Picking a restaurant that twelve people will actually enjoy is not.
So, when my friends from Florida (now living out here) and I knew we were playing host to our families over Memorial Day weekend, we racked our brains for somewhere, anywhere, that might have decent potential to even seat us, let alone feed us.
"How about the dough room at Flour+Water?"
"Gluten allergy. And it's booked."
"I really love Firefly!"
"They don't take reservations of more than eight people."
...on and on like this for days, and we still couldn't come up with anything. The restaurant either couldn't accommodate a group of our size, was unavailable, or didn't have a food type "safe" enough to appease so many different palates.
Finally, I remembered hearing about Local: Mission Eatery, but knew it was pretty small. Running out of options, I decided to try my luck and, lo and behold, we had a winner! They could work with our food allergies, could seat all of us, and with the ubiquitous "New American" food categorization, we had to have a winner.
I'll get to the hospitality section later, but let's get onto the part you'll really like. We were welcomed with open arms and lavender almonds. While they certainly weren't for everyone, they were a huge hit for those of us who loved them. The essence of the lavender was definitely present, but not overbearing in that, "I'm eating flowers" sort of way. The aroma filled our nostrils as the sweet and crunchy almonds still played a vital part of the overall flavor. They gave me a really relaxed, lazy-night-at-home feeling that made me warm inside. The lavender bubble bath of the culinary world, if you will.
A duo of salads followed. Both served family style, one had asparagus, home-made black olive oil, preserved blood orange, squash, arugula and mint, while the other was a new potato salad with artichokes, kale, soft farm egg, and pickled mustard seed aioli.
The asparagus salad was no joke, to be clear. Ideally cooked green spears had a great snap with none of that stringy skin that can sometimes form, the arugula provided the necessary peppery bite that contrasted well with the sweet preserved orange. Again, very good, but I can't get my mind off of those potatoes.
The ricotta agnolotti with english peas, carrots, fava beans and preserved meyer lemon was fine, bud didn't quite blow me away as much as some of the other dishes did. The produce was clearly fresh, bright, and tasty, but at the end of the day it was a good pasta plate.
However, ask anyone at the table what the best dish was, and the answer was unanimous: the salmon. None of us have ever tasted salmon so...salmony. Mind you, this is completely different from fishy. The pure flavor of salmon was intensified into each and every bite. And as good as the flavor was, the texture was even better. It was the softest, smoothest salmon from top to bottom that I have ever experienced. I could have sworn it was cooked sous vide, and would have put my very mediocre food reputation on the line. But when I asked the chef, she told me that they simply put it between two parchment sheets and cooked it, "Really low for a really long time."
Knowing that Shauna of Knead Patisserie was in charge of the desserts here, I couldn't turn them down. She is one of my two favorite pastry chefs in the city and has the talent (let alone the lines at her pastry shop) to back it up. My experiences with her pomme d'amour and croissant (which I still contend are the best in the city, by far) were enough to have us order two of each item.
This meal turned people on to foods that I know they would not otherwise have eaten. I think I saw my father eat a dark leafy green, meat-and-potatoes people were given a whole new twist on the theme, and the meal lit a bulb over the heads of previous onion haters.
Props if you got that last joke.
LME showed people what local, fresh ingredients can really do. As my mother said, "I've never tasted anything this real before."
And that's what LME is about - a farm-to-table concept with stellar cooking skills that showcase the ingredients available at hand.
We could not stop talking about this meal all weekend, which I guess is the point of going out to dinner with a large group. Sure, you need to actually eat, but when you can eat, talk, and drink during the meal itself and continue talking about it for days to come, the chefs have succeeded and the people are happy.
And we are happy indeed.
As promised, a quick note about the incredible hospitality that was shown to us. First, they were able to accommodate all of our food allergies - and I know that this has become somewhat more manageable, it was fantastic that they let us be so picky with a family style meal. Second, we were running late after a somewhat exhausting bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, and they moved our reservation back an our and a half without making so much as a peep about it. They gladly made room for us and allowed us to join them. Finally, our server, Joyful, was just that. Joyful. Delightful. Wonderful. She anticipated everyone's wine/water/plate needs, and always with a gigantic smile.
And she was cute, to boot. Call me.
Local: Mission Eatery, you now have fans from here and afar. From the bottom of our hearts, thanks for feeding us.