: views from the Hill

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

[FOOD] Mangarosa - worth another visit

Jianna split a while back and we wondered what would take its place. We had visitors the weekend of the 6-8th and as we were walking our weekend guests back from Isa that Friday night, we noticed that something was happening in Jianna's old spot near the corner of Stockton and Union.

I went to investigate. "Mangarosa" the new signage said. The menu said the food was Italian French California cuisine with a Brazilian twist. (Huh?)

I find Brazilian food so seldom, I hoped the Brazilian "twist" was more than just a twist. No feijoada on the menu, but there was foie on the menu. Yes, I know. Foie isn't very Brazilian, but Yay! another restaurant serving foie.

"Opening August 12th" --- a date we had already booked at Manresa.

When we were out and about last Sunday (15 Aug) afternoon, we walked by again to see if they were open on Sundays. They were. After we'd returned home and put away our grapefruit and other groceries from Union Street Produce, we headed back down the hill for dinner.

What a terrific surprise Mangarosa turned out to be, a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Sometimes restaurants are so disappointing. We finally ate at La Felce at the corner of Stockton and Union recently for the first time when we were trying out possible restaurants for various weekend guests we had on the calendar. We found no reason to return. The food wasn't bad or inedible. The food was good and the portions were filling, but there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from nearby with a good number that are well worth a return visit and tons we haven't yet tried.

No need to return to a restaurant that's ordinary.

Some folks I know swear by La Felce's family style meals, and if I needed a place where my rambunctious pre-teen sons would be welcome and find something to eat, La Felce would fit the bill.

Luckily, those days are long gone and these days I'm just in search of a tasty meal.

1548 Stockton St.
San Francisco (North Beach)
(415) 956-3211
Dinner: Su-Sa. Hours differ depending on day of week

We dropped in without a reservation because we knew it was new and most people would probably not yet be aware of it. You might want to call first or book over the Web.

Mangarosa, as you probably can guess, means "pink mango" in Portuguese. The new owners are Italian Brazilians and have an ethnically mixed menu to show it.

We ordered a Kunde Cabernet with our dinner: $30/bottle, which isn't unreasonable for a restaurant.

I started with their foie gras appetizer, of course. The foie was served on a toast square with small bits of mango and a mango reduction. The foie was yummy, but not as yummy as Luke Sung's foie with custard brioche and white peaches and not as tasty as the foie gras and cumin 'creme caramel' we had had earlier in the week at Manresa. Mayhap I'd had too much very good foie gras in the past ten days to compare the Mangarosa foie to.

I took the chef's suggestion of a glass of Sauternes to accompany the foie -- which Sauternes I don't know. The wine was a good complement to the foie, but was a $10 splurge I found out after the fact.

His nibs tried the pair of seafood cakes -- crab cake and salt cod cake -- each served with a separate sauce. His choice was yummy too.

For his main dish, his nibs ordered the gnocchi in white cheese sauce with mushrooms. This dish was an absolute delight, rich, heavenly. Next visit, I think I'll forego the foie (imagine!) for the gnocchi.

I ordered the steak Rechaud with a side of yucca fries, which I dearly love. The yucca fries came with a dipping sauce and, except for a few, were perfect: thinly cut and crisp.

In preparation for my steak, our waiter, Carolina, pushed the table for two next to ours up against ours to make a wider playing field before laying down a protective pad and putting the Rechaud (literally "reheat" in French) grill into play. Staff brought over a three-part dish with condiments, with a long spoon for each part.

Carolina carefully explained how to manage the open flame beneath the grill and why we should keep the bits of pre-seared beef to the side of the grill where the grill was cooler and only move them to the hottest spot when we were doing the quick grill before eating. As a child with pyromaniac proclivities, I was agog (and aghast) that anyone would trust me with an open flame in a public setting.

Carolina showed us how to layer a bit of grilling beef with bread crumbs, candied (her name for it, I would've called it toasted) garlic and what she called salsa. The salsa is nothing like your Mexican salsa. This salsa kicked me mentally back to my younger day. It tasted so much like what our Brazilian cook used to serve with our grilled meat: finely chopped onions, bits of tomato, black pepper, chopped bits of green (green pepper?), herbs, oil, wine vinegar.

"Put the beef here," Carolina explained. "Add the crumbs. Put the garlic. Add some salsa for a cooling touch. Play with your food. Your mother always told you not to do this. Now you can."

The steak was wonderful. We cooked it small piece by small piece, eating each piece hot before grilling the next. We were given so much meat that the two of us could've been happy sharing the dish. Next time.

We finished our meal with dessert -- a delicious Doce con leite with candied brazil nuts from my old stomping grounds: Para. Two spoons. We could barely waddle home by then and I'd already let the last two yucca fries return to the kitchen because I had no room for them.

Earlier, I'd realized as I was watching the other diners and gazing about the room that I'd missed a perfect opportunity. Brazilian twist, eh? The bar must know how to make kicker caipirinhas. I found out they did. Another item to add to the "next time" list.

The dining room is painted in vibrant colors: orange, purple, golden brown. The ceiling lights are copper wok-like pans hung with the concave side down, with lights hanging below that reflect off the copper to add extra shine. The bar area across from the dining room looked as though its ceiling was also a copper color. The overall effect was warm and cozy.

The staff was friendly and outgoing. The dining room has very high ceilings and was relatively quiet. Relatively I say because last Sunday night when we arrived a pair of young-ish women were seated in the corner by the window waiting for their dinner. One of them started arguing with the other, getting louder and louder. Or maybe she was telling a story about an argument she'd had. In any case, the conversation got louder and louder and was liberally sprinkled with f*cks and sh*ts and like-h*ll-you-are's. A foursome came in and was seated next to them, why I'll never know. By now the level of noise was rising. The louder of the two was quite obviously a walking looney, whether she was drunk or had some other problem was unclear.

When their meal arrrived from the kitchen, the senior staff came over and offered to make the meal to go. The two would have none of it, but quieted down a bit. The staff moved the foursome in the table next to them to another window seating farther away.

The pair began finishing their meal and had quieted down to eat. You could hear one or the other of them saying again and again that they couldn't believe they'd been asked to leave, the staff was asking them to leave, you were too loud, they were asking us to leave, this hasn't happened to me before, they asked us to leave. They finished their meal quickly and paid their tab and left. Our server shook her head in apology.

The situation made me realize that restaurants need to have some sort of staff training in how to handle situations like that. I'm not sure what the staff could've done differently without setting off an even louder uproar, but the ranting went on for far too long.

Nevertheless, the food was terrific, the staff was terrific. We'll be back, maybe with our French visitors who are arriving this coming weekend. All depends on what sorts of food they like to eat.

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