Today's review roundup includes: Mangarosa, E & O Trading Company, La Suite, Breads of India.
SF Chronicle Michael Bauer gives Mangarosa two stars (1548 Stockton Street; 415-956-3211):
... The food is orchestrated by Niccolo Leone, who cooked at the well- regarded Verbena in Oakland. He's interpreting the visions of the owners, who are Brazilian with Italian backgrounds: Renato Fusari, who also owns West Brooklyn Pizza Co. in San Rafael, and Gina and Marcelo Betti, who run Red Boy Pizza in Novato. However, you won't find any pizza on the menu at Mangarosa, where the surroundings are upscale, changed only slightly from Jianna.
... The food tries to strike a balance between fine dining and fun, judiciously mixing and matching cultures. You can get a really good Caesar salad ($8), for example, draped with fried anchovies, or a more tropically inspired heart of palm salad ($9) mixed with radicchio, endive, arugula, orange sections and citrus vinaigrette.
... At times the exuberance of the ingredients adversely affects the balance of the finished dish. The crisp chicken ($16) became a little cloying with a too-generous drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Sea bass ($22), a little overcooked and dry, was plated with lemon, olives and mango, adding a sweetness that overcompensated for the pungent ingredients.
An appetizer that pairs crab and salt cod cake ($14) was ill conceived. The crab cake was fine, but the cod cake had all the appeal of a salt lick, as if the kitchen forgot to soak the dried fish before combining it with the red bell peppers and other ingredients.
However, the pork chop Milanese ($17), pounded thin and served to fill the plate, with a crisp veneer of breadcrumbs and cheese, hits the mark, especially when accented with light lemon garlic vinaigrette and more lemon that diners can squirt.
Grilled porterhouse ($35), only about a 1/2 inch thick but nearly 10 inches across, is crisscrossed with a thick string of green herb sauce. The complex flavor of the sauce, mingled with the light kiss of wood smoke on the meat, makes this one of the best steaks I've had in quite some time. As with most selections, diners will want to order side dishes to round out the meal, something servers often forgot to suggest.
Michael Bauer also reviews E & O Trading Company, giving it two and a half stars (314 Sutter Street; 415-693-0303):
In its seven-year history, E & O Trading Co. has shown us both the good side and the bad side of Asian fusion. It's one of these restaurants where the quality has fluctuated like the stock market, yet it has continued to attract a young affluent crowd.
The restaurant recently pulled off a coup by hiring Barney Brown, who was the chef for the opening four years at the wildly popular Betelnut in the Marina. Brown has kept the satay and signature naan breads ($4.95-$5.95), but has transformed the rest of the menu to reflect his sensibilities. The restaurant has also abandoned the brew pub concept, fluffed the exotic interior and turned the area that once housed the tanks into a private dining room. The cluttered ceiling with swoops of copper has been cleaned up with three large gossamer chandeliers, giving a more sophisticated look to the warehouse-sized 280-seat space.
The menu is divided into Spice Grill Satay, Indian Style Flat Bread, Salads, Small Plates and Big Plates, where most items are under $20. Many Asian countries are represented in the mix, along with some creative California blending.
SFWeekly Meredith Brody visits La Suite (100 Brannan Street; 415-593-9000):
I felt secure in choosing La Suite for the final night's meal of my friends Jeff and John's trip to San Francisco because I'd enjoyed my visits to the numerous restaurants operated by its owners, Jocelyn Bulow and Marc-Henri Sempere of Potrero Hill's Chez Papa, Chez Maman, and Baraka (Bulow is also a half-owner in Belden Place's Plouf). La Suite is their latest venture, a French restaurant in the spacious quarters on the Embarcadero that most recently held the Slanted Door.
... The oversized menu offered the four of us (we were joined by my friend Jon) plenty of choice: Under the Franglais heading "Les Appetizers" it listed 16 dishes, plus an unlisted soup of the day, with a dozen more under "Les Plats Principaux." Each description amounted to a recipe ("ahi tuna tartar with almond, capers, citron, and argan oil," the last ingredient a new one on me). But when the clumsily overdecorated plates arrived, there seemed to be even more on them than we had expected. They looked fussy and slightly amateurish.
... My disaffection continued with our main courses, adequate but unexciting renditions of bistro classics, such as a generous rack of lamb (a lofty presentation of three ribs crisscrossed with two, sided with an appealing rendition of the familiar baked tomato topped with Provençale herbs and speared with a branch of thyme) and a still-moist rabbit under a creamy sauce. I wasn't quite sure why my daube of duck leg à l'orange, served on mashed potatoes in a lake of liquid, had salty, untraditional olives added to its sweet sauce, except perhaps to emphasize the orientation of the menu toward Provence.
East Bay Express Jonathan Kauffman visits the new Walnut Creek Breads of India location (1358 N. Main Street, Walnut Creek; 925-256-7684):
Singh repeats the formula he perfected at Breads number one, cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients and changing menus daily. At present, Breads of the Creek lists four permanent entrees, including Coorgi roast pork and tandoori prawns, and five specials. Each comes on a plate with turmeric-gilded rice, a loose split-lentil dal, a small undressed salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and a dab of marvelously rich eggplant pickle.
On the days I visited we saw Punjabi kabobs rubbed in a paste of twenty-plus ingredients; Zoroastrian chicken in cashew-paste, coconut, and saffron curry; and lamb stewed with black pepper and tomato, Lucknow style. The only familiar name, the Anglo-Indian chicken tikka masala, comes across as a concession, though its loving description makes it sound more romantic than the story I prefer to believe, Indian cooks spicing up canned tomato soup to satisfy their pub-crawling customers' demand for "gravy" on their chicken kebabs.
... Meat must bring out the best in Breads of India's cooks -- attierchi theeyal, a Keralan (Southwest Indian) dish of lean, long-simmered lamb, wove together many of the same ingredients mentioned in the vegetarian recipes, but somehow the red meat deepened the cast of their flavors, aided by the earthy aromas of curry (kari) leaves and mustard seeds. The curry leaves stood out more clearly atop a creamy base of ground coconut, onions, poppy seeds, roasted garlic, and spices coating the koli kari, braised free-range chicken.
With a name like Breads of India, the namesake had better be good. Singh once told me that he kept a master list of 160 bread recipes. Standbys like plain naan or chapati show up on the menu as an afterthought. You're really supposed to focus on daily specials like naan sprinkled with black olives or sesame seeds, or whole-wheat parathas (griddled flatbreads) stuffed with fenugreek leaves or seasoned rice. The menu suggests correct breads for each entrée, in fact. The tandoori-baked naans and kulchas lived up to their descriptions -- each the size of a serving platter and light and bubbly, the thinnest edges blackened in the heat of the clay oven, their flavor lightly spiked with the topping. But the stuffed parathas came out tough every time. The thick, rubbery dough absorbed the flavors of its filling.