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MAJOR Marin gem – Nothing half & half about San Rafael’s Mezzo Mezzo … Top-class Sicilian ciao

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Mezzo Mezzo is now on my profile's top five list based on an extraordinary first visit.

Bring a camera and an appetite … delicious food, beautifully presented in an intimate, handsome restaurant served by beautiful staff … beautiful in spirit and the ladies were really very attractive & pretty.

I had

- Mezzo Mezzo half spinach/half tomato soup
- Complementary olives
- Amazing house-baked bread & breadsticks
- The best panini on house-baked bread with speck, cheese, roasted eggplant & 3 sauces
- Accidental equally satisfying vegetarian panini … more about that … this made me fall in love with the place
- Vigna Al Cerri 2001 Aglianico Fattoria Practico (hope I copied the name of that red wine right)
- House-made canoli
- Caffe Mokarabia espresso

$33

I could have had a very satisfying lunch for under $14 if I had stuck to the soup and wine.

The meal starts with a nice little bowl of black olives.

The dense yet light, soft, flour-dusted slices of bread were attention-getting good. I wish they open a bakery some day. A dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar was provided for dipping. The breadsticks were very good too.

The soup was a work of art … half cream of spinach … half cream of tomato … decorated with thin shavings of Parmiggiano and a perfect parsley leaf.

Neither soup was assertively flavored, but there was a richness to them and looking at the beautiful soup, eating an olive then a piece of the wonderful bread … a sip of wine .. very soulful and satisfying. The fresh ground pepper on the tomato soup upped the flavor a lot.

The panini roll is deliciously different … soft with a little chew … slightly blistered. The panini I had in the restaurant was lightly toasted and I haven’t had a better sandwich even on my trips to Italy.

There was a little green salad mixed with vinaigrette. The sandwiches also came with three little bowls of sauces … smashed olives, garlic and chipotle. All were very good, but the sandwich was so outstanding, all I did was sample the sauces. It seemed wrong to add anything else.

The wine was excellent and served in the correct stemware, I think Reidel. They were very generous with their samples. I asked for something different and first had a pour of the Cottanera Burbazzale (I think). The brief wine list is Italian wine and new to me except the Barolo Bussia.

Very nice espresso. The desert was another work of art. Two house-made mini canoli were on a plate sprinkled with cocoa & confectioner’s sugar. A fork was placed on the plate before the cocoa was sprinkled, so there was the image of a fork. On the powdered sugar side was a little flower made of a candied cherry on a mint leaf.

The shell was thicker than any shell I’ve had to date. Very nice ricotta filling with the suggestion of candied fruit.

A few of the other desserts I remembered were wild strawberry tart, Grandmother tart, something with limoncello, tiramisu and one or two others.

It is a small intimate restaurant in pink toned terra cotta, the walls a sponged damask pattern. There are rosewood colored chairs and a nice six seat bar in the back of the restaurant. Windows look out on C St. This is an attractive restaurant. Parking is easy. There is a two-story parking garage across the street.

I asked the owner about the name. He said it was because he was born and grew up in Sicily and then moved to the United States … mezzo mezzo … Sicilian-Amercian.

The restaurant had me with the food and service. There were two things that put them at the top of my list.

First, I had not planned to eat out. I planned to wash my car. It started to drizzle, so I gave that up. I was doing my worst impression of a bag lady … clothes & shoes that wouldn’t get ruined if they got wet … hair barely brushed … week-end dress down … way down. If I saw me on the street, I’d stay out of my way.

There’s only two times I ever dressed this badly at a restaurant. Once at Bizou and once at Chez Panisse (Café). Like Mezzo Mezzo both restaurants didn’t even acknowledge my dress … they just made me feel warm and welcome. I always consider that the mark of a really classy restaurant.

I couldn’t finish my salad and I wanted to take home that great bread, so I had a take-out container.

They opened the door for me as I left and everyone said ciao … which I thought was funny because I was thinking at that time that this was a true Chowhound type of place … the type that is the reason for Chowhound’s existence … so often people on the boards sign off their posts with the word ciao … so I turned around to smile and dropped my sandwich.

They insisted on making me another one and were so nice and pleasant and decent about it. The chef was really humorous and made me laugh.

