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Josh Sens Floats Two and a Half Stars for Duna

Also: Pete Kane time travels to 1998 in Palo Alto and Janelle Bitker finds a triumph of vegan étouffée in Berkeley

Patricia Chang

Michael Bauer’s Instagram Lifestyle

With no official review this week, Michael Bauer took to the Between Meals blog (and Instagram) to justify putting Del Popolo on his Top 100. It’s the “ambitious” small plates that set it apart from other pizza joints, he says. Elsewhere, Bauer also posted his Hayes Valley roundup for the benefit of the city’s opera, symphony and ballet-goers. (Hot Bauer tip: go to Nightbird, but come back after the show for your dessert course and a nightcap.)


For San Francisco Magazine, Josh Sens weighs in on the “rustic and robustDuna, where Cortney Balla and Nick Burns are traveling the “metaphoric waters” of the river Danube. The ingredient sourcing is what you’d expect from the duo behind Bar Tartine but the finished products are “rocked,” “smacked” and “vivified” by garlic, sauces and vinaigrettes. Sens is even feeling the electricity in the “fine-casual” (Duna’s words) layout, which he describes as, “voguish take-your-name counter service” with “attentive follow-up on the floor.”

Like Eater’s own Rachel Levin, Sens couldn’t get enough of Duna’s dips, especially paired with the “required eating” smoked potato flatbread that’s “great at mop-up duty.” Although the interior is generously described as “minimalist farmhouse,” dishes like the lentil croquettes and the chicken paprikas are “transportive.” The former was imported from Bar Tartine down the street where it was the must-order item, but the latter is a take on a dish that Sens’ Romainian grandma used to make, but “with twice the flavor and half the fat.” Although not every dish was perfect, the balance of traditional warmth and urban cool never felt forced. Two and a half stars, and a strong recommendation to check out the ticketed Sunday dinners.


At the Weekly, Pete Kane travels back in time to 1998 at Nobu in Palo Alto. The chain is known by many hyphen-laden terms, but is best described as high-end Japanese-Peruvian fusion for the ultra-rich. In Palo Alto, however, Kane finds the “swaggering alpha-global brand” to be “complacent, self-regarding” and lagging far behind its peers, in the realm of good sushi. The $150 and $195 omakase menus were hampered by underwhelming fish, too many shaved veggies and “flat-out stupefying” nigiri. The house specialty black cod was also “listless and uninspired.”

While the fried king crab showed enough effort to win him over, the two wagyu courses brought things back down again. There were plenty of other complaints, from the weird layout to the cold service, but the biggest offense, Kane says, “is that it basically pretends the last 20 years never happened.” Skip the oversized martini glasses and take your omakase money elsewhere.

Easy Creole

In the East Bay, Janelle Bitker finds fast-casual and vegan-friendly étouffées at Easy Creole. The restaurant started as a pop-up between Grant Gooding and Jess McCarter, but now feels “like a perfect mash-up of New Orleans and Berkeley” in its new brick and mortar home on Alcatraz Avenue. The simple, 10-item menu has five meaty stews and five vegan stews daily served over brown or white rice and “crowned” with a spiced and buttered baguette.

It’s a great takeout setup, Bitker says, but the “small, funky space oozing with quirky charm” will make you want to stick around and you’ll have to come back more than once to try all forty of Gooding’s stews and soups anyway. Almost always on the menu is the vegan spinach mushroom étouffée, “a triumph” made with a gluten-free roux that’s “stunningly creamy” with “an earthy kick.” The omnivorous section of the menu fares best when Gooding sticks to classics like the “positively delicious”shrimp creole or crawfish étouffée. There are some experiments like a Thai peanut étouffée, but they generally aren’t interesting enough to steer you away from your craving for shrimp and sausage.


983 Valencia Street, , CA 94110 (415) 484-1206 Visit Website