Tag Archives: salad

Mission Beach Café

This one’s gonna be a toughie, friends.

I want to rave about Mission Beach Café. I really do. For starters, I had a fantastic evening there. (But I suspect that had to do with the company.) And I have to give them huge props for offering a vegetarian entrée that wasn’t risotto. But.

But.

My friend ordered the Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad with Basil, Feta, and Sherry Vinaigrette. I ordered Heirloom Tomato Salad with English Cucumbers, Goat Cheese and Mustard Croutons. Sounds like two very different salads, right? Well, not so much. When they arrived, they looked exactly the same. I’m talking Mary Kate and Ashley here, in the Full House days, when they played the same freakin’ baby. The plating was identical, down to the croutons and the cheese crumbles. That seemed weird to me. I mean, they were offering two dishes that would inevitably be served together at some point during the evening. Why plate them up like twins? Literally, we wondered if they’d messed up the order and served us the same thing. And for both of them, the flavor was meh. Not bad, just meh.

Now for the entrée. Again—and I can’t stress this enough—mad points for trying. Like, I’d eat one hundred somewhat failed attempts at something interesting for every risotto in this town. They served up Wild Mushroom Corn Crepes with Spinach, Ricotta, Pine Nuts and Brown Butter. Rather inexplicably topped with a big heap of salad. Was it decent? Totally. Was it worth eating again? Mmmm, probably not.

Oh, man, I feel guilty now. All I do is bitch, bitch, bitch about the lack of interesting vegetarian options. Then when I get one, I’m not satisfied. But people—that’s how you know I care. That’s how know you can trust me. If you ask me, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” I’m going to tell you. That way, on the days when you look really hot, you won’t think I’m buttering you up. Deal?

One final note. We opted for the Coconut Cream Raspberry Pie. It was Coconut Cream Pie with a few raspberries poked on top. I dunno. Kinda felt like a cop out.

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Opaque: Dining in the Dark

It’s the year 2028. We’ve finally got our jet packs and Golden Retrievers rule the Earth as benevolent dictators. At a futuristic cocktail party (where blue fizzing drinks are served by robots) someone mentions the notion of dark dining.

“Dear Lord,” exclaims the hostess—a woman who’s likely wearing a shiny, silver mini-dress. “Dark dining is soooo 2008.”

Isn’t it, though? A few years ago, I’d never heard of dark dining. This year, it’s everywhere. Is it a fad, or a movement that’s here to stay?

Judging from the food at Opaque, I’d vote fad.

But let me back up a bit.

Dark dining is just what it sounds like, though nothing can really prepare you for the experience itself. (Which is far better than the meal, and almost worth the cost.) Literally, your food is served in a pitch-black, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front of your face dining room. Some servers are visually impaired, others are not.

The experience begins in a softly lit antechamber. Diners choose from a set menu, with chicken, beef, fish and vegetarian choices. You can elect to be surprised, or to read a description of the individual components of your meal.

The front staff communicates with the wait staff via headsets. When it’s time to be seated, your server appears at the door to the dining room. You’re encouraged to grab on to your server’s shoulders, form a sort of conga line, and head into the darkness.

This is the point at which I became terrified.

How big was the room? Who else was in it? Was there a gaping chasm plummeting to a pit of boiling lava just to the left of my feet? I had no idea. And it really threw me for a loop, which was an incredible learning experience.

Our server—who, for the record, was sweet, patient, and very good at her job—led us to our table. She described the table setting in detail, and helped us get seated. The sound of my own voice felt deafening in the blackness. It took me quite a while to adjust. For the first few minutes, I was so disoriented, I couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

Then the giggling set in.

Ian, one of my very favorite coworkers, got us started by earnestly whispering, “Quiet, you guys. You’ll wake mom and dad.” From that point on, it was all over. It was like someone had left the nitrous tank unscrewed in the corner.

We started with an amuse bouche—a goat cheese filled tomato that was actually pretty good. (Set on a spoon that was, in turn, set on a plate, it was relatively easy to eat. Good starter food.)

