Mia Francesca (Carmel Valley)

>> Thursday, March 15, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/15/2012 
Price: $9-12 per appetizer, $15-30 per entree
Location: 12955 El Camino Real G-4, San Diego, CA 92130

The Quick Bit:
+ good range of vegetarian, seafood, meat courses on menu
+ many tantalizing menu choices
+ house bread was hot, crunchy, and delicious
Δ front of house service could be improved
Δ service could be improved
Δ house balsamic could be improved

While I had some reservations about returning to dine in the same shopping center where I had been told to "take a walk..." "...across the parking lot," the recent opening of Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca was enough to interest me in returning to the vicinity of the previous incident. After missing the grand opening in late February, I decided to give the new restaurant the "requisite two weeks" to get things together so that I could get an accurate glimpse into what Mia Francesca really has to offer.
Mia Francesca is part of an Illinois Restaurant empire that began in 1992 by Chef Scott Harris. The vision of Mia Francesca was to be "informal but not compromise the quality of the food" and to "offer an exciting dining experience at a good price." Harris now seems to be mostly a restauranteur, but was a part of many Chicago kitchens prior to opening Mia Francesca including the 95th, Ambria, Cucina Cucina, Harry's Cafe, Sole Mio, and Petthany's in St. Croix. Recently, Harris has turned his attention to San Diego, first opening Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. Harris seems to have been interested in San Diego for awhile as he had an interesting interview regarding the similarities of Davanti to Cucina Urbana.
After deciding to visit Mia Francesca, the first thing I tried to do was obtain a reservation. While there is a reservation system on the website, it did not include locations outside of Chicago, which forced me to use the antiquated method of calling the restaurant. After confirming my reservation for two with the hostess, we arrived on time the following day to a restaurant that was about half-full. While there were two hostesses, one of the hostesses (the more senior one) absolutely refused to talk to me while the other was on the phone. Afterwards, the senior hostess asked me to step aside and wait "for a moment" while they tried to "find us a table." The senior hostess then proceeded to sit the next four parties of customers, three of which were walk-ins without reservations. Only when there were absolutely no other customers waiting for a table, the senior hostess returned and instructed the junior hostess to take us to a table.
While I may be known to be more irascible and quick to jump to conclusions, the individual I dined with is very level headed and calm. That my dining companion felt this was a problem most likely caused by ethnic background is a sure sign of trouble.
While I wanted to put the front of house issues behind me and enjoy the meal, the service at the restaurant left a lot to be desired. When silverware was cleared with a previous course, we had to ask for replacements when the next dish arrived as no new silverware was provided. The service also seemed to be very disorganized in general; enough to cause my normally bucolic companion to complain to me about the service.
Front of house and service issues aside, restaurants are ultimately about the food.

mussels - spicy tomato sauce
The mussels were easily the best dish of the night; the mussels were cooked perfectly and the tomato sauce had the perfect balance of seasoning, spice, acidity, and complex flavor. The sauce was so good that we asked for extra bread that we could use to soak up the sauce. The sauce seemed to consist of crushed tomatoes, garlic, fennel, and white wine.
carpaccio con asparagi - raw sirloin, capers, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, olive oil, parmigiano
The carpaccio was a beautifully plated dish and seemed to have all the elements of what would be an amazing dish. Perhaps the beauty of the plating set the expectations too high for the end result.
While the asparagus, mushrooms, parmigiano, and other elements all added flavor to the dish, the ultimate key component of the dish had to be the flavor of the sirloin. While I felt that the sirloin was fresh and of high quality, the only explanation I have for the lack of flavor is that it must have been sliced far in advance to the point where the goodness of the beef was lost with the beef sitting in the refrigerator.

pesce capesante - grouper, sea scallops, red and yellow peppers, capers, garlic, tomatoes, spinach, white wine
This dish arrived with the most mouth-watering aroma of the roasted grouper. Smelling the dish was a great experience and made my mouth water in anticipation. Overall, the dish was enjoyable but not without faults; chiefly, the grouper was too salty. The sea scallops were a nice touch to the dish and a luxurious ingredient, but they did not seem to add much to the dish in overall composition.
rigatoni bolognese - tomato meat sauce, carrots, celery, onions, herbs, parmigiano
I originally ordered this dish figuring that it would be a good comparison point to other Italian restaurants. Fortunately, I ordered other dishes because I don't believe this dish was reflective of Mia Francesca. In addition to the pasta being under-cooked, the bolognese tasted as if it had only been cooking for about five minutes as opposed to slowly braising for hours to develop layers of unctuous flavor.

While the overall front of house staff was a tremendous letdown, I still felt that the overall experience at Mia Francesca was positive. There is certainly much room for the restaurant to improve, but I am willing to give them another shot to see the improvement.
Still for a large minority of people, the treatment from the senior hostess would be offensive enough to preclude any future visits. This is one area that should definitely be looked at if Mia Francesca wishes to be successful as San Diego is an area of high ethnic diversity.


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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