With a new full service restaurant in Jack London Square, 2017 Chronicle Rising Star Reem Assil finally got the full Michael Bauer treatment this month. Although the names and flavors of the Middle East might be foreign to many, Bauer notes, the staff are “warm, friendly and helpful at guiding diners through the menu” and Dyafa is an excellent place to sample the world’s oldest cuisine filtered through a Bay Area culinary lens. Flatbread wraps named after local basketball heroes may have helped Assil build a following at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, but as Bauer writes, it’s the “careful respect” and “modern edge” she brings traditional dishes that really set Dyafa apart.
There’s “always something on the table to share,” Bauer says, but his must-order highlights included the mana’eesh flatbreads, the “exceptional” Little Gem fattoush, freekeh-stuffed squid, “silken” hummus with slow-cooked spiced lamb, and the “fragrant sumac-spiced” confit chicken. The braised lamb shank did leave our critic “wanting,” but it the whole fish and the vegetarian maklouba erased that memory pretty quickly. After a couple cocktails and a simple, “near-perfect” dessert of almond-stuffed dates, Bauer pulls out three stars.
For the Weekly, Pete Kane checked out the latest hotspot to land in the Richmond. Violet’s, a spinoff of Clement Street’s Fiorella, offers a “subtle 1940s feel” and a cocktails-and-oysters vibe that might make you feel underdressed, Kane says. But the setting is perfect for “inventive” dishes and drinks that “typically include five or more discrete ingredients.” Diners would do fine ordering drinks like the Trans Siberian Tea Service (a Suntory whiskey hot toddy with vodka and oolong) and some oysters from the raw bar, Kane notes, but then they’d miss out on Chef Dante Cecchini’s “more-elevated-than-elevated-bar-food menu.” Highlights from the kitchen include Fiorella’s beloved Chex Mix, grilled wings that are “neither uptight nor shamelessly messy,” and the “unanimous favorite” polenta with a soft egg and a “snowstorm” of Parmesan. Above all, Kane concludes, “the price is right” and you’ll save a few bucks compared to equal-caliber restaurants in trendier parts of town.
Express critic Janelle Bitker tread some touchy ground in West Oakland this week, where Soba Ichi has taken over the former home of beloved Korean fusion spot Fusebox. “Walking in to Soba Ichi feels simultaneously exciting and sad,” Bitker writes, noting it’s the first Bay Area restaurant to make fresh soba from scratch. But the displacement of Fusebox — and the displacement still happening all around the restaurant — make it difficult for her to appreciate.
On the other hand, her fellow diners who “piled out of cars, rushed toward the waiting list” didn’t seem to mind waiting 45 minutes for a table. And for soba purists, chef Koichi Ishii’s noodles, which he makes daily from buckwheat milled by hand in-house, show some “impeccable” attention to detail. The nihachi noodles were “lovely,” Bitker says, with a “delicate nutty flavor and bouncy chew” that’s best served cold, dipped in sauce. Chef Ishii’s dashi, meanwhile, exhibits an “excellent pureness” that deserves to be experienced hot. Non-soba items, like a dashimaki cold Japanese omelette or spinach salad topped with sous vide duck reveals the common thread in Ishii’s kitchen: “delicate, subtle flavors executed with precision,” even if the prices might give the neighbors pause.
- Dyafa dazzles with modern Arabic cuisine in Jack London Square [SFChronicle]
- The Richmond Goes Ultra-Violet [SF Weekly]
- Soba Ichi Serves Impressive Handmade Soba Noodles — but the Setting Complicates Things [East Bay Express]