It’s been called the highest profile San Francisco restaurant opening in the past 10 years. And while I don’t have the historical knowledge to judge this statement, I can conclude that restaurant Michael Mina has had a lot of thought and talent put into its conception. For those just becoming familiar with this brand new restaurant located in the Westin St. Francis hotel directly off Union Square, I highly recommend that you read this article
from the San Francisco Chronicle. It gives an in depth description of the genesis of the restaurant. The Location
We were dining on the restaurant’s second night of public service. Walking into the hotel one is immediately presented with a modern, clean-lined lounge area that is situated at the foot of the restaurant’s grand staircase. Completely open to the lobby below, the restaurant has a bird’s eye view of the hustle and bustle of the hotel. Consequently, Michael Mina is not a quiet dining experience...in fact it’s one of the loudest meals we’ve eaten in some time. Some will love the energy and vibe of the room while others will find it difficult to carry a conversation or to focus on the food.
I’ll also point out that the receptionist’s podium is not visible when approaching the restaurant. You must walk up the stairs and turn left to find it. I noticed that the restaurant was getting some consistent foot traffic from people who, I assume, were attempting to drop in and dine without reservations. The problem with this is that as they reached the top of the steps, they were essentially standing in the middle of the dining room (this is due to the restaurant’s open layout.) Why have these people schlepping up into the dining room and clogging up the aisle-ways? Personally, I would have chosen to position the receptionist at the foot of the stairs so that people weren’t entering the restaurant unnecessarily. One other related note, there is a bar and small lounge area in the restaurant but when it fills up, guess where people stand? Yup, at the top of the stairs, a mere few feet away from guest tables and right in the way of the wait staff as they transport dishes, etc.The Menus
Michael Mina offers a unique 3 course menu. Here’s a quick rundown of how it works:Course 1:
The diner must choose one selection from one of two categories: “Seasonal Menu” or “Tableside Classics”. Seasonal Menu selections are complex, multi-preparation dishes which revolve around a theme ingredient. Tableside Classics are some of Mina’s signature dishes (lobster pot pie, ahi tuna tartare, etc.) There are 5 choices in the Seasonal Menu section and 3 choices in the Tableside Classics section.Course 2:
Repeat the same process as described for course 1, choosing among a new list of dishes.Course 3:
Dessert course. Make a selection from approximately 6 choices.
An amuse bouche is also served with this menu. Price is $78 (some selections require a $10 supplement.)
The restaurant also offers two different 8 course tasting menus. “Seasonal Tasting Menu” showcases a selection of seasonal dishes listed under the 3 course menu. “Michael’s Classic Tasting Menu” includes 8 different signature dishes from Mina’s repertoire. Price for each is $120 and they must be ordered by the whole table.
Wine pairings are available for the two tasting menus. And for the 3 course menu, the staff is more than happy to recommend wines by the glass to pair with whatever food selections you choose.The Service
Seeing as though the restaurant had just opened for business, I wasn’t expecting service to run smoothly. And indeed, there were a couple of definite problems.
During the first course, the wait staff presented me with my girlfriend’s dish and she received my dish. This error could (and should) have been caught by double checking the silverware settings and/or wine glass pairings before setting the dishes down. For us, this wasn’t a big deal since we were sharing all our plates anyways. So we didn’t bother to correct the error as it happened.
Also, during the second course, our food was brought out well before our wine arrived. This is an obvious timing issue that needs to be worked out.
With that said, service on a whole was pretty good. Our server was extremely cordial and relaxed in nature. There was absolutely no stuffiness or pretentiousness at all. He appeared to be very well educated about the food and about the wine list.
