Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dish on Dining: Mission Beach Café

An Urbane Café in the Sun-Drenched Mission
198 Guerrero St. (at 14th), San Francisco
Mission-Dolores neighborhood
PH: 415.861.0198
Lunch, Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner, Tues.–Sun., 5:30–10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday); brunch, weekends. Closed for dinner on Monday. Pastry shop opens early daily.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted.

This is a first for me: a review of a restaurant that I ate at in two different years. Follow along, will you?

In the last few days of 2007, I ventured to the Mission-Dolores neighborhood to meet my friend Sylvia for lunch. Sylvia used to live in San Francisco but last year moved to my old neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York. So when she came home for the holidays to visit family, I thought we should try a place that we both haven’t been to yet.

While Mission Beach Café is nearly one year old, we both never visited this bakery/café/restaurant. It’s actually not in the heart of the Mission District with all the other new and happening restaurants, but instead is closer to Market Street in what may be considered the start of the Mission.

While a small restaurant with a definite café feel in the afternoons (you can see people with their laptops sitting inside), it is also a very handsome room. I say “handsome” because it has a strong masculine feel with the dark wood floors and clean lines of the contemporary furnishings, which is probably the influence of partner Bill Clarke, who once owned a furniture store in the same spot.

On a sunny day (which is pretty common for the Mission District east of the fog belt known as Twin Peaks), this handsome room looks bigger and is filled with warmth and light, accentuating its classic, refined style. All this boggles my mind, however, because the food at Mission Beach Café is more bakery and café-like instead of the sophisticated restaurant that the décor seems to be selling.

The food underscores the pastry background of chef/owner Alan Carter. There’s a whole pastry counter up front and many of the dishes reflect this upscale, California comfort food.

For example, for my lunch with Sylvia I ordered the Beach Burger ($11.50). It wasn’t just a regular burger, but one with grass-fed beef, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and gouda. (It also came with a big side of French fries, which I forgot to substitute with a salad because I don’t like to eat fried foods.)

The burger itself was straightforward, although it had this nice salted tang to its edges that I liked. I had mines sans the onions and it was filling, but nothing spectacular. The fries were hit and miss. Some fries tasted nicely golden and crisp, while other pieces were a bit undercooked.

Sylvia got the house flatbread ($10), which changes every day. On this day, it was topped with chicken-apple sausage, Midnight Moon cheese and a pesto sauce. The flatbread is a huge order for one person, and while the thin crust is nice, Sylvia felt the pesto was a bit too much. (She was still tasting the pesto after we walked several blocks to Bi-Rite Creamery for some salted caramel ice cream, of course.)

We both also ordered the soup of the day ($3.50 for a cup), which was a sweet potato bisque with lime, chile and cilantro. I thought it was nice and full body and like the slight tang of lime, but Sylvia wasn’t impressed. (BTW, Sylvia is a great eating partner because she has a much better memory of ingredients in dishes than me!)

We left feeling mixed about Mission Beach Café. The food was interesting but it didn’t wow us in either taste or execution. I wondered if maybe it was the holiday season? Or maybe it was the lunch shift?

Because I couldn’t decide, I came back to the café myself for dinner in 2008. (Actually, last night on the second day of the year.)

The room looked even more sophisticated at night with the dim, ambient lighting casting a warm glow against the stylish furnishings. I sat at the bar (the café has a fun bar at the center of the room and a more casual wooden bar up alongside the window) in the center of the room and ordered a glass of Zinfandel after I eyed the Braised Rabbit Pot Pie ($18) on the menu.

Since I already decided on the pot pie and I was still feeling heavy from days of eating holiday baked goods, I started with the simple house salad ($7.50), which was a plate of mixed greens with slices of Bartlett pears, dried cranberries, roasted pecan bits all dressed in a cider vinaigrette.

My pot pie came in a bowl that was covered with the flaky crust, a specialty of Chef Carter. The crust was delicious and smelled of buttery goodness. The pie inside was a mix of braised meat with mushrooms, peas, carrots and Yukon potatoes. It was all very comforting and filling, although the overall taste of the filling itself again failed to excite me.

I finished my dinner with a slice of the banana butterscotch cream pie. (I know, I should have ordered their famous cannele.) This was definitely the influence of my server, who was so friendly and helpful that I fell for his arguments to try the banana butterscotch cream pie. While it was good and filled with banana, it lacked any cream topping (other than a few decorative streaks of cream on top) and I didn’t get a strong butterscotch flavor, either. But after the pot pie and the slice of pie, I was definitely done for the night.

Mission Beach Café has a handsome room and friendly service that play off the neighborhood feel of this restaurant, but the food doesn’t necessarily rise to the level to make people travel farther than the nearby Castro or Mission to dine here. It’s comforting and satisfactory instead of sophisticated and innovative. Sometimes maybe that’s all you need to start off the year.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (nice place to hangout)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Mission Beach Cafe in San Francisco

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mmm I love potpies in the wintertime, although potpie and then pie is a little lopsided on the pastries chef ben! looks like a nice spot.