In the wake of last year's closings, at the beginning of the year I began reflecting on those neighborhood spots or classic restaurants we often forget are there but don't want to lose. From time to time, I share reviews of places we'd do well to re-visit... or get to for the first time. They might be receiving a fresh infusion of flavor from recent chef or menu changes, or remain noteworthy, despite floods of new openings and (over)hyped hot spots.
Mission Beach Cafe, aka MBC, a welcoming corner restaurant many go to for brunch or incredible baked goods and Blue Bottle coffee in the morning, has maintained a rare level of quality through a handful of chef changes. I am amazed at how delicious dinners here remain: from chef Thomas Martinez (see my 2009 review at The Perfect Spot) to heartwarming Pot Pie Tuesdays. For about six months, they've had a new chef, Trevor Ogden, who most recently worked at Umami, at the now defunct Frisson and with Stephanie Izzard in Chicago. Though young, like former Chef Martinez, there's inventive maturity in Ogden's work.
A recent visit yielded literally one pleasurable dish after the other:
- MBC has thankfully kept their killer flatbread of the day ($14) on the menu. Ogden prepared ours with a goat gouda infused with hops (yes, you heard right), layered with crisp corn, caramelized ramps, chicken and two pepper purees (red pepper and padron).
- One of the stand-outs in a stand-out meal, is tea-smoked albacore tuna ($14) topped with quail eggs, caviar, chili creme fraiche and dotted with crispy lemon-saffron risotto. A visual work of art and a lightly seductive pleasure to the palate.
- Mixed baby lettuces ($10) are shaped into bowl cupping mounds of avocado, red spring onions, toybox tomatoes, herbed tofu and walnuts in a creamy cabernet vinaigrette.
Artful smokes and grilled Hodo tofu
- I'm so not a vegetarian, but one of two vegetarian entrees was a favorite of mine: smoked and grilled Hodo tofu ($17) is in good company with zucchini, toybox summer squash, eggplant, grilled corn and forbidden black rice. A little sweet comes in the form of strawberries and strawberry rhubarb glaze.
- Organic pork tenderloin ($23) is comforting with roasted German butterball potatoes, cipollini onions, baby carrots and sugar snap peas. But when it's cooked in rosemary brown butter and drizzled with white peach pork jus, it's downright luxurious.
- Pan-seared branzino ($25) arrives stacked over shaved fennel, summer squash and pea tendrils. The fish is delicate but the skin adds crisp and saltiness. Most addictive is the Vidalia onion/Yukon gold soubise and tomato-lemon verbena broth accenting the dish.
- Those truffle fries resting under shaved parmesan ($5) are as fabulous as they ever were.
- Alan Carter holds the crown of pastry chef extraordinaire and his pies ($6.50-7 a slice) are still mama's home cooking and a long-awaited holiday rolled into one. It's like coming home to his banana butterscotch cream or chocolate pecan pies, but I was especially entranced with my beloved rhubarb (thank you, summer!) in his strawberry rhubarb pie.
Alan Carter's magnificent pies