by Moxye Staff
Ayesha Curry crushed the transition from basketball wife to celebrity lifestyle guru even before she opened International Smoke with chef Michael Mina. And now, she can add acclaimed restaurateur to her long list of accomplishments. The San Francisco barbecue restaurant is a known crowd pleaser, and it’s pleasing some critics, too.
International Smoke debuted in November, and reservations booked up almost immediately, leaving some wondering whether or not it would live up to the hype. See what the critics have to say below, and stay tuned for updates — we’ll incorporate more reviews as they roll in.
The first starred review from a major publication is practically glowing. Restaurant critic Michael Bauer gave International Smoke three out of four stars in the San Francisco Chronicle. He admits he was skeptical of the restaurant because it “seems to go against the grain of what makes San Francisco dining so special” and “plays upon the celebrity of a co-owner who is not a seasoned chef.” But, by the third visit, he writes, “I was a fan.”
Bauer appreciates the restaurant’s diversity, noting that it attracts “one of the most eclectic crowds,” including a mix of Mina acolytes, Ayesha Curry followers, and fans of her basketball player husband Steph Curry. And the food reflects this mix.
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Bauer says the ribs “are some of the best I’ve had in the Bay Area,” while Curry’s cornbread muffins are also “some of the best,” thanks to their “bold flavor and refined texture not far removed from a coffee cake.” Kalua “Instant Bacon” (“steamed buns loaded with the smoky meat, pineapple salsa and teriyaki sauce”) is “one of [his] favorites.” In fact, there was just one disappointing dish among the lot — a Vietnamese barbecue pork chop.
Bauer says the global menu “may make a barbecue purist from Texas, South Carolina, or Tennessee cringe.” Plus, plans to expand the concept, first to Houston, then Florida, Southern California, and Washington, D.C, bring back some of his skepticism. But, for now, Bauer is “all in” on International Smoke, and it would seem, Curry has a new fan.
Eater SF restaurant critic Rachel Levin is also a fan of Curry — just not of her restaurant. Like Bauer, Levin admired the International Smoke’s “globetrotting, multicultural focus, its borders so blissfully wide-open I wouldn’t put it past Trump to swoop in at any minute and order them closed.” But, she writes in her Eater review, “I only wish International Smoke lived up to its promise.”
Despite enjoying a cocktail, the brussels sprouts (“like sticky-sweet bundles of joy”), and the Thai shrimp tom kha, Levin found most menu items underwhelming, including the Bauer-favorite “Instant Bacon,” which she says was “all bun, barely any bacon.” Korean scallion crepes “were flaccid and forgettable,” and far from being some of the best, Levin writes that the sliders “ranked low among all the sliders I’ve enjoyed in my life.”
The service was also a problem. On Levin’s visits, staff “seemed sort of miserable, mechanical, hoping to just get through their night rather than help us enjoy ours.” Ultimately, International Smoke “played more like a muted, Epcot imitation fit more for an Anywhere USA mall than a sophisticated food city.” She gives it one out of a possible four stars.
Peter Lawrence Kane had a much better time at Curry’s restaurant. He writes in his review for SF Weekly, “International Smoke is, above all else, fun. Forty-five dollar entrees or not, every time I went in, I steeled myself for a level of nouveau-riche tech-bro nonsense that never materialized.” The biggest problem, according to the review, wasn’t food or service, but “the occasional emphasis on flash over substance.”
Although, most menu items were “excellent,” a few “had a severe paucity of flavor.” And some of the dishes arrived with a smoke-filled dome that, according to Kane, didn’t always serve a purpose. The polarizing “Instant Bacon” was one such dish, and Kane describes it as “meek, a total eclipse of the hearth.”
The excellent items at International Smoke encompass both “whimsy and experimentation” and the “full-portioned seriousness” more characteristic of Mina. Kane writes that the oysters “had the best nose of any Oysters Rockefeller I’ve ever tasted,” and the smoked rib tip mac ’n’ cheese was “like an extraterrestrial ambassador from Planet Holyfuckingshit here to school the earthlings in how it’s really done.” He concludes, “for a social media-savvy collab, this one isn’t blowing smoke.”