Mr. Bauer is notably less excited about Haven in Oakland than Kauffman was just last week, and herein lies a good example of why it’s nice to have more than one newspaper critic weighing in on a new opening. While Kauffman focused primarily on chef Kim Alter’s “brawny” flavors and mostly excellent food, Bauer focuses first on the decor and service at the new Jack London Square restaurant. He’s dismissive about the design, saying it feels “almost painfully PC,” and by this he seems to be referring to the salt cellars and air plants on the tables, and the industrial-chic look of the place. He says the service was a bit off, and the “let us cook for you” option on the menu was never properly explained, or clearly priced. But then he does end up liking some of the dishes.
He complains of too many sweet flavors and “aggressive seasoning,” but he does enjoy Alter’s chicken dish, says her shepherd’s pie is “an interesting interpretation,” and says the clams with vaouvan and charred turnips is “one of the best dishes on the menu.” But, alas, the whole experience doesn’t really do it for him, and we end up with two stars. [Chron, Kauffman’s earlier take]
Also on Thursday he filed an update on Ristobar, the Marina Italian restaurant opened two years back by Gary Rulli of Emporio Rulli fame. He finds that newly hired chef Michele Belotti, a 25-year-old “rising star” who comes straight from Bergamo, Italy, is doing some fine work. He especially likes the casoncelli, “a Lombardian-style pasta filled with prosciutto, pork, sage butter and dices of crisp pancetta,” and service is improved since he was last there. Update stars: two and a half. [Chron]
And Patricia Unterman reports that the newly relocated and reopened Original Joe’s is better than it ever was, and they’ve been doing 800 covers a day since they opened last month, so they’re not hurting for business. She still loves two dishes off the old menu, the hamburger steak and the calf’s liver, and she has a new favorite: the veal scallopini sec, “slices of tender veal swathed in sliced mushrooms and a perfectly executed pan sauce made with white wine.” Also, salads are “vastly improved,” the “spaghetti is no longer precooked!” and desserts are worth ordering now, when they really weren’t before. And despite being a fixture herself in town all these years, she makes sure to say that her visits were anonymous. [Examiner, Earlier slideshow]