This time they gave me the vegetarian panini which I am just blissing out over … excellent provolone that is the stuff of my memories from the Italian groceries where I grew up. Soft and smoky and full of flavor.

Under the cheese are wonderful marinated veggies … artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted eggplant, julienne red and green peppers, onion … glorious in olive oil. The bread is spread with pesto and topped with greens … and I sigh in satisfaction with every bite.

I’ll type up the menu later tonight. This place is good for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

For the meat eaters lamb, rabbit, filet mignon & quail. For fish lovers sardines, prawns, salmon, calamari, mussels, octopus. For vegetarians various appetizers, salads and pastas. Lots of cheese for everyone. More details to come.

Did I mention how much I liked this place? My ciao bells started ringing.

A brief mention & some background in the Marin IJ
http://www.marinij.com/dining/ci_4979584

Website link if for future reference. As of the date this was posted, it was under construction.

http://www.ristorantemezzomezzo.com/

Mezzo Mezzo,
1025 C St
San Rafael,

415-459-0330

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  1. Wow, thanks for the report. I'll have to try it out soon!

    1. Thanks for the report and mention of vegetarian dishes. Think it's a good place for small birthday dinner - 6 adults(3 veg), 1 infant?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sarah

        Yeah, definately great for a birthday. There was a table of either six or eight next to me. One was a child about 5.

        I had a birthday in a similar place in Rome that I still remember warmly to this day. It reminded me so much of that. It was small and intimate, the food was good. The vibe was just so welcoming and inviting.

        You can look at this menu to determine if it fits your needs. Looking at the article in the Marin IJ and the menu ... they are not big on descriptions on the menu. Since it seems like they have a list of rotating dishes, I'd give them a call and tell them your needs and maybe work out an arrangement for a few extra veggie options if that seems necessary.

        Also, the descriptions are deceptively simple. There's a lot of flavor going on here and the excellence shines.

        I am not much of a vegetarian, but I liked that vegetarian panini even more than the meat version ... which I liked A LOT.

        Also you can always drop in to check out the place. That's all I intended. Grabbed the menu ... got in the car ... turned around and ate lunch.

        THE CURRENT DINNER MENU

        From what I understand the menus are changing. Both the owner, Giovanni de la Renta and chef, Davide La Rocca are Sicilian.

        In the link to the Marin IJ mention above, De la Renta says they will be serving traditional Sicilian dishes and dishes unique to the restaurant. They will be making as much as possible in-house … ricotta, bread, cannoli & cannoli shells, etc … Again … fabulous bread. He says …
        “We are trying to be authentic as much as we can. We know it will be a little bit of a challenge at first because there will be some dishes that won't be familiar to the average American diner. We hope to teach people what Sicilian food is all about."

        In that spirit, I’m re-arranging the order of the dinner menu a little … putting the more familiar food first. Also, the menu has the Italian name first, followed by English. I’ll usually just do the English version. I might condense some categories like the carpaccio. There are some dishes mentioned in the Marin IJ that were not on the menu tonight, so it is worth it to give a look at that link until the restaurant website starts working.

        Here you go …

        STARTERS

        Antipasto: Marinated & grilled vegetables, olive oil

        Mulinciani Agghiotta
        Breaded eggplant, tomatoes, olive oil

        Cheese plate
        Salami plate
        Salami & cheese plate

        Carpaccio
        - beef, Parmiggiano, arugola, mushroom
        - octopus, shrimp, salmon, pistachio, almonds
        - swordfish, argula, pink pepper
        - octopus, cherry tomatoes, arugola

        SALADS

        - Sicilian salad: potatoes, olives, capers, tomatoes, fennel
        - Mixed green salad
        - Three hearts salad: hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, mushrooms
        - Tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, basil

        PASTA

        - Pasta sasizza e cacoccili
        Sausage pasta & artichokes

        - Gnocchi a carritera – pine nuts, raisins

        - Spaghetti a bottarga: Garlic, olive oil, chili flakes

        - Maccaruni o sugu de sardi
        Macaroni with sardine sauce
        Sardines, pine nuts, raisins, dill, tomatoes

        FISH

        Salmon, pistachios, white wine

        Frittu Mistu Taumminisi
        Assorted fried fish
        Shrimp, calamari, sardines, mussels

        Ammuru co limoni Azzuccaratu
        Lemon prawn
        Prawns, lemon, dill

        Sardi ‘Mpanati
        Breaded sardines
        Sardines, sundried tomatoes, arugola

