Eating at the Bar: Muka in Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Thanks to Amandica’s rec for drinks and bar snacks, Mom and I wound up catching dinner here last month.
Did not see the side dining area as a large group was celebrating a birthday there – the hostess directed us to the bar area. Mom hissed at me, “There’s no food here, only whiskey.” Then I handed her this menu,
To drink, I had the Jack Johnson, $11: bourbon, lapsang syrup, lemon, pink salt, angostura and amaro float. Really enjoyed the smoky tones, counterbalanced with citrus, bitters and hint of salt.
We tried four small plates:
Lima beans, arugula, roasted corn, tomatillo vinaigrette, $6
Plum salad, baby gems, lavender vinaigrette, $6
Fried squash blossoms, zucchini, smoked paprika aioli, $8
Brussels sprouts, roasted almonds, ricotta salata, $6
Excellent all-round, bursting with complex flavors, fresh ingredients and carefully balanced salt, acid and piquancy. Mom enjoyed everything. I was also thrilled to have this much selection of non-meated dishes at a bar and especially for these sub-$10 prices. When the bartender cleared away our empty plates and asked how we liked the food, I gushed with praise. He said that with the move to this location, the owner had brought in a trained chef to handle the food service. He added that she was working alone in the kitchen turning out both savories and desserts.
Fairy princess cake, $12 – vanilla sponge cake, vanilla cream, raspberry jam, marzipan
The cake’s assembled to order and takes a bit of time to prepare, so place your order in advance. The sponge cake had a macaron-like crust and chewiness. The vibrant raspberry jam (and other fruit preserves) is made in-house. Dessert prices feel a little steep, but this one’s worth it.
Our tab reflected a 10% discount. I asked the bartender if this was for happy hour, senior discount for Mom or? He said it was because the other group was too loud and he wanted us to come back. Comparing the billed prices vs. the menu, there are discrepancies in both directions, but we still came out ahead after discount. In any case, we’d return for the food.
Petit Plats & Dessert Lounge
370 Grove St
San Francisco CA 94102
(website under construction)
Hit Muka this evening before the symphony... Sanae is still in the kitchen but the owner, Jean, was traveling in Japan and so there seemed to be some missteps in general management.
For starters, the cocktail menu offered this evening - with one exception - is entirely different than what is on their website, so while I was looking forward to the Amazonian Potion, I had to suffice with a different tequila offering: Sweet & Sour. My fiance had something with cognac, citrus bitters, and honey which didn't impress him too much.
Our food selections:
- Brussels Sprouts with bacon: mediocre at best being
- Bourbon-braised Turnips with blue cheese and cherries: surprisingly flavorless.
- Little Gems with poached pear salad served with blue cheese and candied walnuts. They recommended a Chardonnay pairing (!?!?) but I didn't want wine with a cocktail. Nice greens, but a generally uninspiring preparation.
- Sliders; three different kinds: pulled pork, ratatouille, and beef with cheese. My fiance loved the beef so much, he asked if he could return just for that single burger. The buns on the sliders were a very nice sponge and a golden exterior. I liked all three of them, but am not sure they were worth the $15 ($5 a slider?)
- Charcuterie plate; at $25, this was way too expensive for what was offered = prosciutto that was too thickly sliced, coppa, and salami served with a very nice and creamy Brie, a creamy blue (didn't get the name) and two slices of smoked Gouda that was very forgettable. There were four slices of toasted bread, two house-made pickles, and a tablespoon each of grain mustard and jam. The whole plate was just overwhelmingly pedestrian.
For dessert, we ordered Earl Grey panna cotta and coffee. the biggest problem was that the only way coffee is served is from a French Press that only makes one cup and the waiters haven't figured out that if two people order coffee, they need to bring two presses (and that refilling the existing press is pretty lame). The panna cotta was just too strong and needed a another component - a small cookie of some sort would have sufficed.
Lastly, a word on the music that is piped in... I am very grateful to the waitstaff who commiserated the agony of having to listen to the same three songs play over and over in the first 45 minutes of our visit. Initially, they said the owner was out of the country and they had no way to change it but hearing the dance beat of a repetitious "You've got the music to dance..." go one ad nauseum, and they almost didn't get our dessert order as I wanted out of there so bad. Eventually someone was able to change it.
All of the above came to $120 - a bit too much for such wavering lack of consistency. I like the space and they have great potential, but the waitstaff admitted they were still working on a soft opening and ironing out issues. I can see that the chef has some talent, but needs feedback and a few tweaks. We are in the neighborhood far too often and I'm sure we will be back - if just for that burger...
We stopped by the other night for snacks and a few glasses of wine. Unfortunately we were less impressed with the food than the wine and the space.
Wine is served in good stemware. My sparkling rosé was delicious, and service was friendly and attentive.
We shared polenta fries with blue cheese dip, tiny corn muffins, brussels sprouts with bacon (overcooked), and a fancy chocolate mousse/raspberry dessert.
None of them was worth the calories or the price. I wonder if there's been a chef change. The dessert looked pretty but was completely undistinguished and should not have been $11. The corn muffins could have been a mix. We spent over $50 for two and left without any real nutrition or interesting flavors.
Unless this was an off night, I'd treat Muka as a bar that's open late rather than a place to eat before the opera or ballet. Curious if anyone has a better experience with the food. Aside from Absinthe, there aren't a lot of places that serve food after 10 pm in that area.
Oh no! I hate the idea that I might not get to taste those lovely little vegetable creations again. If anything, our brussels sprouts (a different prep with no bacon) were underdone, according to my mother. Other than Sebo, I've not had better food in that neighborhood, and we've been making the rounds.
Opentable still lists the same chef, Sanae Shikayama, hope she's not gone. Maybe she had the day off or those weren't the interesting things to order.