The thing I like best about Mint Plaza is its name. It may be named for the old mint, but for me, mint conjures up the herb – green and refreshing. And Mint Plaza is a refreshing urban oasis just off a somewhat seamy stretch of Mission Street.
It’s a fitting location for Chez Papa Resto, an elegant restaurant with a new chef: Steven Rojas. He’s created a menu that’s classically French yet completely contemporary with decidedly Spanish influences. Walking into Chez Papa Resto, the first thing that caught my eye was the long gleaming bar and the gorgeous Murano glass chandeliers. With rosewood burl tabletops, an oversized orange banquette, and glamorous spot lighting, I felt like a celebrity. There’s also outdoor seating.
Rojas, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Buenos Aires, has experience working alongside master chefs around the globe, including stints in Spain and France, as well as being the former head chef at the exclusive Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas, Calif., where he was the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star. Before joining Chez Papa Resto, Rojas was the chef du cuisine at El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn (San Diego county).
While a couple of classic French standards remain on the menu, such as the burger and steak frites (the fries are tarted up with a tad too much rosemary), Rojas has added many exciting new signature dishes. As a starter, the charred octopus ($13) was tangy and delightful, highlighted by Medjool dates and chorizo. The Asian pear salad ($9) featured a whole compressed pear, its sweetness cut by lime and crème fraîche. If you love sweetbreads and foie gras, this is the place to come; both are on the menu.
Entrèes ($21–$30) are as seemingly simple as a roasted chicken breast, yet the chicken was cooked slowly under pressure – sous vide – and then roasted briefly, imparting it with a moistness usually only found in poached poultry. Other notable dishes include seared steelhead trout with celery root purée and braised beef cheeks with a brown butter beet purée, pickled Romanesca cauliflower and compressed potato fondant.
Chez Papa Resto now makes all its own sorbets and ice cream, along with a chocolate tart, molten almond cake, and the Bora Bora vanilla crème brûlée – silken and rich. And the wine list, compiled by the very capable wine director, George Aknin, includes 100 selections, with a focus on Rhone Valley, food-friendly vintages.
I had lunch at Chez Papa Resto, and I’m eagerly planning my next trip across town for dinner.
Chez Papa Resto: 4 Mint Plaza (414 Jessie Street between Mission and Market near Fifth), Monday–Thursday 11:30–2:30 & 5:30-10 p.m., Friday 11:30–2:30 & 5:30–11 p.m., Saturday 11:30–3:00 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m.; 415-546-4134, www.chezpaparesto.com.