Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Michael Mina Outdoes Himself
Restaurant Michael Mina Scores with Local Food Addicts

Last Saturday night will go down in history, or at least my own memory, as a great meal. This was the first time I was lucky enough to try a restaurant often referred to as "Mina." You know the place. We had waited months to get in as Chef Michael Mina's restaurant in San Francisco, CA (near Union Square), as his staff had been plagued by a hotel strike in the preceding months. But this is the restaurant I had heard so very much about, often breathed in sentences along side French Laundry, Gary Danko and other wonders of creation. It was worth waiting for, and we're just glad we got in when we did.

The evening started by being seated promptly, just before our reservation time. Service was impeccable to start, not that I really noticed as I drooled over the 2000+ bottle wine list, but we were pleased with our table and the level of attention from the staff. Let's cut to the substance here, the menu. Michael Mina offers you 3 options: The standard menu consists of 3 courses each prepared in 3 unique ways -- that's right, it appears you dine on 3 small portions per course (the exception here maybe dessert). He also offer 2 7-course options, a Seasonal and Chef's Tasting menu. We all opted for the Chef's Tasting menu, one vegetarian and the rest of us had some minor substitutions. Here's what we ate and what I thought of each dish. We also took a few pictures along the way, but the camera just wasn't behaving all that well in low-light.

  1. A wonderful terrine with Caviar, house-cured Salmon, cooked egg and chives mixed with creme freche. This should really be course 0, because it wasn't on the menu. This was outstanding. Not unlike Keller's Salmon tartar ice-cream cones with creme fresche, the first thing I was served absolutely knocked my socks off.
  2. This was a tuna tartar with Quail egg, pine nuts, sesame oil and a hint of pear. IN keeping with fine French service, the server explained each dish that brought to the table and then did any final prep. In this case the egg was blended into the tartar right on our plates. I wasn't crazy about watching them do this, but this dish really tasted great. There's something so right about raw fish and egg yolk mixed with the subtle crunch of pine nuts that really hits the spot.
  3. Most guests had the Lobster Pot Pie. Presented in a copper dish, then plated. Use your imagination with the following blur:

    I decided to opt for a substitution on this course (turns out the lobster was good but a little bit chewy, anyway). I went with the blue cheese souffle, this was served along side a pear-Roquefort dressing. The waitress had me at blue cheese souffle. Here she is in all her glory:

    It just doesn't get any better than this. Rich blue cheese, baked into a souffle and then blended with more blue cheese and pear melted to perfection. I lack the vocabulary to explain just how very much I enjoyed this dish.
  4. The requisite foie gras course. I knew it was coming, I'd been looking forward to it since I ordered that Joel Gott Zinfandel from Amador County. In this case we were each served 2 portions, 1 seared and 1 not. Pineapple and ginger accompanied each and a small wedge of toast adorned the middle of the dish. I really enjoy the complexity the seared foie gras brought to this course, but as another diner pointed out, the "simple" foie gras really hit the spot with a wonderful texture and alluring mouth-feel. This was a very good dish.
  5. Next we were treated to the miso-glazed sea-bass w/ scallop wonton. The sea-bass was done perfectly and the delicate balance of flavors made us wonder if the recipe had snuck it's way over from Pisces or Aqua. I steered clear of the wonton due to allergies, but others seemed to enjoy it. This fish was truly succulent.
  6. This course marked my first time having Poussin. Poussin is a very tender chicken, similar to the French spring chicken, with a very refined flavor and light colored meat throughout.
    As you can see above, we had a small portion of the chicken which was served with truffle Mac & cheese and a small bowl of steamed vegetables. I liked this dish, the Mac & Cheese was creamy and decadent and the vegetables lightened the dish up nicely. I think I'll need some more practice though, that is before I'm eating "the veal of chicken" on a regular basis.
  7. Here comes the beef. That's Kobe beef (filet cut?) served with seared foie gras and a potato asiago gratin.

    I can't say I wasn't looking forward to this. It's not all that often I get have Kobe beef. The beef was tender and made a wonderfully complex pair with the foie gras. If you look closely you can even see that the potato gratin is made up of a dozen-plus thin layers of potato. I loved this dish, everything about it was right.
  8. Let's get started w/ Dessert, shall we? The boys got the key lime pie and the girls went with the chocolate dessert.

    At this point I can barely hold the camera straight, I just want to sink my teeth into that pie. The key lime pie was beautifully finished with a meringue topping and served along side it, a mascarpone sorbet w/ kaffir lime syrup. The pie was very well done, but the sorbet -- with it's too-cool-for-school miniature lime-section buried beneath the mascarpone -- really took the cake. Sweet, creamy and refreshing all at once.

    Above is the molten chocolate-cake with peanut butter center served with a Peanut Butter milkshake. The cake reminded me of a rich chocolate souffle with a peanut-butter surprise inside. The shake was creamy and rich with fresh-roasted peanut flavor. Again, another great dessert from Mina.
  9. Another bonus course! I had heard about these. These were Mina's signature way to finish a meal. Each guest was served one each of 2 bon-bons. The first, a malted ice cream covered in milk chocolate followed by its companion, a Dark Chocolate bon bon with Mexican chocolate ice cream. Both were served atop crumbled butter toffee bits for rolling. Mina again takes the mundane and makes it great -- chocolate bon-bons creatively executed, nothing like you'd see over at Baskin Robbins or the DQ. This was dessert.

In closing, the coffee we had with dessert was a dark roast served piping hot. My only complaint about the service was here, when I only received one cup. Perhaps this was a simple oversight on their part or just a sign that it was time to go. Or, perhaps we had overstayed our welcome, having been seated now 3 hours on our culinary journey. Whichever the case, I can't wait to see what Michael Mina has in store for me next time around.

-Vince Eats

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