Occupation: Marketing Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mercury Lounge
Reviewed Mercury Lounge: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Mercury Lounge is a small bar/restaurant tucked in the SOMA neighborhood. It's a great place to relax over hearty, Asian fusion food. Given my Filipino heritage, I like the variety of the dishes and appreciate the burst of flavors from the dishes, which include sauces and ingredients such as vinegar and soy sauce. I normally go here for Sunday brunch and during fun events like Tuesday trivia nights for dinner or happy hour. A parking garage next to the restaurant provides easy parking. The restaurant atmosphere is modern with dark woods and furniture, and the bar is situated close to the entrance.
What I really like about the dishes here is that they are designed for sharing, which provides a great way to try a little bit of everything and makes the dining experience more intimate. The dinner menu has a variety of dishes divided into small appetizers (“Refreshing Starts”), slightly larger dishes (“Warming”) and larger main dishes (“Hearty”) with traditional rice dishes and side dishes as well. Most of the dishes are served with the perfect sauce, usually a vinegar type that brings out the flavor in the dishes.
During my last dinner here, I ordered a variety of dishes. I started with some of my favorite appetizers. The cucumber salad is a simple, refreshing salad with sliced green cucumbers, red onions, ginger, and a vinegar dressing. It’s a perfect way to begin before moving on to some of the heartier dishes and the salad provides a balance for some of the richer appetizers. One of my ultimate favorite appetizers is the fried oyster plate. The oysters are crunchy and fried to perfection, served with the perfect tangy vinegar sauce that makes the oysters just melt in your mouth. I also ordered the honey-walnut prawns with candied walnuts, which is a classic favorite. A dish I tried for the first time is a unique take on pizza: Asian-style. The Pinakbet Pizza incorporates Philippine shrimp paste, which is known for its rich, salty flavor. This ingredient is normally used in a variety of traditional Philippine meat dishes to add a salty, smoky flavor. The pizza is then topped with tomatoes and mozzarella, classic pizza ingredients. The flavor of the pizza is definitely different and provides an unusual take on pizza.
The fried rice plates are all excellent. I would recommend the pork adobo fried rice or sesame chicken fried rice, which is what I ordered during my most recent dinner there. The rice has grilled chicken pieces, shredded carrots, egg, and green onions and the combination is excellent. The rice plate is great complement to one of my favorite side dishes, the Eggplant Miso, which, like the cucumber salad, is a simple dish but packs a lot of flavor with a special miso soy sauce and green onions. To go along with the rice dish, I also ordered the Korean chicken, which is grilled and marinated and served on top of noodles.
For drinks, I recommend trying some of their unique cocktails. My personal favorite is the Mercury Royale, which is sparkling white wine served with an edible candied hibiscus flower for an additional sweet flavor. I also enjoy the Bloody Mercury, their take on the Bloody Mary, which includes wasabi and soy sauce for an extra kick.
Don’t forget the dessert! I highly recommend the open-face Turon – a flaky, crispy flatbread topped with vanilla ice cream, sautéed bananas and jackfruit (a traditional Asian fruit used in many desserts), all topped with a sweet cinnamon rum sauce. It’s the perfect way to end a meal here and like all the other dishes the size makes it perfect for sharing.
I would recommend Mercury Lounge for casual dining with friends. The costs can get a bit pricey, depending on how many dishes and/or drinks ordered, but overall the food, and modern /casual bar atmosphere is great if you want Asian food packed with flavor. Aside from dinner, I would also recommend going here for Sunday brunch for the bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s and tasty egg and rice dishes.
Favorite Restaurant: Trueburger
Reviewed Mercury Lounge: Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Mercury Lounge has multiple personalities. It’s a lively sports bar. It’s a nightclub and live music venue. It’s a restaurant, or it wants to be. What it isn’t, however, is the swanky Zen-like lounge depicted in the photos on their website, complete with romantic candlelit tables, tucked-away seating areas, and a minimalist modern space where one can enjoy contemporary Asian cuisine. Our immediate impression of Mercury Lounge was nothing more than a loud bar crowded with musical equipment and in general disarray. And no hostess in sight.
We were eventually shown to a table for two in the small dining area opposite the bar space. On one side we had a lively crowd cheering at the baseball game being broadcast on their enormous TV, an apparent replacement of the modern artwork in their website photos. The table on our opposite side held a gaggle of girls out for ladies night. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, but the high volume of noise made conversation challenging.
The drinks list looked promising with an array of cocktails like a Thai Basil Gimlet, Mercury Mojito, and Red Ginger Fizz. We ordered two of the gimlets. At $9 each and in light of what appeared to be a bar-focused establishment, I was hopeful but ultimately disappointed. Both the gimlet and the mojito I ordered later lacked balance. One desperately needed sweetness, the other needed acid. I can’t say I enjoyed them, but they did at least have booze in them.
The Mercury Lounge menu is comprised of a chef’s tasting menu and an a la carte dinner menu with categories like "refreshing," "warming," "hearty," and "traditional." The Asian-influenced dishes include Thai, Korean, and Filipino items, some with an American twist. We started with spicy tuna on yam chips, which was basically a tuna poke, topped with tobiko and served on a slightly stale purple yam chip. At $12 for four tuna-topped chips, I didn’t think it was the greatest value, but at least the flavors were pleasant enough.
