Although he recently dropped a four-star destination from his Top 100 list, Michael Bauer is moving Mister Jiu’s up a bit this year. When it debuted to numerous Best New Restaurant nods, Bauer left his 2.5-star review hoping chef Brandon Jew’s Chinese technique would grow to match the Northern California creativity for which he was known. Two years later, the restaurant has fulfilled that vision, Bauer says, pointing to the chicken-feet terrine and the chilled beef tendons on the charcuterie menu as an example of this successful merger.
Dishes like the “scalding” and “truly sour” hot and sour soup with crab and nasturtium flowers deconstruct traditional Chinese fare, while others — like the Dutch crunch pork buns — add playful references to two local favorites at once. Bauer was most impressed by two dishes: the Hodo tofu skins cooked with mushrooms and cured egg yolk like pappardelle, “but with more snap”; and Jew’s “strong variation” on roast duck that comes dressed with flowers, a confit leg, duck liver pate and a spread of pancakes and sauces. With “refined” desserts from pastry chef Melissa Chou and an imaginative cocktail list Mister Jiu’s is now 3.5 stars.
On Market Street, Bauer found the spirit of Jamaica at Kaya, where “just about anything will pass muster when you’re with friends around an ornate, pressed-glass punch bowl” of rum punch. The food has improved over its first few months, Bauer says. Still, some of the best dishes are characterized by “waves of blandness” followed by intense heat and spiciness, like the black pepper tofu or the jerk chicken balanced with sweet plantains. Like Eater’s Rachel Levin, Bauer didn’t like getting messy with the sticky black pepper crab, but the service — including the warm hand towels — was “friendly and, most importantly, efficient.” Two stars.
Inside the ambitious new Chow in Oakland, Michael Bauer found organic ingredients, good salads, an “exceptional lamb burger,” and some generally lousy service. Owner Tony Gulisano’s bakery/cafe/market project “falls apart when you sit down to dine,” Bauer says, lamenting numerous ordering mixups on his three visits. Even though the pot roast was merely lukewarm, the aforementioned lamb burger and “one of the best versions of pecan pie I’ve had” were good enough for two stars — just don’t order more than one course.
As the latest spin-off from a Hawker Fare alum, Berkeley’s Funky Elephant was bound to draw crowds looking for the next generation of regional Thai cuisine. “You can feel that Hawker Fare influence,” Express critic Janelle Bitker notes in her review, but the vision belongs to owners Nanchaphon Laptanachai and Supasit Puttikaew she says. Over at the Weekly, Pete Kane agrees this is something much more than a neighborhood Thai joint.
According to both Bay Area tradition and his mother’s recipe, chef Puttikaew makes his curries by hand from local ingredients, resulting in a “luxurious” fish curry and an “incredibly complex and delicious” green curry topped with “unapologetically rare” grilled hanger steak on Bitker’s visits. Kane, meanwhile, gravitated towards the “insanely good and comically messy” Party Wings and the “quite remarkable” shrimp pad thai. The Issan sausage was unfortunately lacking in the fire and funk that both critics craved, but if you’re looking for another version of the now-trendy khao mun gai, Bitker says Puttikaew’s version is “worth adding to the list.”
- Mister Jiu’s fulfills its vision with 3½ stars [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Kaya in San Francisco offers a big, boozy toast to Jamaica [San Francisco Chronicle]
- With market, bakery and cafe, Oakland Chow bites off more than it can chew [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Next Generation Thai Food at Funky Elephant [East Bay Express]
- Funky Elephant Gives Us Several Reasons to Cross the Bay for Thai Food [SF Weekly]