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Maria MansoMaria MansoMaria Manso
Flatiron Steak with Pommes Frites, Whole Crispy Striped Bass, Traditional Cuban Flan

JoeName: Joe
Occupation: Accountant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Maria Manso World Cuisine
Reviewed Maria Manso World Cuisine: Friday, August 25, 2006

Maria and Yo are in a very quiet tree-lined area of San Rafael. There is always street parking nearby, and it’s a nice ride over the bridge. (You can take tourist friends to the Golden Gate Bridge overlook on the way back.) Yo is always exceptionally welcoming and the entire staff is very friendly. Yo loves to create infusions of various liquors and fruit, often from their own organic garden. Maria does wonders from a smallish kitchen. It is a great place for a relaxed and savory, creative meal. Maria, like my partner (The Cuban Wonder), is from Cuba originally and takes some family recipes, adds her considerable experience, and extrapolates into a cohesive and original menu. Her Asia de Cuba roots show, but so does her unique perspective with food.

Unlike our other visits, we went over on a Friday night. We had no trouble getting there and parking was a breeze. True, from San Francisco we had to pay the toll for the “admission fee” on the bridge back to the city, but it is still less than most parking garages in the city. It was just warm enough that we were able to sit outside. That’s a very romantic and charming environment for dinner. I really think it must be great for lunch on a warm day.

Our dinner was at a very relaxed pace. This is not a restaurant to rush through. That night we learned that there had been a major calamity with the kitchen staff on their way to work, and Maria was alone in the kitchen. How she did it, I’ll never know, but she did! The food’s generally not quite as labor-intensive as Asia de Cuba’s, but it was all delicious and it speaks to Maria’s skill level and organization that she was able to go it alone that night.

CrisName: Cris
Occupation: Part-time Caterer
Location: Walnut Creek
Favorite Restaurant: El Jarro
Reviewed Maria Manso World Cuisine:
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Maria Manso’s International Cuisine in San Rafael is the restaurant I’ve been searching for. When we stepped through the door we immediately felt at home. The warm wall colors flow with the colors of the floor, tables are pristinely set, and the light glows softly from the wall sconces and the candles on the tables. Simple elegance.

And although warm and inviting, nothing could compare to the greeting we received from Alejandro. It truly was like coming home to see family. We were immediately seated, served water, and allowed time to peruse the menu and wine and drinks list. In the meantime, Alejandro delivered fried tortilla strips and fresh green olive tapenade. Our food server arrived with another friendly greeting. My guest ordered a beer and since I couldn’t decide between two wines, our server left and came back with a sample of each. Nice touch.

We started with the Louisiana Crab Cake with Avocado Remoulade on Arugula with Lemon Oil and the Saffron Shrimp Timbale with saffron aioli. The crab cake was nice and brown on the outside with a wonderful crunchy texture, the inside was moist and flavorful and the remoulade finished it off perfectly. The timbale arrived as more a mound of shrimp. And although the shrimp was chopped into nice bite-sized pieces, it was very tough. My guess is it was overcooked. The flavor was nice; the texture was not. The bed of salad greens was enough that I didn’t need to order a salad; however, a quick rinse of the greens would have removed the old black pieces I found on my plate. For our next course we ordered the flatiron steak with pommes frites and the pan-seared ahi tuna with a candied ginger sauce and sesame mashed potatoes. I am not a meat eater but the steak was perfectly seasoned and cooked. The pommes frites were very thin shoestring potatoes presented in a big pile. Trying to put them on your fork with a knife as we observed another guest attempting to do was tricky. We decided to make them finger food. They didn’t complement the wonderful steak. While the ahi tuna was seared perfectly, it was served a little colder than I’m used to and I didn’t taste a candied ginger sauce. We thought it tasted more like a teriyaki and soy sauce blend. The mashed potatoes were warm but bland and didn’t work well with the tuna. The two textures were so similar, I think I would have enjoyed the Asian Slaw or something with crunch with the tuna.