        MEAT

        Rack of lamb, porcini, pine nuts

        Filet Mignon, porcini, Balsamic vinegar

        Quagghi Co Samorigghiu
        Grilled Quail
        Quail, olive oil, mushrooms, lemon dressing

        ‘Nvoltini Malandrini
        Veal rolled
        Veal, spinach, provolone

        Cunigghiu Assopresa
        Rabbit Sorpresa
        Rabbit, Potatoes, olives and pine nuts

        Cunigghiu Sicilianu
        Rabbit Sicilian Style
        Rabbit, pine nuts, capers, raisins

        The wine list was brief with about a dozen reds and a dozen whites. I only copied down a few of the reds in addition to those mentioned above:

        Grumarello 1998

        Brunello Di Montalcino

        Lagecine 2002 Snact Valentin

        Poggio Saagio

        Cottanera Burbuzzale

        Absolutely NO guarantee that spellings were copied even remotely close to what is correct. Sometimes I can’t read my own writing.

        The only reservation I'd have ... and it is only the SLIGHTEST ... is that the restaurant is 9 days old and the staff is being trained ... THAT BEING SAID. This is a really smart manager who is a pro and is training his staff.

        He was at the tables when he needed to be to seemlessly keeping service flowing smoothly. The staff didn't spout nonsense. When I asked to suggest a wine, she said she wasn't as familiar as she would like to be and went back to talk to the owner.

        He also seemed to be training what might be his bartender, working with her on the wines.

        This is not an amateur. He kept things moving without being intrusive. So I don't have too much of a reservation ... just something to consider ... but I would guess there's no problem. He also pressed the hostess into action when need be. It was really impressive actually because it was all so background and if I hadn't been scoping the place out I never would have noticed.

      2. Just an update ....

        They have the dinner menu on the web currently. The dinner menu says at the bottom that more menus are coming.
        http://www.ristorantemezzomezzo.com/p...

        There are a few bad pictures of the restaurant under the event link of the grand opening. They seemed to have the entire population of San Rafael in there that night, so is is mainly pictures of the crowd, but you can get an idea. It seems they have a valentines day dinner. I just love this place and can't wait to get back ... or hear back from other chowhounds who try it.

        Hours are under reservations and it seems a Sunday Brunch is in the works.

        Permalink | Edit

        There are a few bad pictures of the restaurant under the event link of the grand opening. They seemed to have the entire population of San Rafael in there that night, so is is mainly pictures of the crowd, but you can get an idea. It seems they have a valentines day dinner. I just love this place and can't wait to get back ... or hear back from other chowhounds who try it.

        Hours are under reservations and it seems a Sunday Brunch is in the works.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rworange

          We checked it out last week. I had the veal involtini and my wife the pasta with sardines. Not bad at all.

          The beef carpaccio appetizer, was unimpressive...it was just thinly sliced raw beef...uncured...no taste. A little balsamic would have helped. My wife had the fried eggplant appetizer..very nice....a whole grain sort of coating..unique.

          Service was very friendly and responsive. Nice ambiance. Good selection of wines by the glass. The Brunello was yummy.

          Definitely worth going back to check out more of the menu.

        2. A friend and I had lunch at Mezzo Mezzo today. They quickly brought bread with olive oil/balsamic and I could have just eaten that, the bread was that good. I had their cream of tomato/cream of spinach combo soup. The two soups were clearly separated in the bowl and were fresh and tasted very good, if on the mild-flavor side for my preference. My panini with speck (smoked prosciutto) and a white cheese (I've forgotten what kind) and the served comdiments was very good, I don't remember that the roll had blisters on it, but it was quite good also. Is it the best panini-type sandwich in the Bay Area? Don't know; others are just different and good in their own way, like Sol Food's Cubano. My friend (discriminating eater and very good cook) had a pasta dish and proclaimed it quite good except for the use of artichokes from a jar or can, instead of fresh, that caused that artichoke flavor to overwhelm the rest. He wouldn't order it again. All in all it's mostly a class act at a very fair price. I look forward to trying more of their things.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Mick Ruthven

            Thanks for reporting and the perspective. Sometimes I worry with all my dive dining recently, I gush too much over upscale food ... nah ... Still hate Ici.