Then our salads arrived. Imagine passing a salad down the table to your friend in absolute darkness. Childhood trust issues tend to arise. You also get the opportunity to discover what your neighbor’s hands feel like. I lucked out sitting next to my other beloved coworker, Isabela. She’s very soft.

Anyhoo, the salad course was a letdown. Passable, but wholly unremarkable. No need to belabor the point.

Trying to refill one’s wine glass in the dark, however—very fun. (More giggling ensued.)

Between the salad and main course, we were offered crudités with three different dips. We opted to stay in the dark (har har) about their origins, but quickly worked out the list: Roasted red pepper, wasabi aioli, and curry were the flavors du jour. Many a finger entered the dip. Which was, once again, a source of much schoolgirl giggle-age.

My Pasta Primavera was fine, in a middle-American wedding banquet sort of way. But here’s the thing. My three course meal—salad, entrée, and dessert—was $99.00. For 99 bucks I expect something, well, nice. The experience of being in the dark was incredible, but the food was a complete disappointment. Just imagine how amazing it would be to enjoy a delicious meal in the dark—how the flavors might pop with your senses heightened. I dunno. I imagined something akin to auto-erotic asphyxiation. But nothing popped for me. It just fizzled. Sigh.

So anyway. Mango panna cotta. Blah, blah, blah. (Yeah, I know it’s got gelatin in it. I just couldn’t hack another flourless chocolate cake, you dig?)

All in all, I had a great time. But it was the pure entertainment and education value that drove the evening. Would I recommend it? Sure. Go once. It’s an incredible exercise in empathy and a fun experience to share with friends. Still, if dark dining is survive into the teen years of the century, the folks at Opaque have gotta step up the chow. Otherwise, there’s no reason for a return visit.

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Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant

Here’s a word of warning: When you go to enter Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant, march straight ahead and open the wide glass door. Don’t make the same mistake I did—which was to stare at the broad expanse of glass, figure it must be a window, then try to enter the restaurant through the locked storefront entrance on the left. The lesson here? Sometimes beautiful design can make you feel stupid.

Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant feels like the hipster loft of your imaginary friend who writes for Wallpaper and listens to nothing but Hotchip. Cool in both senses of the word.

The food was average, verging on pretty damn good. The Pear and Cheese appetizer—Roquefort served with Caramelized Pear, Hazelnuts, Mache and Black Pepper Gastrique—was a nice way to start. I moved on to the Roasted Parsnip Soup with Maple Syrup and Walnuts, which was apparently vegan, and quite well-balanced. The walnuts gave the soup a nice bit of heft. Then I opted for a salad instead of a pizza or the solitary vegetarian entrée, which was a Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage and Brown Butter. (Thankfully, my friend went for the ravioli and I got to mooch some. The sage was fried and tasty as all get out, and the brown butter was done just right.)

Here’s the mysterious thing, though. None of Local’s salads are vegetarian. The Butter and Watercress comes with Bacon. The Ceasar with obvious Anchovies. The Nicoise with the usual Tuna, and the Boquerones and Shaved Fennel, well, with Boquerones (anchovies with a fancy-pants name). Bummer. I chose the Fennel, sans fishies, and hoped for the best. Usually, leaving out a key ingredient—especially one that adds so much punch—is a recipe for disaster. But my salad turned out pretty swell without the sardines. Its Orange Segments, Sherry Vinaigrette and Roasted Pistachios stood on their own, all bright and smiley with citrus.

The Tomato and Basil Pizza was a bit of a disappointment. (Especially in a town where places like Pizzeria Delfina have set the bar at a staggering height.) Maybe we would’ve had more luck with the Roasted Mushroom and Green Olive Pizza. Who knows? I’m sure I’ll back to test that theory. If not for the food, then at least their lengthy selection of wines by the glass. Mamma needs her vino, no two ways about it.

I know a lot of folks here in San Francisco like to bitch about our sudden flush of wine bars, but me, I couldn’t be happier. Like, if someone rigged a Foam Dome with two Riedel glasses and a couple of curly straws, I’d be first in line to buy one. Does that make me an alcoholic?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

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