Last year when The Mark was under different ownership we loved the food and hated the service. Waited an hour for our meal. Disorganization was the most popular order. When we wrote about it we heard from many readers who had had the same experience.
Fast forward to fall 2018 and new owners. Under Brian and Mikela Oberg, it’s a completely different place. The new menu has brought back some of the lower costs items such as the hamburger, many entrees at $20 or below so if you don’t feel like dropping $40 to $60 on a steak dinner you can still afford the place. And the kitchen and wait staff is completely professional, especially our intensely charming waiter Pedro G. We had a front-row seat of the kitchen on a moderately busy Saturday night and a good view of how the executive chef kept dishes up and got them to tables with a glance from a crew that was hustling. Someone has been listening to customer feedback and has taken steps to make sure that one of downtown’s classiest looking restaurants offers a dining experience that matches the ambiance.
Where to start? The wine list is still on iPad tablets, which I love because it gives the establishment flexibility to add or delete wines without accruing printing expenses and you can “bookmark” selections as you go along. We settled on a Central Coast chardonnay (Paraiso) that was a value at $28. My companion ordered the chicken Parmesan ($26), I chose the bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($19) and an appetizer of hand-cut french fries ($4) and one of the pastry chef’s creations that our waiter said was amazing, the tiramisu ($9).
We tend to notice what other people are ordering when you’re facing the window to the kitchen, and the most popular items had to be the butter cake ($9) for dessert (with ice cream, of course, and warmed up before serving) and the filet mignon slider appetizers with those fresh-cut fries ($15). We will be sampling those in the future. The attention to detail is strong with the new owners, beginning with a warm loaf of amazing sourdough bread. It’s a test of willpower not to consume it before you can use it to sop up some of the sauces. Fortunately those fries arrived, dusted with sea salt and parsley, and they were particularly winning, as good as those found at the Woolgrowers but crisper and still sweet and starchy.
My companion’s chicken Parmesan was presented on a bed of pasta with sautéed spinach in the tomato sauce. While the double large-boned breast was crispy, she thought the version at nearby Uricchio’s was superior. It was the only note of disappointment, and even then it was taste memory that was influencing the satisfaction level.
The meatloaf was amazing in both taste and construction. Mixed in with the meat in the assembly process were minute bits of carrots, celery and onion. They were so finely integrated into the creation that you could taste them and it was not only beautiful to the eye it was tantalizing to the tongue. The bacon on the exterior was less important. It takes a lot to make bacon seem like a bit player. This was resting on some amazing mashed potatoes made from red skinned new potatoes, the flavorful skin left in pieces throughout that warm mound. Two trimmed, steamed carrots garnished it with steamed broccoli and cauliflower rounded out the plate. I had this at The Mark in the past, but the new crew has improved it.
The tiramisu was unusual. Usually it’s a lot of espresso-soaked ladyfingers, but their presence in this round presentation were minimal with an emphasis on light whipped mascarpone. No cocoa-dusted topping either. Different. We finished it off so quickly, as it was like a great mousse at the end of a meal. In the future I do plan to order the lime and guava cheesecake ($9) and that butter cake to see if it ranks with the best versions I’ve enjoyed in the past. Other entrees we’ll sample in the future include the butter poached lobster tail (market price), the paella ($31), the 26-ounce bone-in rib-eye ($49) and the steak stroganoff pasta with a mushroom brandy cream sauce ($24).
Service was just first-rate, not just because our waiter was so charming and attentive to all his customers. I saw the executive chef being firm but never losing his composure, summoning staffers with a glance when an order was up and ready for presentation. He reminded me of a young Clint Eastwood. The crew working behind him seemed efficient. There are a lot of small details they seem to have mastered here, such as if you want to take some of your food home, they box it and present a claim ticket that is a wine cork with a letter on it, keeping the containers at the hostess’ station so it’s not lying on your table as you’re enjoying dessert and finishing the wine.
The Mark can again be recommended for a fine dining experience.