Was at Sonoma a few weeks ago and had an enjoyable experience and decided to hike over to Gtown and try Mendocino. I have never been to Mendocino and heard mixed reviews, but it was convenient to the evenings entertainment so I thought Id give it a shot. I invited a few out of town guests hoping to show them a good evening of good wine and food.
My quick rating: Avoid
The Place: Great
Mendocino is located on 29th and M St. next to the Guards. The restaurant itself is nicely decorated in wood tones. The restaurant is quite small with only a handful of tables, but when we arrived, seating us was not a problem. (Maybe that was the first bad sign). There was a lively bar crowd when we entered and I checked out the bar list. They have quite a few wines by the glass which is quite refreshing. They also have the ability to order half-glass tastes. I always hate when I go to a restaurant and order some awful wine so the half glass taste is nice. Plus its a great way to try new varietals.
The Wine: Great
Much like Sonoma, Mendocino has an excellent wine list. It is heavy in California reds, but also has substantial Washington and Oregon wine selections. Personally loving Oregon wines, I found this quite nice and ordered a few bottles. The markup did not seem too bad. Most of the wines were around 35-50 a bottle with a lot of nice 100+ bottles as well. The wine was served at the proper temperature and was served in nice Spieglau glasses.
The Service: Ok
The service wasnt bad per se, but wasnt good. It took the waitress about 15-20 minutes to take our order. This is understandable since some of our party arrived late. Throughout the meal the waitress was decently attentive. She disappeared at times but was attentive when I bitched and complained about some of the food. The food arrived quickly after being ordered and water glasses were filled up promptly.
The Food: Bad
The menu itself looked great. It was heavy with fall flavors sweet potatoes, beets, squashes, etc. The menu says the restaurant uses local organic vegetables when possible and the menu appeared to show fresh flavors that I would expect to see at the farm market.
At the start of the meal, they give you a small bowl of warm olives and roasted garlic. The olives and garlic were divine. Truly excellent. Ive always loved the olives they give you at Jaleo, but these were even better. Large size, perfectly heated and flavorful. I ate a few bowls of them that night. 10 out of 10.
As for appetizers there were a few salads to choose from I believe a Caesar, a field greens, and one with beets. There were also a few appetizers. In particular, the Beef Carpaccio, Diver Scallop, and Mac and cheese sounded quite good. My party ultimately ordered the beet salad, the diver scallop, and the soup of the day.
The beet salad was quite good. It had very fresh field greens and fresh red beets. Without a doubt this was the best food item we ordered notwithstanding the olives. 9 out of 10.
The soup of the day was a Sweet Potato soup with a hint of cream. When it arrived, it looked very nice but on taste was very disappointing. It had very little if any flavor and tasted watery. Having made sweet potato and squash soups quite often, the soup was quite terrible. It seemed to be lacking any base, like a vegetable, beef, or veal stock. It needed something. 0 out of 10.
Lastly, we had the diver scallop appetizer. The diver scallop arrived on a clam shell. Topping the clam shell was a duxelle of black mushrooms. On top of the mushrooms was two large diver scallops topped with melted cheese. The mushroom concoction was excellent. However the scallops were not. The scallops were very large and looked great, but as I cut into them noticed they were cold- as if they were made earlier in the day and taken out of the fridge for my appetizer. It was very odd and not what I was expecting. The melted cheese on top of the scallops was tasteless and overall it was an uninspiring appetizer. 1 out of 10.
For main courses we ordered the roasted baby chicken, the cheese plate, and the Gnocchi. The roasted chicken was ok. It was served with fingerling potatoes which were quite good. The chicken was decently flavorful and properly cooked, but uninspiring. Having had excellent roasted chicken elsewhere in DC (read Corduroy) and knowing how to make an excellent roasted chicken myself, the dish was uninspiring. It lacked any real intense flavor that a good roasted chicken should have. For the $25 cost of the chicken, ill give it a 6 out of 10.
As for the cheese plate - excellent. We had slices of all of the cheese available that evening, two goat, two sheep, two blue, and two cow. All the cheeses were excellent and served with some sort of side like a fruit compote, syrup, or nuts. The crostini served with the cheese was great. The cheese plate was $28, which seemed a bit excessive. But overall 10 out of 10.
Lastly, we had the Gnocchi. They were in a butter sauce, topped with cheese, arugula, squash, and chanterelle mushrooms. The gnocchi themselves were cooked properly but were tasteless. They tasted as if they came out of a bag or something. The sauce was tasteless. It was essentially melted butter and maybe some cream, but was watery. It seemed as if the chef forgot to season my dish, or for that matter all of the dishes that evening. The mixture of squash and arugula and mushrooms was ok. The mushroom flavor one would expect from chanterelles was overpowered by the sauce. The only saving grace of the meal was the cheese that topped the dish. It was excellent. Overall, it was ok. I did the best I could with the dish and doctored it up with salt and pepper. At $18 it was a nice portion though. 5 out of 10.
We skipped dessert.
Overall food was not good. It lacked any flavor. Maybe the chef was having an off night, but the lack of flavor was consistent throughout. While there is little question that quality of the food going into the kitchen was high, the dishes coming out were not.
For the price, and its not that cheap (25-30 per entrée), there are tons and tons of dining options in DC I would take over this restaurant any day. I wont be back anytime soon.