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Dec 5, 2010 12:15 PM

Mazzat, new Lebanese cafe in Hayes Valley/Lower Haight

As we wandering back from the neighborhood shop-a-thon in Hayes Valley on Friday night, we stopped into Mazzat, the new Lebanese cafe at 501 Fell, that was celebrating its opening night that evening.

From the menu, which includes a lot of espresso drinks, I'd guess it will operate as a coffee shop by day and sit-down restaurant at night. The owners seemed surprised that customers were expecting table service rather than ordering at the counter, so they were a little understaffed and overrun, but seemed aware that they'd have to monkey with that.

The menu is divided into hot and cold mezze, salads, entrees, red and white house wine, and about five types of usual suspect beers (Anchor, Heineken, etc.). Prices were very reasonable--mezzes were around the $4 - $6 range, I think. We ordered hummus, fattoush, grilled halloumi, and a chicken-artichoke-flatbread hot mezze--that was enough for a light dinner for three ladies.

The generous hummus portion was nicely garlicky and came with pitta lined with grill marks. I love fattoush, but didn't love the one I had here--it was a plain chopped romaine salad with a few thumbnail-sized fried pita croutons on top instead of a bread salad with lots of cucumber and a delightful kick of sumac--it wasn't a bad salad by any means, just not what I think of when I order fattoush. I didn't try my friend's artichoke flatbread, but it looked good. I would have liked to try the kibbeh, but they ran out before we arrived.

I haven't sampled the menu widely enough to have any kind of verdict, but it seems like there are two possibilities: this can be another Bay Area cafe with so-so Mediterranean food, or they can move past timid renditions of native cuisine and discover that they opened a restaurant in a place where customers value robust, authentic, flavorful and unique dishes that are prepared with care.

The owners seemed like such kind folks I can't help but be a cheerleader for option #2, and will probably go back in a month or two when they've gotten into the groove of it.

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  1. This is certainly the season for crystal ball gazing. I hope that your well articulated Option #2 comes true soon!

    According to Clifford Wright, mazzat is the plural of mazza or Arabic for mezze. Do you recall the other offerings or the entrees?

    501 Fell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

    1. We visited again last week and were impressed by some updates to the restaurant. The owners moved away from the casual counter service model, which hadn't matched their customers expectations. They are doing table service and spiffed up the place with dark wood accents and fancier napkins.

      We split the mezze platter for two, which was $25 for six items. We had labne (kefir cheese with thyme and olive oil), hummus, dolmas, spinach pockets, tzatsiki, and a warm eggplant dish (it's in the center of the attached photo, but I forget the name). The highlights were the house-made hummus (I usually don't like hummus, which I find pretty insipid) and the warm eggplant. The spinach pockets were the only thing I outright didn't like--the lemon juice was so forward it masked the other subtler flavors inside.

      Someone asked me how this compares to Palmyra, the Syrian cafe that's a 15 minute walk away. Mazzat is more comfortable inside, a better date spot after the decor update especially. Palmyra looks exactly like the Burger Joint it used to be, with a coat of gray paint thrown over everything--big booths, not a ton of charm. Food-wise, Palmyra has a rotisserie and incorporates rotisserie chicken into a lot of their dishes and a good bit of bulghur; the hot and cold mezze dishes shine at Mazzat.

      Burger Joint
      242 King St, San Francisco, CA 94107

      501 Fell St, San Francisco, CA 94102