Dessert is something we rarely eat, but we decided to indulge. Turns out it was our first experience in gluttony. We ordered the dessert platter: Coconut Sorbet, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis, and Maria’s Grandmother’s Secret Flan Recipe. The sorbet was excellent — not too sweet, very refreshing. The cake was disappointing; it lacked a good chocolate flavor and it was missing a nice creamy texture. The flan, usually one of our least favorite desserts, is the best-kept secret of all. It was excellent — the texture, the sweetness, and the caramel sauce all worked well together. Worth the five-mile run we had to do the next day. Since I’m not likely to travel to San Rafael very often, if Maria Manso would like to open a restaurant in our neighborhood I would welcome her with open arms. Just make sure to bring Alejandro with you.

The ambiance, the Latin music in the background, the ability to linger over dinner and drinks and have a nice conversation without loud distractions were well worth any inconsistencies in food. The food wasn’t awful, it was enjoyable, there were just a couple of glitches. If you live in the area, definitely stop in for dinner, I would.

GregName: Greg
Occupation: Radio Personality
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mecca
Reviewed Maria Manso World Cuisine: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nestled between other local businesses on a cute street in an even cuter town, Maria Manso World Cuisine in San Rafael reminded me of some of the places I have visited in the small German towns of my native Texas. On our drive there, we were redirected because of a town street festival that we all wished we had more time to attend. The bouncy house at the end of the street let us know it was a family affair that probably had a little something for everyone. Unfortunately, it was a weeknight, so we needed to devote our time to dinner and to Maria Manso’s, so we skipped the fair.

Walking into the restaurant was like going home. Although definitely a fine dining establishment, you won’t find an ounce of pretension at this establishment. There is an air of sophistication with soft tones and lighting against perfectly dressed tables. For San Francisco standards, this was a slow Thursday night in this quaint restaurant. When we walked in, we were greeted by Maria herself and then taken to our table by our hostess for the night, Yo. I call her a hostess rather than a server because she treated us like she had known us for years. She was extra attentive and extremely knowledgeable of the extensive menu. I was so happy to be at the restaurant with a group of five close friends because we were treated so well that it was an experience that I was glad to share. I can’t imagine finding customer service like this at any other restaurant in the City.

One of the most interesting things about Maria Manso is the specialty drink selection. Instead of vodka, they use a specialty liquor called soju. The restaurant had an extensive list of soju mixed drinks including ten or so martinis, as well as other drinks on the rocks. Strange combinations and exotic treats such as the Lychee Nut and Juniper Berry Martini are one of the things that make this place so special. What was also great was the non-alcoholic specialty drink menu that included a delicious Violet Soda. To quote Yo, “Just because you don’t drink alcohol doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a special drink.”

With a group of five, we enjoyed a number of appetizers and entrees with the highlights being the Maui Dumplings and the Whole Crispy Fish. The fried striped bass had a presentation so unique, it is indescribable. They don’t call it the most photographed fish in Marin for nothing. The combination of flavors from all over the world were a delight and although I definitely enjoyed some dishes more than others, the selection and uniqueness of each dish made this restaurant different than any other that I have been too.

But the service is set apart. It was so spectacular that one of my friends leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you sure they don’t know you are reviewing the restaurant?” With the way we were treated, you would think they had been tipped off, but they couldn’t have had a clue. This is a special place, run by special people who are obviously more than just employees. It is worth every minute of the thirty-minute drive from The City.

Maria Manso: Reviews [CLOSED] 9 July,2015Check, Please! Bay Area

  • E.J.Rothenberg

    Based on your 3 critics’ recommendations we tried this restaurant once more having been disappointed shortly after it opened. It was a total disaster: the crab cake was lukewarm but overcooked – and consisted of a mushy filling mildly tasting of crab; the Maui dumplings were cool and gummy — and remained cool even after sending them back to be re-heated; the whole fish was overcooked, served on an ice-cold plate, and full of bones despite being fileted; the tofu was burned and bland; and the waitress never checked back with my wife to find out how she liked the crab cakes despite a discussion about how they were prepared initiated by my wife prior to ordering them. The only good thing about the experience was the ease of parking! The worst dining experience we have had in a long while.

