There are cursed locations, and then there is the spot in Montgomery Plaza where six restaurants have stood over a span of 12 years.
Perhaps you went to Mac’s Steak & Seafood or Deluxe Bar & Grill. Remember that time you grabbed a drink at Monty’s Corner? You really enjoyed the lamb burger with truffle fries at Bite City Grill and, just a few blinks it seems later, endured a fiery crawfish boil at King Crab Tap House.
Or, maybe you didn’t.
Blame the location, execution, menu or atmosphere, but these fateful five are no longer with us, and who’s to say the sixth incarnation here, M Bistro, will keep its head above water?
The majority of the restaurateurs behind these operations seemed to think the spot needed to deliver an upscale riff on American food, M Bistro included. Or, more likely, most of them needed to pay the rent and an $8 bowl of pho wasn’t going to cut it.
The man behind M Bistro, Steve Mitchell, has the chops and the stomach for the business. With previous stops at Yucatan Taco Stand and a variety of Fuzzy’s founder Paul Willis-related ventures, Mitchell seeks to put his own stamp on the restaurant, a handsome space of hardwoods and plate-glass (take care at the watch-your-step entry) with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the hoi polloi, a virtual promenade of youngsters on their way to and from BoomerJack’s or Bahama Buck’s or Starbucks.
We were dining with, ahem, the older set on a recent evening, also known as the people most likely to be able to afford a $28 dish called Angry Lobster.
With 10 entrees ranging from $13 (seasonal vegetable plate) to $36 (grilled premium beef filet), the dinner menu skews seafood-heavy, with day-boat scallops, salmon piccata, tempura-fried prawns and the aforementioned lobster, as well as your requisite chicken dish, the ubiquitous short-rib offering, lamb meatballs and a chicken-fried rib-eye.
The last is absurd Instagram bait, a $27 rib-eye that ate up a large plate and, by my estimation, was at least 10 inches across. Smothered with red-eye gravy, accompanied by frites — thin-cut and lackluster — and topped with two quail eggs, it inspired our modest goals of ignoring its questionable cholesterol content, keeping our heads down, and hoping no one we knew walked by the table.
Our server, a touch too relaxed given the pricey fare, egged us on and seemed disappointed in our general lack of enthusiasm — we gave up less than a quarter of the way in. The steak, capably cooked and of good quality, was not so much the problem as was a lack of seasoning that couldn’t be resolved by the bland batter.
Under the watchful eyes of the quail yolks, which added nothing to the dish, we moved on to the Angry Lobster, overcooked fettuccine in a spicy, delicious broth. I felt bad for the seafood — tough, chewy lobster; mealy mussels; and one chunk of shrimp — that had to die to swim in this bowl.
Earlier in the meal, we had ordered the jalapeño polenta fondue ($8), six huge triangle-wedges of cornmeal, perfectly fried, and topped with a gritty, white-cheddar sauce. This was not fondue, nor was the cheese very good, but I repurposed it with the fries from the rib-eye plate, dipping each marginal potato in as if conjuring a better meal.
As if to emphasize where we were, my eyes fell on two closed-circuit TVs above the bar that show patrons what’s going on in the kitchen. The soundless images featured a couple of people blurrily making food in a mirthless mirage.
Call it a case of too much information in an age where TMI is de rigueur, against a backdrop of a city with too many good restaurants to visit, and where this one runs the risk of becoming yet another unrecognizable memory.