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Michael Bauer Tasted Evolution on Saison’s ‘Primal’ New Menu

Also: neighborhood charm in Hayes Valley and top Ethiopian in Temescal

Molly DeCoudreaux

Slanted Door and Saison

Like locally grown asparagus, Michael Bauer’s Top 100 update season arrives every year in late winter/early spring and continues until the Food + Home section publishes their crown jewel in April. This week, Bauer skipped the starred reviews in favor of two revisits, hinting that at least one longtime Top 100 fixture could finally be on the chopping block.

Slanted Door won the James Beard Award for outstanding Restaurant in 2014 and chef Charles Phan has been a Bauer favorite for over twenty years despite several high-profile restaurant flops in the interim. As Phan’s flagship, Slanted Door has mostly avoided the harsh criticism that plagued his other projects, but on a recent trip, Bauer says, “there were signs that the kitchen was on autopilot.” The imperial rolls were “irregularly fried,” the lettuce was “limp and bruised,” and Bauer’s favorite clay pot caramel chicken was “slightly unbalanced and overly sweet.” With Slanted Door’s menu prices on the rise due to a range of factors, Bauer now finds it hard to justify the lack of quality. Although, to be fair, he does mention that “nothing was bad,” even though the signature cellophane noodles with crab sounds like a $25 disappointment.

Meanwhile, at Saison, Bauer was pleased to find four-starred chef Joshua Skenes trying on a more primal tasting menu. Skenes has been throwing opulent dinner parties at his ranch in Sonoma over the past year and now diners who pony up for a seat at Saison are getting the windfall of that experience. Where there used to be a couple rounds of crudo, the 10-course tasting menu now features items like a roasted half quail that “lies unadorned on a plate,” and “perfectly roasted” antelope served with biscuits that have been dusted with ground seaweed and chiles. The quail, served with a side of ash berries, made Bauer feel as though he’d “stopped along a wilderness trail to have dinner.” The signature uni toast, meanwhile, has also been reimagined and Skenes is constantly featuring unfamiliar seafood like king crabs, box crabs and jellyfish. One thing Bauer failed to mention: The restaurant has dropped the price of its tasting menu from $398 to $298. However, the epic caviar course is now an extra supplement, priced at $88. The wine pairing price is $50 lower as well, at $248.

But all of this menu talk leads to an even bigger reveal: When Skenes made the rounds during Bauer’s latest dinner, the chef also dropped off a big scoop for the Chronicle. Skenes is currently in the process of acquiring a whopping 1.5 million acre reserve in the Pacific Northwest, which will serve as a “research and development” retreat for the staff, as well as a potential ingredient source and supply chain for Saison, and the more causal Angler coming later this year.

Il Borgo

For the Weekly, Pete Kane stepped off of Hayes Valley’s main drag in search of some quaint neighborhood charm at Il Borgo — the “thriving” Italian spot that still proudly flies its red-and-white checkered tablecloths and isn’t afraid of garlic. The bruschetta was “crunchy and luscious,” the penne arrabiata was “snappy,” and an excellent lobster ravioli in aurora sauce. While the beef in the fettucine al Bolognese was a bit disappointing, Kane notes you can’t go wrong with tiramisu.

Abesha Ethiopian Cuisine

In Oakland, Express critic Janelle Bitker revealed the Ethiopian restaurant that keeps her coming back more than any other: the mother-son operation Abesha in Temescal. The atmosphere is “contemporary, minimalist, and quiet” Bitker says, making it the perfect place to enjoy the “fiery, berbere-tinged” yemisir wot (lentils) or the mushroom wot with “a meatiness that few vegan options offer.” But for the omnivores out there, the must-order dish is the kitfo — a “melt-in-your-mouth, extra buttery rendition” of Ethiopian beef tartare.

The Slanted Door

, , CA 94111 (415) 861-8032 Visit Website


178 Townsend Street, , CA 94107 (415) 828-7990 Visit Website