What do the fries at AL's Place, the spiced squab at the Progress, and the deviled egg at Octavia all have in common? They're uncommonly good, according to Chronicle food schmoozer Michael Bauer, who selected those three dishes among others to represent his best restaurants of last year.
In his complete top ten listing, the critic praises chef/owner Gabriela Cámara Cala most highly. "If there’s better Mexican food in the United States, I haven’t found it," he says of the new restaurant.
Speaking of which, Josh Sens for San Francisco magazine had more praise for Cala along with a healthy sprinkling of criticism. It's got dramatic range, he says, and "[even] preparations commonly found around San Francisco make room for welcome twists." But some dishes, like squid and lingcod frito mixto, disappoint. Still, others like the delicata squash-and-goat cheese salad and the tamal de cazuela, are delights.
Back to the head of the critics table, Mr. Bauer went off on how 2010 was the year that SF sowed the seeds of our current culinary harvest. "In a piece I wrote five years ago about the year’s top 10 new restaurants I predicted: 'When we look back in a couple of years, I think we’ll realize that 2010 was pivotal. The statement turned out to be true." According, of course, to the man who made it.
Meanwhile, Anna Roth spent $40 under the auspices of the Chronicle on a “Royal Dorian” which is shaped like and appears to in fact be a hamburger. It's topped with crab, real truffle, and "presented on a silver tray with a cloche, accompanied by truffle fries and a bit of tongue-in-cheek pomp and circumstance." At the Dorian, which is the Marina restaurant in question, "Executive chef Chris Ricketts, formerly of the Palm House and Tipsy Pig, heads up a menu that doesn’t take many chances but offers solid renditions on modern San Francisco standards." Overall, though Roth considers it "tempting to use a $40 hamburger as a metaphor for the worst of San Francisco 2015," she's far more forgiving. "The truth is that I kind of liked everything about the Dorian, even if I may not find myself there with any regularity," she concludes.
Peter Kane swung by Hamlet for the Weekly, a new bar and restaurant which "from the perspective of the hamlet that is Noe Valley... is an undiscovered country." The burger sounds to be a winner, though "among the dishes, there were early misses and later hits, with most of the sins being errors of seasoning and proportion." Lamb sirloin and gnocchi also strike Kane as good orders.
Last and back to Michael Bauer, his return to Sam Wo is a happy one. Summarizing its importance, Bauer writes that "Sam Wo is where the two worlds meet. The restaurant is a city institution that survived more than 100 years on Washington Street, a popular hangout during the Beat Generation, and is perhaps best known for its most famous employee, Edsel Ford Fong, who was repeatedly proclaimed 'the rudest waiter in the world.'" It's a two-star review, but full of history, like the place itself, closed since 2012 and now back in action. "Those who wander into Sam Wo not knowing the history will marvel at the unique space, the narrow stairway leading to the low-ceiling dining room and the low, backless stools. It feels like it’s been there for decades, but those in the know can see this is a sanitized, spruced-up version."