  • L. Smith

    This is a one star restaurant thinly veiled with a 5 star restaurant disguise. I was put off by how fake Yo, the owner, was towards her customers. She treats people she doesn’t even know like long lost family – a bit creepy, if you ask me. The menus were bent and stained, there were fingerprints all over the dinnerware, the service took forever, and the food was definitely not as good as it was made to sound. This is a place for tasteless people to go and think they’re getting a fancy 5-star meal, but it’s merely smoke and mirrors.

  • Griff Abbott

    I was among a party of three who had at Maria Manso’s in the week between Christmas & New Year’s. We arrived at noon to an empty restaurant. During the hours we were there only one other table was occupied. The hamburger I had specifically ordered “medium” arrived blood rare. The very finely cut french fries arrived cold and greasey. The others in my party had similar reactions to their orders. We all were surprised and disapppointed by the poor preparation, will not come back.

  • Sharon Johnson

    We went there with some trepidation after reading the comments posted on this site and I don’t know if things have improved in the last 8 months or the folks who post on this site are exceptionally picky but we enjoyed our meal. We were there on a very chilly August night and had an early reservation, at 6 pm on a Sunday, so there weren’t many people but I really enjoyed my meal. The restaurant is warm and inviting and the service was great.

    They bring thin long deep fried chips to your table with an olive spread which I thought was more interesting than bread and butter.

    I ordered a Cosmo which was good but not great. They were out of the mixed green salad so I got the Spinach salad–the rasberry vinaigrette was sweet but nicely balanced with the goat cheese. My dining partner ordered the lentil salad which was awesome. When we go back, I will order this. We split an entree–salmon with potato croquettes–and they set it down in the middle of the table and placed 2 large white plates in front of us which I thought was very nice. We didn’t try the dessert but it looked good on the menu. The tab was $50 for two people with alcohol, 2 appetizers, 1 entree, and 1 coffee–not bad for a light meal in a beautiful restaurant. Maybe it’s a hit or miss kind of place but it was a hit with us.

  • Rick O’Brien

    I recently entertained two friends from Italy at Maria Manso World Cuisine. It is difficult to impress people who come from the land of the best food on earth. The evening could not have been better. It started with the hostess, Yo speaking Italian to my guests and helping me explain the menu to them.

    I started with the Warm Caprese Salad and my main course was the Havana Pork Chop. Both of my guests had the Coconut Curry Shrimp as starters with one having Chimichurri Surf & Turf and the other had the Hoisin Barbecue Salmon.

    We ended the meal sharing the Dessert Tasting Platter that consisted of Chocolate Sin Cake, Traditional Cuban Flan & Coconut Sorbet.

    All of the food arrived in a timely manner and was perfectly prepared. The presentation on each plate was a true work of art.

    My only problem was my guests were upset with me because I had waited to bring them to Maria’s until the end of their vacation. I explained to them that it is an American tradition “to save the best for last”.

  • Chris

    As a San Rafael local, I’ve seen so many restaurants come and go on Fourth Street. I hope this one stays.

    I’ve eaten at Maria Manso’s several times now and have enjoyed it each time. All of the appetizers have been good – several exceptional. My favourite entree is the whole crispy striped bass which is indeed crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and complexly seasoned. Another highlight of the menu is the good selection of non-alcoholic beverages. Aimed at the adult palette, they are a refreshing alternative.

    While it’s not cheap, it is very tasty, and I encourage you to give it a try.

  • ralph m. stankoff

    on my recent visit to san francisco,I and my fiancee had an opportunity to have dinner at maria manso restaurant,in san rafael,it was a very memorable experience,wich we will like to repeat very soon.the food was delicious and very well presented.the bar cocktails imfusions very nice,we have avery good time.

  • Joe (the original reviewer)

    I am sad to report that as of May 28, 2008, Yo and Maria have closed the restaurant in San Rafael. Maria got an offer in San Francisco she could not refuse, so they sold and shut down. Sad but possibly wise, since for some time, that won’t be a pleasant tree-lined location… All the trees have been cut down in a city improvement program on 4th.

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