My Michael Mina Meal ~ Mainstream, Middling, Mundane
Working my way through "the best that San Francisco has to offer," I was almost ashamed that I had not yet visited Michael Mina. I almost felt I did not need to, as my visit to his Stonehill Tavern last August (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/42361...) was far from memorable. But I hate to judge any restaurant chain on only one visit so I made the excursion last evening to Mina's San Francisco branch for a pre-theater excursion.
Dining alone, I opted for the more extensive, 6-course tasting menu instead of the limiting 3-course/3-taste option. The evening's offerings:
Amuse - a demitasse of creamy porcini soup topped with crème fraîche. With as cold as it has been, accompanied with some Iron Horse Michael Mina Blanc de Blanc bubbly, it was a nice start; warm, rich, and comforting.
Albacore Tataki - served with Japanese Cucumber, pickled radish, tamari vinaigrette. The wine pairing was a Maximin Grünhaus Riesling Kabinett 'Herrenberg' Ruwer, 2006. This was a cold preparation on the fish; previously grilled for a crust, but then chilled with a raw interior and topped with a sweet, dark glaze. The cucumber/radish combination were paper-thin slices which ringed the dish. These were more decorative than adding anything to the flavors. Honestly, the wine pairing for this dish was an abomination. The wine was exquisite with a hint of a lime nose and a sweet, compelling flavor, but far too sweet to accompany the sweet glaze on the fish. A Grüner Veltliner would have been a far better choice.
Grilled Spanish Mackeral - served with Vandovan curry, granny smith apple, and wood sorrel paired with Joseph Matrot Meursault-Blagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, 1998. To start, the wine was creamy with a hint of wood and citrus and a faint layer of butterscotch; rich and unctuous. The fish was a hot presentation, grilled atop a layer of creamy curry. While perfectly grilled and prepared, I would have preferred more sauce and definitely more apples to accompany the piece. The apples were a tiny brunoise, and then, only two or three tiny cubes at that. This one went back mostly half un-eaten.
California Squab - served with foie gras, toasted farro, and Lacinot kale. This wine pairing was L'Arlot Nuits St. Georges 'Petits Plets' 1er Cru, Burgundy, 2005. The wine had a strong, bright berry aroma and was young on the mouth. It paired well with the dish which was ultimately the winner of the evening. The squab was placed next to a 1" square of seared foie and both sat separated by the greens atop a bed of farro. The sauce was rich and the perfectly-prepared squab was a nice contrast against the meltingly elegant foie.
Kuabuto Park Loin - served with crispy belly, canary tongue greens, red onion marmalade paired with Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, 2003. The wine produced a nose of fabulous dark fruit, black raspberry, and a hint of dried herb. There was an earthy entry with a eucalyptus finish. This is an astonishingly fabulous wine and some research will be done so acquire some as I think it will taste amazing in a decade or so. This was the heartbreak dish of the evening; the loin was so tough has to require no less than eight to ten passes of the knife to cut a bite (yes, I counted as I sawed). It was also too remarkably similar to the squab with a pedestrian protein being served next to a contrasting square of melting fat and in this case, the crispy belly was barely that. Honestly, when I want to eat fat, I either order foie or marrow bones. I only ate a bite or two of this and sent it back most un-eaten. Travesty.
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Loin - served with socca, baby artichokes, and Castelveltrano olives. The wine pairing was Qupé Syrah Cuvée Michael Mina, Santa Barbara County, 2006. Two loins, each one had more than a fingernail-sized hunk of fat within which had to be butchered out. What was edible was tender but I didn't like having to work for it. The accompaniment of artichokes and olives was odd. It worked well with the Syrah which was horrifically too young to drink. Dark cherry and molasses, there was a clean mint hint on the entry but turned harsh with alcohol in its youth.
Running out of time, I could not opt for the Apple Tart Tartin sweet and had only the cheese offering:
Blue Del Moncenisio - served with Aleppo oil, celery sorbet, and Marcona almonds. The wine pairing was Charles Hours Jurançon 'Clos Uroulat', Pyrenees, France, 2004. This is a lovely sweet wine, a relatively closed nose due to its chill but blossoming in the mouth with tangy floral delight. It also paired extremely well with the cheese -- but only the cheese. Honestly, the combination of a celery sorbet and a spicy pepper oil was a perversion of an offering. The celery flavor with the sweet wine did nothing other than taste fishy and the pepper oil fought with the spice of the mold in the cheese. What were they thinking?
Needing to rush to the get to the theater, I rushed through my coffee and ice cream lollipops; one chocolate-covered bergamot and the other, a green tea. These were nice and I'm sorry I didn't get to savor them a bit more instead of having to scoff them down.
A note on the ambience; the room is large with vaulted ceilings and large columns. However, the proximity of a busy bar and the acoustics of the room made it louder than I would have thought. In considering this against some place like the Ritz, this is quite bustling and noisy.
Lastly, a word on service. In my last year of high-end dining, rarely I have met with such amiable and enthusiastic servers. They were considerate of the fact that I had a book open in front of me during my two-hour meal, pleasant and cordial. While I was obviously taking WINE notes (I took home a menu and made no food notes during the meal), they were conscientious of that fact and forward in pouring more of something they thought I would appreciate. I mentioned that I thought the Riesling was an incorrect pairing and the server indicated he would share my thoughts.
If only the food matched the amazing service. In all six courses, only one was worthwhile; the squab. And one of the two fishes was definitely not fresh (as attested to some later evening "difficulties" to which I succumbed). How desperately sad... In thinking back over the meal, it was too often a travesty of mediocre meat with a slight smattering of vegetables that lacked balance and thought.
I couldn't agree with you more on the atmosphere (load roaring -- could barely converse), the service (enthusiastic), and the food (boring). I've now gone to Michael Mina twice -- and been disappointed twice. The first time was within weeks after the opening, so I thought I should give it a second chance a few months ago. I'm sorry I did. It wasn't horrible, but that's hardly a recommendation considering that the prices are worthy of a Michelin three star restaurant!!!
If I ever go back (unlikely since we have other great restaurants, like Masa's and The Dining Room at the Ritz -- for as long as Ron Siegel is still there!), I will stick to ordering his "classics," which I remember fondly from his Aqua days.
My thoughts on Mina exactly...noisy, cold room where interesting flavors are few and far between.
The 2003 Coudoulet de Beaucastel is delicious and a good value but if you want something for the long term, try the 2004 Chateau de Beaucastel. You'll love it.
I'm with ambrosia and Porthos. Your review has hit this nail on the head. I've been to Michael Mina for the tasting menu twice and both times emerged with a much-lighter wallet, a very sore backside, ringing ears, and a sadly deflated stomach.
Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful writeup; you really gave me a sense perception of what your meal was like. Sorry it was a disappointment.
I was at MM in July and had a fine meal. Had the tasting menu. Of 10-11 courses, only one dud, two outstandings and everything else about par. Best ever, no. Compared to other places on the same level it fared well. Service was good. The room is a little odd (can't figure out why they dont' enclose it) but I'd go back if the situation was right although there's other places that needed to knocked off first.