“If Adriano Paganini opens it, they will come,” Eater SF’s own Rachel Levin notes in her two-star review of Barvale, which explains why the noted local restaurateur’s first foray into Spanish cuisine landed three critical reviews just a month after opening. Levin and her contemporaries at the Chronicle and SF Weekly all braved the crowds and 45-minute wait times to come up with similar takes: Barvale is a fine place to find some worthwhile dishes, a few outstanding tapas and a fun setting in which to imbibe beautifully made Gin Tonics.
“As for the food,” Bauer says, “it seems better designed for drinks and fun,” than, say, Bellota’s temple of Jamon. Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane agrees, but with a rosier outlook, noting that Barvale feels “vigorous” and sticks to Paganini’s “ethos of hip approachability without feeling formulaic.”
In Bauer’s opinion, menu staples like patatas bravas “pale in comparison” to other Spanish places in town and most of the dishes would have benefitted from “a bolder hand in seasoning.” On the other hand, Levin and Kane both loved the flavor of the simple, cold tapas like the boquerones, the chicory salad with anchovy bagna cauda and the piquillo peppers stuffed with morcilla sausage.
Meanwhile, Bauer loved the “beautifully presented” octopus with fingerling potatoes so much that Levin’s server actually mentioned the critic’s affinity for it at her table. Unfortunately for some of Levin’s dining companions, the octopus was “perfectly tender” on one visit and then “nearly cremated in the pan” on another. Where Kane felt the kitchen’s consistency was “strong overall,” Bauer felt the opposite. That inconsistency, combined with a lack of flavor and service that was as “unispired as some of their tapas,” and Barvale lands two Bauer stars.
Rice & Bones
For the Express, critic Janelle Bitker followed Charles Phan to his first East Bay endeavor, the Vietnamese spot Rice & Bones, conveniently located in the same UC Berkeley building where Phan once attended classes. Although prices might be off-putting to cash-strapped Cal coeds, the restaurant serves a rotating, cafeteria-style menu of five proteins and six to eight veggie sides based on what chef de cuisine Dong Choi picks up at the market. Everything was “good, if not very good,” Bitker says of dishes like sautéed wild flounder or lamb belly “kissed with fennel.” Choi and Phan definitely achieve their goal of serving “high-quality, tasty food to students and faculty quickly and at a reasonable price point.”
Although the dishes are “hot and delicious” at noon, the cafeteria setup can lead to chaos later in the lunch rush. In those cases, Bitker advises steering towards the made-to-order menu where staples like beef pho, vegetarian rolls and the Slanted Door jicama and grapefruit would be impossible to mess up.
Elsewhere: On the fast-casual blog, Bauer is still making the Top 100 rounds. This week’s peek into his critic’s notebook says Frances is still “a bright star” in the Castro and Prospect has finally stepped out of Boulevard’s shadow.
- Tapas Are Worth a Wait at Divisadero’s Newest Hot Spot [Eater SF]
- Barvale brings a taste of Spain to Divisadero with cocktails and tapas [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Barvale Does Exactly What a Good Tapas Place Should [SF Weekly]
- With Rice & Bones, Charles Phan Opens a Better School Cafeteria at UC Berkeley [East Bay Express]