** Important Update: This restaurant is now permanently closed. **
Although it can be risky to try a new restaurant before the food and service kinks are worked out, we wanted to try a new restaurant in San Francisco. After a bit of research, we took a chance on dinner at Mason Pacific.
When you take a chance, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. This time we won.
When we think back on the meal, two things stand out in our minds. First is the crispy feta starter, a dish that spoke “California” with its crunchy crusted melty feta cheese surrounded by a sweet pea puree. Second is the overall ambiance of the restaurant, a classic space nestled on a corner right next to the Mason Street cable car line.
We had made a 9:00 dinner reservation. The walk from our Chinatown hotel was under a mile, but it was a good walk straight up a hill.
We arrived at the charming corner restaurant right on time, huffing and puffing a bit, and were immediately charmed by the elegant yet comfortable interior. The decor, designed by Chef Sean Mctiernan’s sister-in-law, Shannon McTiernan Thompson, is styled with leather banquettes, funky lighting and other eclectic pieces.
As we read the menu, we were intrigued by many of the starters which seemed ideal for sharing. We faced a quandary when we heard about the evening’s special of rib eye for two with lots of condiments and sides since Daryl loves steak and Mindi loves condiments. We stuck to our original plan though and ordered six of the nine starters plus a pasta, all to share.
We wanted to go low key with drinks for a change, so we ordered two carafes of the house wine created especially for the restaurant by the Russian River winery, Copain. We started with a carafe of white and then moved on to a carafe of red. For $12 per carafe, the wine was surprisingly good and just the right amount.
Food at Mason Pacific
We were looking forward to the potato skins, and they came out first. Served in a big white bowl and smothered in parmesan and herb salt, this dish had the potential to be a great starter snack.
We say potential because the first layer of the dish was everything one would expect from crispy skins and salty, earthy parmesan. But, as we dug deeper into the bowl, the skins were wilted.
Daryl’s educated guess is that the wiltiness may have been due to the deep serving dish trapping the steam and causing the crispy skins to wilt, but we will never know for sure. It’s such a great idea that we may experiment with our own version at home to figure it out.
We enjoyed the terrine made of rabbit, pork, granny smith apples and filbert nuts. We spread the savory terrine on top of the bread triangles, generously dolloping on the spicy brown mustard for additional flavor.
Continuing in a similar vein, we ordered the duck rillette. The rillette, made of duck confit, cognac and thyme, was served with sourdough crisps. This dish was also excellent.
Just when we had our fill of the house-made charcuterie, out came the vegetables. Though we are far from being vegetarians, it’s impossible to dislike the produce in California.
The vegetable plates at Mason Pacific were no exception to this rule. The beat salad was elevated from the norm by the tasty horseradish yogurt and lemon confit.
However, it was the crispy feta with spring peas and fava beans starter that really wowed us. The natural saltiness of the feta cheese was complemented by the fresh vegetables, and the colors and flavors were vibrant and bright. The dish literally popped in our mouths and made us consider vegetarianism for a hot minute.
Before we turned in our carnivore cards, we were swayed back to the meat team with the arrival of the buttermilk fried chicken served with remoulade and a bottle of green Tabasco. This starter included a thigh and a leg of Mary’s Free Range Chicken, perfectly seasoned and fried.
No white meat was on the plate, which is okay by us. The remoulade and green Tabasco were appropriate condiments, adding the right amount of tang and spice.
We loved the starters and could have happily stopped there, but we wanted to try one pasta dish for good measure.
The pappardelle with lamb sugo and picholine olives was a good choice. The earthy flavors were sufficiently hardy to stand up to the oversized house-made noodles.
Dessert at Mason Pacific
We had just enough room for a bowl of Humphry Slocombe Vietnamese coffee ice cream. However, before we could order dessert, Chef Sean McTiernan came by to talk with us.
It was the end of the night, so he had time to chat. We knew that he had worked in France at Taillevent and Joel Robuchon’s La Table and in San Francisco at Delfina and Rose Pistola.
It turns out that he had studied at the CIA in New York at the same time as some of our friends, though he didn’t know them. When he ended the conversation by offering us some home-made fennel ice cream and Fernet, we couldn’t refuse.
As we sipped on some locally roasted Sightglass coffee, a cable car rolled by right in front of the window near our table. It was a fitting end to a delightful meal.
Mason Pacific was located at 1358 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA. This restaurant is now permanently closed.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.