San Francisco’s most endearing chef, Ryan Scott, has landed at the Mission Beach Cafe, and his groupies are trekking across town to lap up his affection.
Scott charmed everyone at the former Myth Cafe, a lunch spot in Jackson Square connected to Myth restaurant. His order-at-the-counter lunches were so luscious, original and generous, regulars emigrated from all over The City to buy them. Scott’s frequent forays out of his tiny kitchen to schmooze with his customers only made the experience more personal. Everyone knew that this was one of those proverbial finds. Then both Myth and the Cafe closed.
The heartbroken found some succor by following Scott on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” a culinary version of “Survivor,” though he always seemed to be scolded by the judges for not following directions or being too creative. They booted him off midway and I stopped watching.
But a couple of months ago, the partners at Mission Beach Cafe — pastry chef and pie maker Alan Carter, and manager/furniture designer Bill Clarke — brought Scott on as a chef-partner. I took a deep breath and waited until Scott settled in. Then I went for dinner.
In some ways, Mission Beach reminds me of Myth Cafe — small, with all-day coffee, pie and pastry service plus lunch. But it also serves an evening meal in a softly lit, smartly decorated dining room designed by Clarke. On the face of it, the match seemed inspired.
In my three visits to Mission Beach, Scott produced many lush and juicy dishes, vibrant with colorful, seasonal produce. Each spoonful of velvety corn soup ($7) intrigued me with little chunks of avocado and crookneck squash, croutons and corn kernels. It is an ode to summer. Carefully tossed on a square plate rimmed with toasted almonds, bread crumbs, dates and big wedges of yellow pluot, a fluffy pile of arugula ($9.50) in sharp, mustardy dressing becomes an interesting salad.
I loved the way a sauce of cooling chive yogurt worked on crisp filets of Thai snapper ($23), which was stacked on spicy chile-spiked eggplant with sweet, pickled cherry tomatoes. The dish evoked Thai flavors but could only have come from a California kitchen.
Scott plays with the juicy affinity between tomatoes and watermelon in a salad with torn croutons, feta, red onions, basil and sherry vinaigrette that’s a winner.
Other dishes became confused with too many ingredients. Pickled green beans, underdone white beans, zante currants and king trumpet mushrooms next to a baseball-sized quail ($23) plumped with soft bread stuffing basically resembled Thanksgiving dinner, from appetizer to dessert, on a single plate.
The menu misled in other ways. The so-called fried padron peppers ($7) were inedibly hot, not the sweet, mild, Spanish treasures that keep the Bay Area swooning.
I longed for the Myth Cafe lunch and thought I might get it in a grilled truffled three-cheese sandwich ($10.50). But the cheese wasn’t melted, the sandwich was mostly filled with roasted squash and the kitchen forgot to put on the tomato confit promised on the menu.
Talented Scott always flirted with a lot of ingredients at Myth Cafe. Here he needs an editor. He uses really nice ingredients and his dishes can take you happily over the top, but I think he has to restrain his unfettered cooking style just a little to meet the multicourse challenge of dinner.
Mission Beach Cafe
Location: 198 Guerrero Street (at 14th Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 861-0198; www.missionbeachcafesf.com
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Pastries and coffee on weekdays from 7 a.m., on weekends from 8 a.m.
Price range: Starters $7 to $10.50; Entrees $13.50 (Beach Burger), $18 to $25
Recommended dishes: Corn soup, arugula salad, tomato and watermelon salad, Thai snapper with eggplant, fresh fruit pies
Credit cards: Visa, Master Card
Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.