The past year has seen so many high-profile, creative restaurants open that it's been a great time to be a restaurant critic in San Francisco. But there's as much sifting to do as writing. Over the past few months, I've eaten my way through a long string of places that I couldn't imagine devoting a 1,000-word review to. Zaab Thai Cuisine, the subject of a post yesterday, was one ― apart from its salads, of course, which were definitely worth a mention on the blog. Here are four more restaurants that got passed over. (As they demonstrate, I was hunting for new Cantonese restaurants, a search that continues ― hit me up if you have a good tip).
Brother Seafood Restaurant
1830 Irving (at 19th Ave.), 661-8033
The pitch: Affordable neighborhood Cantonese seafood restaurant.
What I liked: I keep looking for more neighborhood Cantonese places with the same quality level as Hakka Restaurant (which serves Hakka and Cantonese food, both beautifully prepared). This three-month-old restaurant, a spinoff of New Hing Lung, has a huge selection of wo choy (set-price) menus as well as Hong Kong-style noodles and a number of interesting dishes like coffee pork ribs and steamed fresh frogs in lotus leaves. Four of us ordered the $68 wo choy menu, and the table was covered in plates, some stacked two high ― everything from clams in black bean sauce to mustard greens to battered, fried spare ribs.
Why I didn't review it: The quality of every dish was about the same level as Western diner food: homey, functional, one-note. If I lived around the corner, I might stop in now and again for a couple of plates, but none of the dishes stood out, and I couldn't work up the excitement to return.
All Season Restaurant
5238 Diamond Heights (at Duncan), 282-8883, allseasonrestaurant.com
The pitch: Quasi-glamorous Cantonese seafood restaurant
What I liked: How many times does a San Francisco critic get an excuse to visit Diamond Heights? This expansive second-floor place, which replaced Yet Wah in the Safeway complex, has a Chinese-American menu and a longer, elaborate Cantonese menu with sections like "Chinese Folk Selections" and abalone dishes. The seafood in the tanks was pretty lively, too ― couldn't resist a pound of spot prawns.
Why I didn't review it: Those wriggling crustaceans cooked up sweet, but should have come out of the steamer earlier. The rest of the food was vividly sugared or half-heartedly stir-fried, without that elusive wok hay that gives the simplest dishes life; another disappointment was the crispy skin roast duck was falsely advertised; instead of crispy skin there was a quarter-inch of jiggly fat. For bistro prices, I'd expect bistro quality. Given the money poured into the place and the size of the menu, this is the one restaurant, though, where I'm most concerned I missed the specialties. If you know something I don't, drop me a line.
2514 San Pablo (at Dwight), Berkeley, 510-649-1031
The pitch: Neighborhood Italian restaurant with Neapolitan pizzaiolo.
What I liked: After reviewing restaurants in the East Bay for eight
years, I trust the Krikorian-Lalimes (Lalime's, Sea Salt) to put together a
solid business. And the food was extremely affordable ― $12.75 for a
margherita, $5-$7 for apps and salads.
Why I didn't review it: The pizza was fine, but not memorable, and I had quite enough memorable pies to cover this fall. The Weekly's mandate is to focus on San Francisco restaurants, and so East
Bay and Peninsula places have to be noteworthy for me to get the
go-ahead to review them. If I lived in West Berkeley, I'd probably end up
here often enough.
150 Waverly (at Washington), 397-9985, thepotsticker.com.
The pitch: Cantonese restaurant that relaunched as a Sichuan restaurant a half-year ago (thanks, Chowhound, for the tip).
What I liked: This city could stand for more Sichuan restaurants on par with those on the Peninsula and East Bay.
Why I didn't review it: I ate here twice, and both times found the execution sloppy, probably because the menu was too huge to master ― overcooked fried fish, fall-apart dumplings, spiciness without dimension. Nothing to entice me away from Panda Country Kitchen, Z&Y, or special trips to China Village in Albany.