With the impending publication of the 2018 Chronicle Top 100, Bauer focused on his unstarred Between Meals columns this week, checking in on two perennial favorites in San Francisco and one in Sonoma. At four-star Benu, Corey Lee has “increasingly exchanged French techniques for Asian” so that the restaurant now feels like “an Asian restaurant capitalizing on some of the best preparations and products in the world.” As Lee tells the anonymous critic in his kitchen, in the middle of a meal, this evolution even surprises him.
For the restaurant’s eighth year, Lee is tracing that evolution through an eight-plus-course, $295 tasting menu. It’s a higher base price with fewer courses than previous years, but Lee’s signature thousand-year-old quail egg and several other “delicacies” all arrived before Bauer’s meal officially began with the lobster coral soup dumplings — another Benu staple. The meat courses included barbecued quail with Chinese artichokes in black truffle sauce, and a dry-aged rib steak served with Lee’s take on “what you might find in a Korean barbecue house.” Bauer loves the taste of evolution, so Benu is secure in its four-star status.
Going into its fourth year, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s dream project is “better than ever,” Bauer writes in another unstarred update review. After a small renovation and some service tweaks, the family-style menu has grown and dishes are now priced a la carte, with a focus on three daily main courses. Although “the influences are eclectic,” Bauer says, they “work well together” and the kitchen produces “one of the best salads with winter citrus” as well as a “new level” crudo with gently smoked tuna. Krasinski’s desserts are “hard to pass up,” so the the Progress is another Top 100 shoe-in.
The Girl & the Fig
In Sonoma, on a recent Tuesday night, Michael Bauer noticed “every seat was taken” at the 20-year-old, “shabby chic,” “French-inspired” Girl & the Fig. The menu “shows its age in a few ways,” Bauer says, like by offering wild flounder meuniere, “a dish rarely seen today.” Still, the restaurant keeps up with the times with its own line of charcuterie and cheeses, plus Bauer’s highlight: “a beautifully presented” Meyer lemon pudding cake with blood orange caramel.
Meanwhile, at SFWeekly, Pete Kane brings us a different sort of update review from Coi, where Chef Erik Anderson of Nashville’s Catbird Seat has taken over the kitchen. Due to some miscommunications about bike parking and last-minute reservations, Kane was forced to confront one of those “that’s not how a restaurant should treat people” moments and wrestles with adding the common, “at this price point” clause. Although “things only improved after that,” Kane leaves feeling unsure whether “I got entirely what I hoped for out of Coi.”
The $250, ten-course tasting menu seems to be “afflicted with a devotion to precise plating,” Kane says, “at the expense of sensuousness.” Although Coi can be fun, it’s “luxury with a flinty streak,” Kane zings. “The interior looks like the admiral’s lounge of a state-owned airline … You will get a hot towel.”
In flight, Kane highlights the sunchoke tartlet amuse and the creamy-salty geoduck buried under edible flowers, as well as moments of “pure opulence” like a caviar course and a tourte with “the four food groups” — foie gras, sweetbread, black truffle and duck. By the end of the meal, Kane’s only request was for “a little more warmth” from the kitchen and the front of the house.
Hawking Bird and Chick’n Rice
In the East Bay, Express critic Janelle Bitker reported from the front lines of the khao mun gai trend for a double review this week. James Shyabout and Hawker Fare get a lot of credit for introducing the comfort dish to local diners, but his fast-casual Hawking Bird loses slightly to Chick’n Rice, Bitker says. The latter, a chain-ready restaurant from the founders of Caviar, uses birds poached whole and then broken down for the broth, resulting in “a dynamic mix of flavors and textures” that was “both clean and luxurious in its fattiness.” Hawking Bird, meanwhile, uses only poached thighs, but they come out “tender enough” with some of the “formidable, funky sauce” tossed in. One gripe, however, is that extra broth — “not only customary but crucial” — is a $1 add-on.
The two also separate themselves on the rest of their menus: Hawking Bird offers “superbly light and crispy” fried chicken, as well as a vegetarian tofu version, and most of the menu is gluten-free. The khao kha moo at Chick’n Rice, on the other hand, “makes the strongest case for skipping khao mun gai entirely.”
- Corey Lee’s inspired re-invention at Benu in San Francisco [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Among top San Francisco destination restaurants, the Progress is better than ever [San Francisco Chronicle]
- The Girl & the Fig, one of the best places to dine in Sonoma [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Coi: The Catbird’s New Nest [SF Weekly]
- Battle of the Khao Mun Gai: Hawking Bird vs Chick’n Rice [East Bay Express]