When two cuisines are better than one
Top Hatters San Leandro, Calif.
Chef DanVy Vu isn’t afraid to do things her own way, said Soleil Ho in the San Francisco Chronicle. When she makes spaghetti at home, a splash of fish sauce goes in with the tomatoes, just for the extra umami punch. “You do that when you understand ingredients like those intimately,” and Vu’s Cal-Vietnamese menu at her first restaurant reflects the same sensibility. Top Hatters Kitchen and Bar occupies a former hat shop a short walk from where Vu and her husband live, and “to be honest, it doesn’t have to be this good.” But the couple has dressed the space in cool dark-blues, created cocktails that fit the cooking, and trusted diners to recognize Vu’s unforced artistry. She’ll brighten braised oxtail and grits with orange gremolata. She’ll pair roti and pickled fennel. She’ll pan-sear branzino and plate it with roasted corn in a lemon-caper-butter sauce that “tastes the way a beam of sunlight can warm a tiny patch of the ocean.” And I haven’t even mentioned her sweet and savory doughnuts or my favorite dish: seared rice cake garlanded with shaved fennel, dried shrimp, and slices of Chinese sausage. 855 MacArthur Blvd., (510) 777-9777
Maison Yaki Brooklyn
Greg Baxtrom’s unlikely new venture might be called a cross between a French bistro and a Japanese yakitori spot, and “most of the time, it’s a darn good one,” said Ryan Sutton in Eater.com. Set in Prospect Heights across the street from Baxtrom’s forever-packed Olmsted, Maison Yaki invites its drop-in diners to order cocktails and play a game of pétanque in the rear yard as they wait for tables. You can snack outside on a beef tongue–katsu sandwich or a skewer of trumpet mushrooms, and really, table dining merely makes it easier to compose a full meal from similar sub-$10 bites. You’ll recognize the bistro influence, because Baxtrom’s snails are still snails, just with an “anise-y” shot of shiso butter. The kitchen shows greater mastery over its French sauces than with its Japanese grill, but that art takes time. And already, the chicken-wing skewers are a “textural masterpiece,” with silky flesh underneath a skin so crisp it “shatters like the top of a crème brûlée.” 626 Vanderbilt Ave., (718) 552-2609
Maybe it’s all for the best that Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann no longer run an Indian food stall, said Daliah Singer in The Denver Post. Ever since the couple closed Namkeen, their acclaimed Zeppelin Station outpost, Reddy has given their cozy Italian restaurant a lift by adding more Indian touches to the menu. “It’s not fusion,” though, “it’s just Reddy and her team cooking what she knows and loves.” A meal thus might start with antipasti and a Negroni composed with a house-made aperitivo, followed by elk tartare that “leans Eastern,” spiced as it is with masala, ginger, and carom seeds. Reddy still hand-cranks all her pastas, but fettuccine now gets an infusion of turmeric and chile, and the al dente noodles are tossed with braised Colorado lamb cured in an “intoxicating” spice blend. You should try it with friends; “it’s food that you’ll want to talk about.” 2639 W. 32nd Ave., (303) 433-0949 ■