It's just the beginning for Mason Pacific, which opened last week in San Francisco's Nob Hill at (you guessed it) the corner of Mason Street and Pacific Ave. But I can say this: it's a nice place to have a glass of wine and the fanciest potato skins you've ever tried.
We decided to explore the menu Apps Only style because the entire lefthand side of the menu is comprised of starters and snacks. Some of the dishes skew French: there's a cocotte of creamy brandade ($12), made with russet potatoes and house yogurt, and served with toasts for smearing. It's rich and thick, just hinting at smoked-cod flavor. We ran out of toasts and finished the brandade with a spoon, enjoying how well it paired with a glass of Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.
The terrine ($12) is country-style but delicate and subtly seasoned, made with a mix of rabbit and pork with apple and hazelnuts.
Mason Pacific's chef, Sean McTiernan, worked in Michelin-starred kitchens in Paris including Taillevent, Le Bellecour, and La Table de Robuchon, and the restaurant's a family affair. McTiernan's sister, Shannon McTiernan Thomson, designed the space, which has two dining rooms— one a lively bar space with wraparound windows to let light in, the other a more formal-feeling dining area painted in muted shades of gray. Thomson and her husband, Jay Thomson, who is a co-owner of Copain Wine Cellars near Healdsburg, own the bistro together, and house wines from Copain are served on tap.
About those potato skins: order them. The $5 bowl is heaped with delicately peeled ribbons of potatoes, seasoned with fragrant herbs and a shower of parmesan. They're crispy, salty, flaky, and light, nothing like the potato-cups you might have crammed in your mouth at a sports bar. You could drink beer, but the right choice from the list, compiled by Eric Railsback (formerly of RN74) is a glass of Grameron Cotes du Rhone ($14), a remarkably fresh, herbal grenache made with minimal sulfur.
You could continue on to the burger (we haven't tried it yet, but our money's on it going pretty darn well with that Cotes du Rhone), but we chose one more snack instead: the fried chicken. ($14) It's dark-meat only, a thigh and leg, brined in buttermilk and served with remoulade and a bottle of green Tabasco. The portion is dainty (especially considering that the burger is the same price) but the chicken is killer, moist and chickeny in flavor and boasting a delicate shell that crackles like glass. The recommended pairing is a glass of bubbly (served in elegant Zalto flutes). If you've never tried Champagne and fried chicken together, it's an experience we heartily recommend.