Michael Bauer dropped a somewhat disappointing one-and-a-half stars upon Peruvian restaurant Essencia yesterday. The upscale Hayes Valley joint, run by Anne Gingrass-Paik (one of the original chefs at Postrio), takes one too many overpriced and ill-advised forays into modern Peruvian-Californian cuisine for Bauer’s sensibilities:
While I love the idea of giving cuisines an interpretive twist, in this case the twists take a wrong turn, beginning with the bread. The three or four irregular chunks of baguette tossed on a saucer look like leftovers. I first thought it was a mistake and cut the kitchen some slack, but after the third visit, I realized that was the way it was supposed to be. Why?And why is the kampachi ceviche ($12) doused with so much mustard-yellow hot pepper sauce that it destroys everything but the texture? Dish after dish, I wondered why.
Among the subpar plates were a sea bass with “a lack of flavor” and a fruit flan that “tasted more of condensed milk than anything else.” Nonetheless, there were some high notes (like the grilled beef hearts and the lamb), but all in all, Essencia left Michael Bauer a very puzzled food critic, so much so that he called Gingrass-Paik for an explanation of her quizzical dive into Peruvian food. Her answer–it’s a newfound interest–still couldn’t explain to Bauer why Essencia, home to a talented chef and enthusiastic owners, still hits so many flat notes.