Early last year, I had business meetings in Cow Hollow. I’m rarely in that area, so I put out a Twitter call: Does anyone know a good place to eat near the Marina?
Besides Atelier Crenn and a couple of other wallet-busters, people were stumped. “Just eat in the Mission,” quipped one wise guy.
I started developing a quest to locate a secret treasure in the Marina. The requirements were simple: somewhere reasonably priced and relaxed, where I’m unlikely to get clobbered with a designer high heel.
Mezés, tucked down on the quiet tail end of Chestnut Street, had all the right trappings. The prices weren’t cripplingly high, I barely knew anything about it and it populated an odd niche: it’s the only Greek wine bar in San Francisco. Hidden gem?
I guess it depends on your criteria. The service is warm, and if you’re nice, they’ll be liberal with the wine samples.
The Greek string music is low enough for easy conversation (take note, ye critics who loathe noise), and the lofted interior is snug, almost cozy.
And the food? By definition, “mezés” are tapas for the Mediterranean set; Mezés (the restaurant) offers literally dozens of these fairly priced nibblers.
One of my dining companions asked me something two days after our meal: What items had we eaten? Embarrassingly, I needed to consult my notes.
Oh yeah, that egg-lemon chicken soup (avgolemono, for all my Greek readers) wasn’t bad. If I had a cold, it would certainly hit the spot.
Hey, didn’t we get a fish and chips thing? That’s right, the bakaliaros, deep-fried salt cod that wouldn’t make waves at an Irish pub. Well, except for that smooch-killing garlic spread, skordalia, on the side.
I remember wanting more of the chunky smoked eggplant spread, and that seems like a good sign. Speaking of spreads, the pink roe spread (tarama) went down easy, barely fishy at all!
It goes on and on like this. I had a spicy sausage stew, a pile of neutral little disks in a tomato and pepper sauce. Pretty sure it tasted like ... tomatoes and peppers.
The pan-seared prawns in creamy orzo sauce were probably my favorite dish. The shrimp tasted fresh, and the sauce was bold. And for dessert, I certainly loved the vanilla gelato with olive oil and sea salt (OK, fine, I’ve never disliked this combination).
I tried other things too, but I’m going to cut it off there. It’s a funny thing — nobody wants to hear about an OK meal. People like drama.
For instance, I recently had some paella at a hyped new restaurant, and I almost retched; half the cuttlefish was raw and inedible. My friends love hearing that story.
Or when I gush about the terrific black cod I had at Piperade; everyone wants details, details, details.
But Mezés will never be a place people hate, or a place they rave about, so you probably won’t hear about it at all. Let’s give some sympathy to the middle-ground restaurant with fair prices, nice ambiance and decent food.
It’s just a mellow spot at the end of the Marina, perfect for a glass of wine and things you can eat. There may be something in that simple formula. After all, Mezés has soldiered on for more than 10 years.
Location: 2373 Chestnut St. (at Divisadero Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 409-7111, www.mezessf.com
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 12:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $6 to $14
Recommended dishes: Avgolemono ($7), garides ouzo ($12), bakaliaros ($9), vanilla me lathi ($9)
Credit cards: All major