaurants I’ve reviewed,” Michael Bauer writes this week. (And that's a lot of restaurants!!) The first sign of confusion at the cult beer and fancy beef tasting menu spot came when Bauer tried to reserve a table for a Tuesday night two weeks in advance. Finding nothing available online (even though reservations are “strongly suggested”), Bauer and his date simply walked in, only to find a near-empty restaurant. A shuffle of clunky wood menus followed before our critic took the “easy” way out and opted for the tasting $78 tasting menu, plus the $30 foie and uni add-ons. While the titular beef appears in “most” of the nine courses, “many times there are so many competing elements that the meat is easy to miss,” Bauer says, like in a dish that somehow hid the thin slices of wagyu sirloin amongst burrata, sun-dried tomatoes and dashi broth.
But Hitachino didn’t hide the beef in Bauer’s favorite course — a skewer of beef tongue — or the “awkward” sushi-like presentation of sliced beef presented on a pad of garlic rice. While Bauer enjoyed much of the menu at Hitachino, “getting to the point of it was a challenge,” which definitely shouldn’t be the case with a simple concept like beef and beer. Two and a half stars for Hitachino Beer & Wagyu.
For this week’s update review, Bauer wonders just how much classic French cuisine is worth at Monsieur Benjamin. The prices ($38 for quail with mushrooms and cabbage) “set exceedingly high expectations,” Bauer says, but so does owner Corey Lee’s culinary pedigree. While service has improved and the food “continues to hold up fairly well,” in the three years since the restaurant opened, Bauer is dismayed that prices have shot up while portions have started to shrink. A $28 roast chicken, for example, has now been replaced by a chicken leg roti for $34.
But the menu itself has been expanding and now includes 35 items and an new seafood section where Bauer finds trout roe tartlets and gulf crab remoulade that he can’t get enough of. Likewise, the sweetbreads are like nothing else he’s had before. While Bauer still says the meal “wasn’t memorable,” he can’t seem to forget the $246 bill that only included one $12.50 cocktail. Two and a half stars.
Mensho Ramen and Hinodeya Ramen Bar
At the Weekly, Pete Kane gives us a soupy twofer at Mensho Ramen and Hinodeya Ramen Bar. The former opened a over year ago, but the lines at the always-packed Tokyo import are worth the wait, Kane says, because Mensho’s spicy lamb chasu ramen is “probably the richest, most intensely flavored ramen I’ve ever had.” The broth is so thick it’s “practically a creamy salad dressing with noodles and menma.”
Meanwhile, Japantown newcomer Hinodeya is actually part of a 132-year-old restaurant family and its dashi-based soups are both “unconventional and traditional.” While that makes for a lighter bowl of ramen, the noodles were a little “wan” and the restaurant’s best use of dashi actually shows up in other dishes like the fried tofu. But for the adventurous, Kane recommends the potentially off-putting fermented raw octopus in wasabi sauce.
In the East Bay, Express editor Nick Miller handled the food critic duties this week, dropping by the “in-demand” Tacos Oscar pop-up at Starline Social Club. Chefs Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss show up at the bar/tea house/music venue twice a month, in between their other local pop-up appearances and their commitment to “simplicity, quality ingredients” and fresh tortillas has only fueled demand for their product.
Although Michel originally stuck to traditional taco options, Weiss has started experimenting with more adventurous options like a recent snap pea taco with cabbage, avocado and homemade peanut salsa. While some of the pair’s more instagram-friendly options have inevitably inspirited some tedious online commentary about cultural appropriation, Miller finds it hard to argue with a Chicano dude who was raised on rice, beans and braised meats in East LA.
Japanese beef & beer pair up at Hitachino in S.F. [SF Chronicle]
Roamin’ for Ramen at Mensho and Hinodeya [SF Weekly]
Oakland Pop-Up Tacos Oscar Keeps It Traditional [East Bay Express]