Mission Bay isn’t high on anyone’s list of charming neighborhoods, but a lot of people work there, so a lot of people eat there. Bon Appétit Management Company has just opened Stem, a second-floor Mediterranean restaurant in an anonymous building that’s destined to service a lot of white-collar workers thrice daily. It’s a bit like Mission Rock Resort, with one more button buttoned.
[jump] Considering the neighborhood, the name is probably a play on wine glasses and STEM, as in “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” (Further evidence: If you walk out the restaurant, you come right to the reception desk of a company called Illumina, whose glass walls are etched with ribbons of DNA code, like from Gattaca.)
If you’re not familiar, Bon Appétit is a catering services company that aims high and composts, sort of like a tastier Sodexo or a non-evil Aramark. They run large, upscale concessions such as Public House at AT&T Park and the Exploratorium’s Seaglass. In this case, it’s a 158-seat restaurant with a heated outdoor patio and the nicest wooden communal table I’ve seen in awhile.
Right off the bat, things are looking good. Lunch is a soup-sandwich-pizza situation, but caramelized sunchokes, maitake mushrooms, roccola and muhammara sound like a better combination than whatever the $5-footlong-of-the-month is over at the nearest competition. (And the horseradish ricotta on the roast beef sandwich was an excellent idea.) Although the Dogpatch has solid pizza now, a broccoli di ciccio, guanciale, and Calabrian chili pie sounds superb. There’s drip coffee, Tea-We tea, and a rudimentary cocktail list that’s about to expand, but you'd better not work past 7 p.m., because Stem shuts early.
However quickly Stem settles in, Mission Bay is definitely going to take a few years to hit its stride. For starters, there are still empty lots everywhere, but the second-story view over the water will eventually include a future park. And once it’s pleasant to eat outdoors again, expect Stem's bocce court to fill up quickly.
Stem, 499 Illinois, 915-1000.