Bay Area Reviews
Summary: Good, if uneven food, in a convivial atmosphere.
Sometimes you can have a great meal while your dining companion has a disappointing one. It's a sad fact of life, and I'm not sure what it says about a restaurant other than it is inconsistent. Unfortunately, that was our experience dining at the Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg one Tuesday evening in July 2007.
The Mendo Bistro is on the second floor of a shopping gallery, easy to miss if you are not looking hard for it. Apparently many people did look hard, as it was pretty full when we ate there. Its open dining room has wood floors and wood chairs half painted blue, and offers nondescript views of town. There are paper tablecloth and crayons at each table, making it quite child friendly.
Mendo Bistro has a quirky approach to its menu. You choose the protein (fish, chicken, meat - there are tofu and Portobelo mushrooms for vegetarians), the method of cooking (roasted, grilled, sauteed, fried, braised) and the sauce and they prepare the dish. For less adventurous souls, there are some set dishes. Most dishes are in the high teens to mid twenties.
I didn't want to be adventurous and had decided on the rabbit, but they were out of it that night. Instead I had the hanger steak ($23), grilled and decided to try all the sauces (a $5 complement). Mike had the pan roasted halibut with carrot slaw and balsamic brown butter ($21).
My steak was great, perfectly done medium rare and not too chewy (as this cut of meat usually is). It had an intense meaty flavor, and I thought it didn't need any sauce at all. I did taste them all, however, and I was terribly disappointed. I pretty much disliked all of them. The exception was the Dijon-tarragon cream which was absolutely delicious, very balanced and satisfying. It went quite well with the polenta that came with my dish, which otherwise was plain. As for the other sauces, the lemon/garlic butter had a hint of lemon and none of garlic, and tasted mostly like melted butter. The roasted garlic gravy had no garlic flavor at all, and reminded me of a badly made white sauce. The charmoula wasn't bad, but its flavor was also too light. It was spicy and vinegary. The soy ginger sauce tasted mostly of soy, which is not necessarily a bad thing, though I didn't like it. I liked the steak sauce more, though this too tasted too much of soy. The BBQ sauce was good, but very intense and spicy and you couldn't taste anything else if you were eating it. I don't have notes on the marsala/hot pepper sauce, but I don't remember liking it either.
Mike liked his halibut, but he complained that the portion wasn't very big. Indeed, he had to eat some of my steak to satisfy his hunger. He also ate absolutely all of his carrots and green beans.
The big disappointment, however, came with his dessert. He ordered the Chocolate Stupafaction (Chocolate Mousse encased in White Chocolate, Warm Brownie Bite, Chocolate Sauce) ($7) and I don't think he's every had such a bad dessert in his life. None of it had any flavor to speak off, it didn't taste more than chocolate than brown- colored Cool Whip. It was just terrible. Fortunately for me the fried banana split ($9.50) was very good. The fried banana lacked the finesse of those prepared at South East Asian restaurants, but it was still very tasty and served very hot. The chocolate, vanilla and coffee gelatos were light and creamy and had strong flavors. The whole dish worked very well together. Mike was jealous. Fortunately for him, the dish is large enough to share. Indeed, you probably won't want to get two desserts if you order this.
Mendo Bistro has a short but nice wine list made entirely of Mendocino wines. We recognized some of those we had tasted that day - and found them to have about a 40% mark-up from the wineries. Very reasonable if you ask me.
Service was good; there were no gaffes. Our water was refilled frequently.
In all, I liked Mendo Bistro and I'd go again but be a bit cautious on what I'm ordering. I'd definitely ask for the Dijon tarragon cream no matter what I ordered.
301 North Main Street
Fort Bragg, CA
Grilled Hanger Steak