Though former “Top Chef” contestant Ryan Scott’s signature is plastered on the logo of his new restaurant Mason, it was his best friend Wes Romine who stole the show during my initial visit. On a busy Thursday night, Romine effortlessly worked the packed dining room making every guest feel like a VIP. Though we had to wait 20 minutes for a table, my wife and I so enjoyed gabbing with Romine, learning of his longtime friendship with the owner and the origins of the remarkable, all under $30 wine list, that we were almost disappointed to be seated.
With Scott cooking in the open kitchen, the food was as charming and fun as was the host. Though I generally roll my eyes at menus that charge for bread, $4 was actually a bargain for a warm-from-the-oven, crusty hunk with ramekins of fruity olive oil and a tart tapenade served alongside.
A melange of orange, purple and white baby carrots were flat-out gorgeous but it was the smooth-as-silk ginger-carrot puree underneath that made this starter a winner. As the kid who ate Gerber carrots well past toddlerhood, I lapped this stuff up. We split an order of well-seared, oversized gnocchi served in a luscious sweet corn cream sauce balanced out by flecks of crispy prosciutto. Like many items at Mason, this was a perfect dish to share as it would have been too heavy to tackle solo. A few bites were perfect.
Subsequent visits found neither Scott nor Romine on the premises. During another weeknight dinner, spilled wine and a forgotten coffee order indicated less than sharp service, though everyone was still so friendly that these minor slip-ups were forgivable. As for the food, it didn’t have the same precision in appearance or taste but, especially considering the reasonable prices, was still very good.
Two thick cut slabs of white toast were capped with generous smears of avocado and slices of barely melted Brie, an over-the-top rich combination that worked as an appetizer for four but that would enter gut bomb territory if attempted alone. The braised brisket toast was like a Philly cheesesteak on steroids but with tender beef, perfectly melted Irish cheddar and a dash of horseradish. My friend Chris exclaimed that “paired with a glass of wine, this is one of the best under $15 meals in town!” I couldn’t agree more.
The Maui Me pizza disappointed, it’s droopy crust standing no chance under a glop of too much mozzarella and tomato sauce, too many pineapple slices, ham and jalapeños.
Only a Saturday brunch left me wanting, mainly due to apathetic servers who congregated in a corner, seemingly oblivious to the dozen or so diners on hand. My braso featured a thin, dry tamale that detracted from an otherwise lively dish of fried eggs, pumpkin seeds and salsa. No one asked me how it was and I left without a goodbye. It seemed like no one was in charge.
After that stellar first meal, the conversation during the car ride home buzzed with the feeling that in Mason, we’d found a gem of a locals spot before the masses. Though that excitement tamped down after a few more visits, I’d still consider Mason an excellent addition and, as a Potrero Hillian, am thrilled that it’s in my neighborhood.
Location: 338 De Haro St. (at 16th Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 255-9335
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays
Price range: $4 to $18
Recommended dishes: Avocado toast ($7), braised short rib toast ($10), baby carrots ($7), seared gnocchi ($13)
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard
Reservations: Not accepted