Eater’s own Rachel Levin has two stars for Duna, where Nick Balla and Cortney Burns’s “fine-casual” Hungarian food works much better than the awkward quick-service format it’s served in.
Bauer Blog is Shifting Formats
Judging by their dueling 2.5-star reviews of The Charter Oak, San Francisco Magazine critic Josh Sens and local soup aficionado Michael Bauer have their star ratings similarly calibrated. Elsewhere in the newspaper, however, Bauer is ditching the stars altogether. In lieu of his weekly update reviews, Bauer has gone back to his Between Meals column, which eschews number ratings for service, price, noise level, etc. for a looser food-blogger style. You might even say Bauer is shifting his format to something a little more “fast-casual.”
Bauer did not return Eater’s request for comment on the change (Update: see Bauer’s response below), but it may have been merciful in the case of Berkeley’s Zut Tavern, which Bauer says only has an “unfortunate consistency” since his last 1.5-star review in 2015. On the other hand, Chef Audie Golder gets praise, but no stars, for his work at Jardiniere, a restaurant Bauer first reviewed in 1997, right around his ten-year anniversary at the Chronicle. In 2017, Bauer says the restaurant is both "fresh" and “aging well" — just like the products in Traci Des Jardins’s cheese aging room. At Z & Y Restaurant, where Bauer likes to pal around with Cecilia Chang, "the spice is always right." Aside from a couple neighborhood and hamburger listicles, the return to blogging also allowed Bauer to give us his impressions on Live Sushi Bar in Potrero Hill, a place he says he's always wondered about, but “never carved out the time to check it out.”
Update: Bauer has responded to Eater via email, saying: “The new format was designed so that readers could follow along more closely with what I do, since I dine out every night. The more informal format will allow me to check out and write about restaurants that I may not actually end up reviewing, and to go back to previously reviewed restaurants for the top 100 and to be able to write about certain aspects of the experience. When a restaurant I revisit has a major change either for the good or bad, I will write a more formal update.”
Bauer’s real excuse for visiting Live Sushi was to add a footnote to this week’s starred review of Dumpling Time. The restaurant’s gigantic, and highly instagrammable King-Dum soup dumplings might be the reason for the line out the door, Bauer says, but focusing on the hype product “sells the restaurant short.” The regular-size dumplings were “too sticky” and “aren’t as good as those at Yank Sing,” Bauer goes on, but the “intense, finely crafted fillings” like the tom yum goong or the har gow with an “inventive” filling of pork and shrimp with cream cheese and cilantro. Likewise, the gyoza are “particularly good” and Bauer says he’s a fan of the Beijing noodles, which (like many menu items) borrows a recipe from restaurateur Kash Feng’s mother. Two and a half stars for Dumpling Time.
Last week, SF Weekly critic Pete Kane caused yet another controversy with his review of Alfred’s, Daniel Patterson’s grass-fed ode to the noble steakhouse. Kane, you’ll remember, came under fire from Patterson’s Locol partner Roy Choi last year after his review included a comment about the “teenagers of color” staffing the ambitious, young restaurant. Kane enjoyed pretty much everything he ate at Alfred’s, from the Oysters Rockefeller, to the 28-ounce Alfred’s cut with a “consciousness-expanding” $10 side of mashed potatoes and concluding with the tableside flambéed Bananas Foster he’s always wanted.
But the real problem with Kane’s review is his attempt to tease out a deeper meaning from a menu that features many dishes invented prior to the Civil Rights Movement. His concluding line, which puts the reviewer in the seat of some less-than-progressive Don Draper archetypes, seems to pine for an era of segregated dining rooms, gave Patterson cause for complaint:
A week after press time, Kane has yet to comment on the controversy or update his review.
Speaking of fast-casual pivots, Pete Kane also checked out Namu Gaji’s Divisadero spinoff, where the Raging Ramen is “merely ok” but the titular Namu Stonepot rice is unequaled with its “irresistible melange of textures and flavors” and seared rice. The Korean-fried variety of the mochiko chicken was another Kane favorite, and despite their usual bad reputation as a gimmicky fusion item, the cold Korean tacos with tofu are “worth your time.” The gamja fries, slathered in kewpie mayo and kimchi relish, would make “a good excuse for a late-night pit stop,” but the Napa salad and the butter mochi both turned out to be surprisingly good.
Like Duna, the awkward format unfortunately hampers some of the critic’s enjoyment here. The small space and searing hot stone bowls make for some tricky maneuvers, and the nature of the food slows down turnover as diners wait for things to cool to comfortable levels. Ultimately, Kane says, being “too beloved right at the beginning” is just another way of saying it’s worth waiting for.
There are “big, cheesy expectations” at Preeti Mistry’s latest endeavor, says East Bay Express critic Janelle Bitker. Juhu Beach Club won Mistry heaps of praise, but Navi Kitchen was completely empty at 6:30 pm on a Saturday. While the restaurant is “an intentionally, actively safe space" in the new Oakland tradition, it can feel awkward dining on the patio that is “essentially hanging out in the center of an upscale housing complex.”
When it comes to the food, Bitker says it’s not fair to compare Navi’s classic American fare “with bursts of Indian flavors” to Juhu’s layers of intense spice and textures. Navi’s best dishes, then, are the comfort foods with “an extra jolt” like the tikka masala mac n’ cheese or the “light and lovely” Leelu Potato pizza with a completely unique crust that stands out “in a region overrun with pizza.” Finally, doing her due diligence on the all-day menu, Bitker says either of the breakfast sandwiches — the Croque Gadame with bacon and chai spices, or the Mumbai Morning Burger with pork-ginger sausage — are a solid value and would pair well with a chai for “an epic morning.”
- Popular Dumpling Time brings a party to your palate [SF Chronicle]
- Eat: Alfred, Lord Porterhouse [SF Weekly]
- Thigh Will Be Done at Namu Stonepot [SF Weekly]
- Big, Cheesy Expectations at Navi Kitchen [East Bay Express]