Next was an Asian pear salad that the menu described as accompanied by lettuce, bean sprouts, and a dressing made with gochujang, which I later learned to be a fermented Korean hot chili sauce. The salad we were served included the aforementioned items plus -- wait for it -- slices of beef. I’m no vegetarian, but I still don’t like finding meat where I don’t expect to see it. There was no chili heat in the dressing either, just the typical sweet and soy flavors you get in any chain restaurant “Asian” salad. The combination certainly didn’t highlight the Asian pears, which seemed to be treated as an afterthought rather than the star of the dish.
Our other dishes were crab curry fried rice, which was a generous portion and included little pieces of Chinese sausage, and while I thought I detected a crabby essence in the curry flavor, there were no identifiable pieces of crab in the dish. The hoisin-glazed short ribs (actually baby back ribs) were cooked to a nice point of tenderness (the meat came easily off the bone), but the glaze was so sickly sweet it was inedible. The hoisin was combined with something reminiscent of sugary breakfast cereal, forming a sort of crust on the outside of the ribs, minus the crunch. The meat when separated from the glaze was flavorless.
Throughout this lackluster dining experience, we were assaulted by sound checks and high-pitched feedback noises, along with staff and band members standing on tables to run cable, set up video cameras, etc. This was all fairly disruptive on its own, but once the band started playing at 8:40 p.m. (about 20 feet from our table), the noise was intolerable. I had no problem with the music (pretty decent reggae in fact), but it was much too close in too tight of a space for my comfort.
I was confused by Mercury Lounge. Maybe some people would enjoy this atmosphere during dinner, but it made my already questionable evening just plain unpleasant. For me, the noise level combined with the mediocre food and cocktails will not be worth a second visit.
Occupation: VP/Sales Channel Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Patxi's Pizza
Reviewed Mercury Lounge: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Mercury Lounge is truly a unique place, even for a city with a restaurant scene as diverse as San Francisco’s. A Filipino-focused, Pan-Asian restaurant, Mercury Lounge turns into a DJ club at 10:00 PM and packs in the clubbers until the wee hours.
We have a bit of an identity crisis on our hands. Austere concrete floors and an industrial vibe accentuate a simple, Asian-inspired décor. A playlist cranks 80s tunes, and the TVs that line the walls show sporting events (the NHL finals for our dinner). Overall, it is a very eclectic (odd?) combination. With seating for maybe only 30 people, there is a LOT of open space in the property, including an entire extra storefront that remains dark during daytime hours. When the DJ starts spinning at 10:00, the space comes alive with revelers; when we sat for dinner at 7:45 PM, we were among the only patrons.
I’m not generally a fan of Pan-Asian restaurants. Although I absolutely love the food from every corner of Asia, I often find that Pan-Asian places do everything satisfactorily, but nothing particularly well. I’d rate Mercury Lounge better than most, but still falling into that trap. My group of five adults started off with lumpia rolls -- a Filipino staple -- along with fried oysters, spicy tuna tartar, and the honey walnut prawns. The lumpia were perfectly crispy on the outside with a tasty mash of meaty filling on the inside. I love lumpia, and these were very good ones. The oysters were nicely fried and quite fresh, though lacking in any sort of Asian flavor. The prawns were huge and fantastic, but the tuna tartar disappointed with its blandness. I worship raw tuna in all of it forms, but this preparation lacked any flavor profile whatsoever.
The main courses were the highlights, led by the pork sisig. A classic Filipino dish, the delectable sisig is a sizzling platter of generous cuts of pork seasoned with vinegar and served with chilies and onions. This dish absolutely stole the show for my group. Coming in a close second was the Shaking Pepper Beef, a ridiculously tender slab of beef tenderloin that gets wok seared and seasoned marvelously. We also tried both the kimchi fried rice and the pork adobo fried rice. If you pulled the actual kimchi and pork out of the dishes, you’d be rewarded by their authenticity. Unfortunately, the remainder of the fried rice was under-seasoned and quite boring. Speaking of boring, the spicy garlic noodles had no discernable flavor whatsoever. Stick to the meat dishes.
Our service at Mercury Lounge was fantastic. Our waitress was friendly, knowledgeable, and very attentive. The five adults in our group ate everything family style, and she took notice of this and made sure we got five of everything: five prawns, five oysters, etc. This seemingly minute detail was not overlooked by our group; it’s frustrating when you get four prawns to split amongst five people! A+ on service.
Then there’s the wine list… Wow, failure. Keep in mind that we are in San Francisco, the wine capital of the US. To meet the needs of their patrons, Mercury Lounge offers exactly five wines, listed by grape varietal. The menu doesn’t list the producer of the wine, nor the vintage, nor even the price! I don’t mean to be a wine snob, but that’s not acceptable – not in this town! Massive upgrade needed here.
Overall, I’d say that Mercury Lounge is a DJ lounge first and a restaurant second. Some dishes truly shine, while others seem like menu filler. A bit more focus on the food, and bit less on the music would improve the restaurant’s long-term chances of success.