Mission Beach Cafe, San Francisco

I could tell something was off the moment we walked into Mission Beach Cafe for a Sunday brunch. The following is an account of a series of unfortunate events.

After reading about its award for Best brunch in San Francisco 7x7 magazine, I called the restaurant to get a table for the next day. The attendant responded that although they didn’t take brunch reservations, I could show up at 11, when they started serving food. Before that, according to him, it was only coffee and pastries. In an attempt to beat the crowds (I don’t know how many people read 7x7), I decided to arrive some time in advance.

The small dining room was already full when we got there at 10:30am. And, to my surprise, diners seemed to be already halfway through their meals. What happened to start serving food at 11am?

Only one small table was open, by the entrance, next to the sugar and cream counter. Better than nothing.

Three people buzzed around the tables taking orders, serving customers, busing dishes and coordinating the kitchen; all at once. They acted bewildered, like ants that had lost their lead. Or, as I later learned, like waiters that had lost their cook. Despite my constant attempts to get the wait staff’s attention, it took about six minutes for someone to show up.

When I asked for the menu, the waiter responded “No menu, just here”, pointing to his forehead. He then recited the only four options available; all egg dishes. After we placed our order, a stack of pancakes passed by. Wait, why wasn’t that an option before? A minute later, another waiter showed up panting to take our order again. Thirty-five minutes passed before our food arrived. By then, the coffee (brewed extremely strong that day) had turned lukewarm.

The service nightmare was so bad it barely let us enjoy our food. Truth is, my eggs benedict was actually great. Maybe even worthy of a second chance. When we were leaving the restaurant, one of the owners offered his sincere apology. Things were clearly abnormal that day.

Let’s try this again
(Readers may disregard all previous statements.)

Located at the corner of Guerrero and 14th street, Mission Bay Cafe’s all-glass façade is an invitation to step in. Inside though, the bright dining room feels almost too modern for a neighborhood eatery. Solid wood tables and slim chairs upholstered in sand-colored suede fill the white-walled space. Large framed photographs of a rusted ironworks warehouse contribute to the aloof appearance. Outside, a crowd of habitués waits patiently for a table. A good selection of freshly baked pastries offers those who can’t wait, the opportunity to take breakfast to go.

When we arrived at 10:15am, all tables for two were already taken but a few four tops remained open. The waiter told us we could sit but he would have to move us to the counter if a larger party arrived. Despite the unexpected comment, service was considerably better the second time around.

The menu

The brunch menu (as it happens they do have a menu) has a very appetizing selection of egg dishes, sandwiches, sides and sweets. The type that makes you want to try a few different things. A couple of specials were added by our waiter, enthusiastically described as the contributions from the newly hired chef.

The meal

Compared to most dinner menus, brunch is usually a much simpler fare. However, many restaurants sin by not giving it the proper attention. The result is often disappointing or simply unremarkable (Chez Papa Resto). In my two visits to Mission Beach Cafe, the food was impeccable. Thoughtfully conceived and perfectly prepared. With a similar level of care and talent found at NYC’s Prune.

One of the best dishes on the menu is the Dungeness crab benedict, house made garlic English muffin, avocado, poached egg, lemon hollandaise. In this refreshing variation of the classic, the lush hollandaise is contrasted by the brightness of the lemon and guacamole. Despite the unappealing black plate presentation, everything was tasty and perfectly cooked.

The Scramble of the day was made with shitake and crimini mushrooms, goat cheese and served with the restaurant’s signature potatoes. It’s not often you eat perfectly cooked scrambled eggs in a restaurant, it’s usually either too runny or too dry. But this one was flawless. Soft and moist, mixed with a generous portion of also perfectly cooked mushrooms and finely chopped parsley. There was a bit too much goat cheese but besides that, it’s a very tasty dish.

A more hearty option is the House made empanada of the day, 2 fried eggs, MBC potatoes. Filled with ground beef & spinach when I tried it, and wrapped on flaky golden brown pastry, the empanadas are very filling and flavorful.

Coffee is from Blue Bottle, my favorite for its taste and consistency in the preparation (Blue Bottle trained baristas are serious about their craft). Individually dripped and skillfully prepared cappuccinos and lates are available. Unlike in the first visit, brewing was great the second time around.

In short

Like Maverick, Mission Beach Café offers an inventive take on the traditional brunch fare. The food is flavorful and flawlessly prepared. The coffee is from Blue Bottle, quite simply the best you can get. In San Francisco, this is a hard brunch to beat. So much so that you may even overlook a few service mishaps.

Mission Beach Cafe is at 198 Guerrero St.
Online reservations


lowercase said...

its great you gave it another go. sometimes a hunch can be a little more than just a hunch...

Christianita Mexicanita Gringuita said...

i used to work busy brunches in NYC and i know that sometimes its just really hard to be a great waiter on a sunday morning (people are way crankier before their morning coffee), the good thing is that you gave it a second chance and it turned out not to be so bad

Louis said...

My goodness, it's not just brunch. I just ate a weekday lunch there. The best chicken salad i ever ate and a slice of chocolate cream pie that vied for that distinction.