My wife and I probably visited Mistral more than any other restaurant last year, but we hadn't been back since we hosted our office holiday party there in December, for no other reason than we had been so often. We finally made it back there last night -- we were celebrating my mother-in-law's retirement -- and the reasons Mistral was our most vistited restaurant quickly returned to me.
Let me start with our waiter, Tarso Garma. We were fortunate enough to be seated in Tarso's section the first time we ate at Mistral, and have requested to sit in his section each time since. Fortunately the restaurant has always accommodated our request. Tarso has a wonderful personality, is the consummate professional (I spied him selecting champagne glasses off the shelf after we ordered a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and individually inspect and polish each one), and is opinionated when it comes to the menu. (A personal pet peeve: when you ask the waiter for a recommendation and they tell you that "everything's good.") He has never steered us wrong, and remembers our likes and dislikes every time we return (including last night, even though we hadn't been since December).
There there's the food: with Tarso's guidance we have had a number of extraordinary meals at Mistral. Last night was no exception: I started with a delicious pea soup with lobster that was baked in a remarkably light and airy puff pastry. I then had wonderful soft shell crab, served over a salad of avacado, onion and tiny yellow and red tomatoes. I finished up with some of their delicious mint chip ice cream (which surprisingly tastes of fresh mint, not the artificial mint flavor found in store-bought ice cream).
Certainly Mistral has some stiff competition around town in terms of the quality of the food. Mistral is wonderful, however, for the overall experience. In addition to great food, the dining room is inviting and alive with activity, and the service is extraordinary (although we obviously have limited experience with the wait staff other than Tarso). And they're on opentable.com, another plus.
We got a late start in '03, but there still is enough time for Mistral to emerge as our most visited restaurant this year.