Oysters on the Half Shell, Asparagus Appetizer, Medjool Date Cake with Whipped Rice Cream
Occupation: Radio Personality
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mecca SF
Reviewed Mecca SF: Sunday, September 17, 2006
Casual sophistication is how I would describe Mecca. It is a favorite because when I go out I like to be treated like a star. If I want to be just another guy off the street, I can go to Subway, but the environment and service at Mecca makes me feel a little like a rock star. And the really great thing about this space is that you could walk in there wearing a tuxedo or a Holy Grail print t-shirt and jeans and feel right in place. I’ve had sophisticated small parties that order caviar and champagne as well as rock-and-roll nights where we got rowdy at the bar.
And the bar is what makes Mecca stand out. With an extensive list of specialty drinks including my favorite, the Bloody Bellini (a mixture of frozen Bellini and Chambord), the bar offers unique mixes like the BB, a Pomegranate Margarita, or a Raspberry Mojito. The oblong bar is always full on weekends with friendly attentive bartenders. One thing that adds to Mecca’s magic is that it is one of the very few fine-dining establishments that I can think of where you can find cozy tables and candlelight dinners before a raucous drag show or a hot DJ set. They also have specialty nights that cater to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, but this restaurant in the Castro is a perfect mix of gay and straight.
Former Food & Wine Magazine Chef of the Year, Randy Lewis, recently took over the reins of the Mecca kitchen, keeping some staples but putting his own stamp on the menu. On my last visit, I enjoyed a buttery piece of sole with a great pea purée and asparagus on the side. The oysters are always a good starter and I love that the knowledgeable server will pick out the best ones of the night just for you. You can also get those oysters for a $1 each during happy hour with a nice cocktail to wash them down.
I love the fact that I can go to Mecca for a fine-dining experience and get it without feeling like I can’t get a little tipsy and holler for a friend across the bar. If you want to go where everybody knows your name, check out this place a couple of times and you will soon be a regular.
Occupation: Part-time Caterer
Location: Walnut Creek
Favorite Restaurant: El Jarro
Reviewed Mecca SF: Saturday, September 23, 2006
I don’t want to waste time writing a review with poetic words and descriptions. Here it is in plain English. We started our dining experience with shrimp cocktail and a half lobster with bagna cauda. Since I was in the mood for white wine I asked our food server for a recommendation. He said I should drink a red; did I ask for a red? When our first course arrived, we found the shrimp cocktail to be quite tasty; the lobster dish consisted of a claw and a scrawny tail, which was overcooked and tough. The claw was much better. Unfortunately the bagna cauda was flavorless; it was like dipping the lobster into inexpensive olive oil. But we figured we were off to an ok start.
We ordered the lamb loin with couscous and the chicken ballotine. Our entrees arrived and the lamb was not only well presented, it tasted wonderful; medium- rare, tender. The couscous wasn’t worth finishing — it didn’t have any flavor. Now for the highlight of our evening. Before I go on, I should have mentioned that the restaurant is very dark inside, I felt like I was eating in a bar that serves food instead of dining in a restaurant that has received rave reviews. Back to my dining experience. My chicken ballotine arrived on a cold plate. I took a small bite and couldn’t figure out why it was so chewy. I cut it open and spread it out. I brought the votive candle closer so I could get a better look. Are you ready? It was raw! Not just a little pink, it was red, raw, and gross. I asked our food server to return it to the kitchen and explained why. Believe me when I say I got a less than heartfelt apology. Eventually my dinner arrived, cooked. It was just ok.
The evening was (almost) saved by dessert. We ordered the medjool date cake, and I chose their recommendation for the dessert wine. The cake was warm and wonderful, topped with a whipped rice cream. After finishing our dessert, our food server stopped by to inform me that they were out of the dessert wine I had chosen. Since I had just finished a heavenly dessert, I was so content I didn’t care. I said, laughingly “Well it must not be my day,” to which he responded “Well I haven’t had such a great day either” and with that he turned on his heels and walked away. Are you kidding me?! I was given a wine recommendation I didn’t want, I was served raw chicken, and they were out of the wine they recommended with the date cake. He didn’t even bother to ask if there was anything else I would like in its place. Unbelievable!!
In my humble opinion Mecca isn’t worth the money you spend (and you will spend!) when you consider the quality of food, the portion size, and the lack of good service. Even if it were located right next door, I wouldn’t go back. A restaurant of this caliber should not have an off night and should never serve raw chicken. Oh, and don’t expect an apology for their mistakes, it’s not going to happen. If you decide to go, do take a flashlight — it’s so dark you can’t appreciate the presentation of your food and you’ll want to make sure your food is cooked properly.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Maria Manso World Cuisine
Reviewed Mecca SF: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
I used OpenTable.com to book a reservation for Tuesday night. That was convenient, but turns out, not really needed for a weeknight. You could have pitched a rock through the place without hitting anyone. That being said, we were seated at what I would have thought was a bit of a “use last” table.
Our initial impression was that the staff seemed friendly and professional; I did not detect any attitude from the staff. In fact, I was generally pretty impressed with our waiter. He was friendly without being intrusive, and was very familiar with the items on the menu. Good thing, that, because the menu is pretty esoteric. The items were listed by ingredient only, often apparently for the shock value. (i.e. Douglas Fir in or on the Chicken ???!) The menu does not really describe the food very well, but our waiter gave it his best shot.
First thought once the apps arrived: This is NOT a restaurant for big appetites. I know there’s a market for this kind of place; I am just not part of it, although I have been in many of the priciest restaurants around. My dining companion is a former five-star hotel concierge and so has sampled even more of them than I. We both felt the price/value calculation comes up short for Mecca. It’s not really just an issue with the food quantity, it was also an issue with the food’s quality. The asparagus appetizer, for example, was about two tablespoons of shaved asparagus with some ham and a soft-boiled whole egg. It was hard to even identify the taste of the title ingredient in the dish. The foie gras was extremely delicately presented and was not heavy. (It, too, was a really small portion.)
We selected the pork and the duck entrees. The pork was superior to the duck. Really, for $30, six silver-dollar-sized medallions of duck with a single small potato and five miniscule carrot sticks were a little hard to accept with a straight face. We both found the sides with the pork much more in keeping with the echelon of restaurant in which Mecca is attempting to belong. My friend thought the duck was a bit too fatty; I thought the pork was.
They clearly spend a lot of time and energy in presentation, and it works pretty well. I though the pork’s plating was unfortunate: it looked to me like the pork had slid off the plate and was then replaced. The entree course did take a bit too long after the apps were finished. Our waiter remained attentive, but I generally fault a kitchen when the food takes too long.
In a word, Mecca is overpriced. I was very surprised to see one of the booths repaired with electrical tape. (Maybe that’s a cheap shot, but at these prices…) It is refreshing that the floor staff was so good and not at all snooty, but for this kind of money, Farallon is a better bet in my book.