Cafe Majestic, San Francisco

When you enter the quaint Majestic Hotel in Pacific Heights, the first thing that comes to mind it “Am I in the right place?” The oldest hotel in San Francisco (built in 1902) features a picturesque Edwardian lobby that seems to hide decades of stories and secrets behind its walls. In fact, the legend goes that the building is haunted by a resident ghost; the daughter of the first owner that refused to leave the building after it was sold.

The restaurant recently reopened after extensive restoration. I got in a few minutes before my reservation and decided to get a drink. The old-style mahogany bar proudly displays a brand new plasma TV surrounded by monogrammed mirrors and liquor bottles. But this is no sports bar, instead of the NCAA finals, old black and white movies played on the big screen. Around the room, covering all walls, are a series of shadow box frames featuring hundreds of pinned butterflies categorized by all colors and sizes. A slightly eerie ambience, kind of Indiana Jones meets Silence of the lambs. Our table was ready.

The long dining room is set with wall-to-wall booths with u-shaped sofas. There’s plenty of space between tables which, combined with the dimly lit setting, give the restaurant an intimate atmosphere. But everything here is formal. White linen tablecloth, silverware, glassware, upholstery; all celebrate tradition. So do the patrons. All around us, old school San Francisco habitués in their finest evening attire.

The wait staff is knowledgeable and well trained. Our waiter was prompt to offer drinks and eloquently respond to our questions on the short yet elaborated menu.

The meal

Dinner started with an amuse bouche. Olive oil poached Louisiana white shrimp with pea shoots. There was a welcome combination of heat from the spices and brightness brought in by the pea shoots. Unfortunately, the olive oil poaching seemed to have been excessive leaving the shrimp somewhat mushy and bland.

As and appetizer, I went with the waiter’s recommendation. The Cream of mushroom soup, served covered by a golden brown puff pastry that begged to be cracked. The soup was really good; creamy and rich in flavor. Mixed in with sliced black trumped and Hen of the woods mushrooms, cooked perfectly. The puff pastry, on the other hand, lacked the crunchy, flaky texture you’d expect to balance the creamy soup. It was gooey and heavy. (Truth is, it’s hard to beat Jeanty at Jacks’ puff pastry covered tomato soup).

As main course, I ordered the Pan seared day boat scallops. Sunchoke puree, mushroom ragout, salume picante, mizuna, green garlic. The scallops were fresh and well cooked but the other six ingredients were overwhelming. Nothing was bad individually, quite the contrary. But the dish suffered of excessive combination of flavors. A cream sauce, presumably from the mushroom ragout, was unnecessarily heavy. Topping the scallops was a strange choice of presentation. An “afro” mizuna salad that was like the cherry on top of the overdone cake.

For dessert, well, I just couldn’t handle dessert. I don’t remember the last time I passed on a sweet ending to a meal but the soup and scallops were enough to leave me uncomfortably full.

In short

Dining at Cafe Majestic is an interesting back-in-time experience. The moment you walk in you’re immediately transported to an older, exclusive San Francisco. Worth the visit on that alone. The food is good but excessive. All it needed was to be more delicate and it would be great. Just remember, don’t order the soup if you want to make room for dessert.

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