Water service was great; glasses were kept full. And both sparkling water and coffee were on the house. Nice touch!The Food
We opted for the 3 course menu. Here’s a pictorial rundown of what we had:Lobster Bisque
Roasted Spot Prawn with Dungeness Crab and Jalapeno Hollandaise
Mock Corn DogRoasted Foie Gras ~ Torchon
Apricot, Star Anise
Bing Cherry, Pink Peppercorn
Maui Gold Pineapple, Young GingerLobster Salad ~ Heirloom Tomato Ceviches
Green Zebra, Whole Grain Mustard
Golden Jubilee, Buffalo MascarponeCrispy Skin Black Bass
Maine Lobster, Saffron, Fennel Brandade
Razor Clams, Parsley, Corn Pudding
Dungeness Crab, Cherry Tomatoes, Whipped PotatoesKobe Beef Rib Roast
Heirloom Spinach, Truffle Fries
White Asparagus, Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Creamed Morels, Asiago Potato GratinFruit gratin with crème fraiche panna cotta
BlackberryRoasted fruit compote ~ Artisanal cheeses
Peaches - d'Alpage (cows milk cheese from the Rhone valley)
Cherries - Boucheron (aged goat cheese Loire valley)
Apricot - Mountain gorgonzolaBon Bons
Going into the meal, my biggest fear about this multi-preparation concept was that by the time I worked my way down the plate, the food at the far end would have gotten cold. On a whole, this was an unfounded fear. Yes, the crispy skin of the black bass was not so crispy by the third iteration, but most dishes held up pretty darn well.
However, there was a deeper concern to be unearthed by actually sitting down and eating this concept. The lobster salad plate serves as a good example: When my brain was presented with six preparations at the same time, I found it hard to focus and gain clarity on any one of the six. It was simply too many flavors and too many combinations bombarding me all at once. I was unable to sit and contemplate a single preparation because 5 more were staring me in the face. And if I was supposed to be comparing/contrasting flavors, I found it nearly impossible because by the time I reached the fourth dish I could no longer remember what the first dish tasted like.
The second course contains only three preparations and I found this to be much more manageable. Maybe it’s just my feeble mind that couldn’t wrap itself around six iterations at one time.
Moving past conceptual analysis and focusing on the quality and flavors of the food, I’d say our selections were hit and miss.
The amuse collection was whimsical yet it presented food whose flavors exuded the effort and care that had gone into its preparation. The lobster bisque was warm, rich, and vibrantly lobster-like. The single spot-prawn successfully balanced the cool accompaniment of cucumber with a late-to-develop kick from the jalapeno hollandaise. And the little mock corndog with a seafood ball inside was fun and surprisingly appealing.
The foie gras plate was very solid, especially the apricot & star anise preparation which was to die for. I especially enjoyed the torchon versions of all three preparations. The rich, buttery mouth feel of the foie, accented with brightness of a few salt crystals is hard to beat. This plate paired very well with a late harvest gewürztraminer.
However, the entire lobster plate seemed to lack coherent harmony. Although lobster and tomato were featured in every preparation, these dishes had too many things going on which made it hard to trace them back to any semblance of a resonating note. Additionally, the dish was plagued by a mundane version of guacamole and lobster pieces that were rather one-dimensional in flavor.
The black bass plate failed to present any aggressive or assertive flavors which caused me to eat my way through without ever stopping to give it a second thought. Kind of like sleepwalking while dining. And for some reason the starches on this plate had a rather grainy texture that absolutely did not work for me when paired with the fish. Wine for this course was a 2002 Petit Chapeau Macon-Villages.
Generally, things got back on track for the Kobe beef plate. The pieces of beef included too much gristle and silverskin for a restaurant of this caliber but flavor-wise it was outstanding. Again, salt crystals placed on top of the meat added so much enjoyment for such a basic ingredient. Also, the meat’s crust had a great herb flavoring to it. The creamed morel preparation was probably the closest thing this entire meal had to a “wow” moment. Very, very good. And who couldn’t love truffle fries; they were also a good accompaniment. The matching wine, a glass of 1993 Domaine Tempier Bandol, was an outstandingly smooth pairing with the meat...best pairing of the night.
Things dipped again as we headed into the dessert course. The gratin and crème fraiche dish presented nothing to write home about...pretty standard renditions. And if anything, the cheese plate was more notable for pairing the cheeses with three types of honey. I’ll also give credit to our server for going to the trouble of pairing three different wine selections to go along with the cheeses: a 2001 Moscato d’Asti with the d’Alpage, a 1998 Hirtzberger Austrian Riesling with the Boucheron, and a glass of Quarts du Chaume with the gorgonzola. However, points were lost on the fact that the cheeses that arrived at the table did not match what was listed on the printed menu.
So what’s the final verdict? The meal as a whole didn’t blow me out of the water but it’s really much too early to tell for sure (you can’t fairly judge a restaurant after only being open for two days). However, I can provide prospective diners some advice:
1. Be ready for noise
2. You’ll be experiencing a lot of flavors…get your head in the game before you go
3. Enjoy the warm service and attentive staff