Eater’s own San Francisco critic Rachel Levin may have come away disappointed by one-star food at A Mano, but over at the Chronicle, Michael Bauer is raving over nearly every aspect of Adriano Paganini’s latest endeavor. And unlike the Weekly’s Pete Kane, who found the food to be “merely good”, Bauer says that A Mano was “better than [Paganini’s] other Italian concepts — Beretta, Delarosa and Starbelly.” All three critics noticed the barely three-month-old restaurant is already drawing a crowd at the host stand, even when other neighborhood eateries are struggling to fill seats, but Bauer is the only one who feels the pasta is actually worth an hour-long wait on a Tuesday night. “And diners can always stroll the shops and restaurants along Hayes Street," Bauer says, as if feasting your eyes on “one of the best collections of independent boutiques in the city," will hold you over until the antipasti arrive.
Once seated, Bauer found the rigatoni with pork sugo — which was lacking in depth and richness on Levin’s visit — to be “deeply flavored.” The Agnolotti dal plin — “undersalted,” per Kane — was one dish that Bauer felt “really shows off the kitchen skills.” On the other hand, the bucatini all’ amatriciana that didn’t stand out from the rest of the city’s rustic Italian spots for Levin, shot right to the top of the list for Bauer and Kane.
Because all three critics were making their review visits around the same time period, it’s difficult to determine whether these differences in opinion are due to Chef Freedom Rains’ nascent menu, Bauer’s demonstrated predilection for cheerleading more affordable dining options in and around Hayes Valley and Mid-Market. (See also: Corridor, Hazel), or other, unknown reasons. (It should also be noted that a critic of thirty years isn’t exactly incognito; there's always the possibility that Bauer was recognized on his visit and thus got above average treatment.) There are a few things everyone can agree on though: once you get past the constant “crisis mode” at the front door, the service is smooth and polished. And it’s hard to argue with $14 rigatoni in a town full of $20 pastas. Three Bauer stars for A Mano.
L’Osteria del Forno
For a more established fast-casual Italian spot, Bauer also re-visited North Beach’s focaccia haven L’Osteria del Forno. At 26-years-old, the restaurant has been around for almost as many years as the critic has been writing reviews for the Chronicle, but the food has slipped a bit from its original three-star review. Although the restaurant is mostly the same, the new owners who took over in 2014 are missing, “that indefinable element the original owners had,” Bauer says, “which often comes with starting a business fueled by passion.”
The milk-braised pork that garnered praise over a quarter of a century ago now tastes, “warmed over” and comes with a lackluster side of roast potatoes and carrots. The baked penne was lost in “a little too much béchamel,” and the pizzas “needed a little extra attention.” The foccacia, however, still makes for an excellent sandwich. Two stars.
Right as news was landing that David Patterson would spin Alta into its own restaurant group, Pete Kane was dropping his review of the second location in the Dogpatch’s Minnesota Street Project. The logic of expanding a winning concept is “sound,” Kane notes, but the second edition “feels simultaneously like too much and not enough.” Chef Matt Brimer puts a lot of polish on the menu, holding trends “at arm’s length without pushing them entirely away,” but Kane can’t help but feel the design is too sterile and the restaurant lacks its own identity.
On the menu, Kane quickly becomes addicted to the chicharron-like rice puffs with pureed avocado dipping sauce, but the halibut crudo “really wanted to be a full-on salad” and a “puzzling” dish of Monterey squid porridge was actually yearning to become a paella. The aged beef strip over braised oxtail, however, was “as deep and rich as any carnitas I’ve ever had.” Judging by the dishes alone, Kane says Alta 2.0 “has merit” even if the restaurant still hasn’t quite made a name for itself.
Tacos El Último Baile
In the East Bay, Momo Chang stayed up late for Tacos El Último Baile, the catering company and pop-up taco stand operating outside of Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon. After spending some stints in prison and building up his entrepreneurial spirit at UC Santa Cruz, proprietor Dominic Prado now serves four kinds of tacos on local La Finca tortillas for a hard-to-beat $2 a pop. While you might find a couple “Oakland” spins on traditional meat choices (the chicken is marinated with Ethiopian spices like fenugreek and cardamom, for example), things tend towards the traditional and Prado gets his recipes from a combination of family cooking and “the internet.”
- Newcomer A Mano off to 3-star start in Hayes Valley [Chronicle]
- Focaccia lovers tread well-worn path to L’Osteria in North Beach [Chronicle]
- Minnesota Twin: Alta in the Dogpatch [SF Weekly]
- Tacos El Último Baile Fills Oakland Bar-Dweller Bellies [East Bay Express]