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One Plate to Rule Them All 

All the delicious dishes at Medjool make us whine -- in a good way

Wednesday, Dec 29 2004
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Forgive the Seinfeldian invocation, but ... ever notice how small plates are never served on small plates? Is it to create the illusion that you're receiving large quantities of food at a comparatively bargain price (compared to the price of a regular-size entree, that is)? Or perhaps it's just the opposite -- to make trendy-chic weight-conscious diners instantly aware that they're tasting more but eating less (this last theory calls to mind the episode of Sex and the City in which Miranda hooked up with an old chum, a former nebbish, who had lost a hundred or so pounds by ordering all his favorite dishes, chewing them, and then spitting them out).

Either way, to my mind the small-plate craze is a little bit like reading a collection of short stories: Sure, the variety is nice, but eventually you find a character you really like, and then just when you're starting to get into her story, it ends and you're left hanging, wondering what she would have said or done next, and you realize that what you actually want is to settle down in a big comfy chair and enjoy a whole entree, er, novel from beginning to end -- plot twists, fleshed-out characters, garnish, and all.

So you can imagine how disquieting it was for me to be sitting at a table for 10 at Medjool (2518 Mission, 550-9055, www.medjoolsf.com), eyeing a plate with but one small slice of hanger steak left on it, and looking up to see at least three inebriated tablemates coveting it with about as much indifference as Gollum did the Ring. And being that I was in polite company, I had to resist the almost unbearable urge to dive in and grab it. As a result, it sat there, until finally the closest diner carved off a piece the size of a quarter, and then the next diner did the same, and by the time it got passed around to me, the plate held only bits of sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes clinging to a cold piece of gristle. Damn, that was good gristle.

I know this is starting to sound like a whine. But it's a whine born of affection, because Medjool makes so many dishes that I want to know better, and longer, and more often, and completely, that even triple orders of everything wouldn't (and didn't) cover it. Midway through the meal, there were calls for another round of chermoula-flavored halibut with braised fennel and olives (chermoula is a Moroccan marinade of cumin, coriander, lemon juice, paprika, ginger, and garlic); additional servings of lamb and fig tagine, with its fall-apart-at-the-touch chunks of meat seasoned in cinnamon and cumin, its succulent bits of onion and savory local fig (substituting for sweet prunes or medjool dates, from which the restaurant gets its name), and its cozy bed of parsley-flecked couscous; and at least one inappropriately loud and demanding cry for more of that tender hanger steak, which in this Middle Eastern version came grilled and crusted with harissa (a paste made of chilies, coriander, garlic, and caraway), creating a spicy, piquant jus that soaked up wonderfully into the aforementioned wilted baby spinach and mashed potatoes.

The restaurant will have to bear some responsibility for my boorish behavior -- the teaser portions had served only to bait me (and, it seems, amplify the effects of two bottles of wine). The bottom line is that steaks this good are not meant to be served on tapas plates. No, my preciousss ... they are not.

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Bonnie Wach

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