I really hate when restaurant owners complain about bad reviews, because unless your food is atrocious, good customer service can usually turn things around.
Some friends and I recently ate dinner at Chef Sean McTiernan’s current endeavor, Mason Pacific, an upscale bistro wedged against the northern base of Nob Hill and just a few blocks from the Russian one. It’s one of those intersections where the hustle and bustle of Chinatown fades into a predominantly white, wealthy, and Italian-kitsch few blocks of a residential neighborhood where parking is nearly impossible. The faint hum of cable car cords beneath the street frantically whistled as we pulled up to the restaurant’s valet at 7:29pm on the dot for our 7:30pm reservation, and we skipped inside; hungry and full of anticipation.
“I’m sorry, but your table isn’t ready just yet,” the hostess said, with a smile and sideways tilt to her head, “but if you’d like to have a seat at one of the tables outside, you’re more than welcome to have a drink or two while you wait.”
With the bar crowded and the restaurant as small as it is, we figured it better to brave the cold outside, rather than feel out of place inside. So we took one of the tables on the sidewalk and waited patiently to be summoned.
It was almost 8:00pm and our table still wasn’t ready. The buzz from the cable car cords had become white noise and my fingers were numb. A perfectly good table in the restaurant’s front window was empty, and had been since we arrived, which was frustrating, because our group would have looked perfectly chic sitting there. But apparently they were holding it for some poor schmuck planning to propose to his girlfriend. Which is a pretty excuse for not giving us the table, but after 45 minutes of waiting for our table, they should have given it to us, because the guy can get down on one knee in the bar just fine. But alas, the table’s plush and comfy looking banquet seats taunted us through the glass as we sat in the chilly breeze of a typical San Francisco summer evening. Suddenly I saw some movement in the corner of my eye, and was excited to see the hostess approaching.
“Great! Our table’s ready.” I said, scooting my chair back so I could get up.
“I’m sorry, but I just came out to tell you we’re still waiting for a few guests to pay their bills. It’s gonna be a few more minutes” She said, apologizing, and then turned to walk away.
Another ten minutes passed and we were pissed. Not only were we hungry and cold, but what’s the point of having a reservation if the restaurant isn’t going to honor it?
And that’s when Mason Pacific’s true colors shone through. The manager came outside with a complimentary octopus appetizer and side of crispy potato skins as a peace offering. And boy-o-boy did it work! Restaurants screw up all the time….long waits for food, delays in getting seated, food can be under cooked, over cooked, or even tasteless. Any variety of variables can ruin a diner’s experience, and what so many restaurants fail to understand, is that it’s so easy to make up for it with free food! That’s it! That’s all it takes!
The moment we got that grilled octopus and cheesy potato skins, we’d forgotten about the long wait and were immediately focused on the awesome gesture. The potential loss of repeat business, and/or a damaging single star on Yelp, is what Mason Pacific’s manager so shrewdly prevented with those two comp’d dishes—and that’s all it took!
So listen up restaurants; fine or casual. Assume you’re going to screw up. Whether it’s something you’re responsible or not. Just know that a complimentary dessert, appetizer, a cocktail or just a glass of the house red, can turn your diners’ frowns upside down.
Mason and Pacific
The food at Mason Pacific was delicious and since we were eating there soon after it opened, I’m assuming they had a few operational kinks to iron out. Kudos to the managing team, for understanding the importance of making their guests feel comfortable and cared for. Here’s what we had on a recent visit.
Crispy feta with peas and fava beans. This chunk of feta cheese is lightly breaded and fried and it’s salty goodness pairs well with the sweetness of the peas and fava beans puree.
Grilled octopus with a garlic yogurt, Soppressata, and a shaved fennel salad. The octopus was cooked perfectly (not too chewy) and wasn’t too briny. This dish was excellent!
Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, truffle buerre fondue, egg mi cuit, parmesan, and chives. This dish was fantastic! “Mi cuit” is literally French for “half-cooked” is a fancy way of saying they put a poached egg on top.
And before eating, we pricked the egg with our fork and gently mixed the yolk into the fresh pasta and mushrooms adding another layer of creaminess to the dish. C’est magnifique!
Fazzoletti pasta with halibut, calamari, and tomato sugo. The fazzoletti pasta is a flat sheet-like pasta (think sheets of lasagna pasta without the ruffled edges) and tomato sugo is just a fancy way of saying “tomato sauce.” This dish was full of flavor. The sauce was full of concentrated slow-roasted tomato flavors mixed with garlic and red pepper spice. It reminded me of an Italian cioppino…only dryer and with pasta, which was perfect for a meal near San Francisco’s north beach, where cioppino was originally developed.
New York steak served over a bed of creamy sweet corn polenta, blistered cherry tomatoes, romano beans, and fennel verde. The meat was cooked medium rare, which is exactly how we asked for it, and the bursts of acid from the cherry tomatoes complimented every umami-filled bite of steak and polenta.
Halibut with chapelure crust (covered in bread crumbs) served over grated cauliflower, pepperoncini sofrito. The fish was light and flaky, and the pepperoncini sofrito was like putting an Italian twist on a caper garnish. This dish was really fresh, light and lovely.
And of course we had to get the burger, because….if it’s on the menu at a high-end restaurant, I’m gonna order it. I love burgers and can’t seem to get enough of them, and the icing on the cake is this one came with a pretzel bread bun. They smoked the tomato, which brought a smoky sweetness to the stack. Chef McTiernan also serves it with white cheddar, pickled red onions and mushroom confit.
The potato skins topped with shaved parmesan and herb salt were awesome, and next time you peel some Yukon Golds or Russet taters, consider flash frying them into a crunchy delectable snack that melts in your mouth.
Green beans with kim chi and cracked pepper. Don’t let the kim chi scare you either, it’s more of a red chili paste than anything else. And with a splash of vinegar or citrus, these blistered beans taste bright and light.