Friday, December 24, 2010

Michael Mina

After a mind-blowing experience at Gary Danko for my birthday earlier this year, I decided to take the boyfriend to try another iconic chef for his birthday last weekend. Michael Mina, with his 40+ years of experience, has long been heralded as one of the pinnacles of fine dining in San Francisco, right alongside Danko. His food is interesting and often adventurous, infused with Japanese, French, and Mediterranean sensibilities. And the new space on California Street is gorgeous.

But let me just jump the gun and say it -- I was slightly underwhelmed. I was expecting cuisine that could give Danko a run for his money, but it was nowhere near the same level. If I had never been to Danko, I think I would've enjoyed Mina a lot more. But hey, being in the A-/B+ class is still pretty good!

Amuse bouche - cheese/prosciutto sandwich and lentil soup
The cutest little sandwich!

I know this little cup of spread doesn't look too impressive, but it was so. damn. good! Lush, softened ricotta cheese with a dash of honey - talk about getting spoiled! I usually pass on pre-dinner carbs to save space in my tummy, but I was pretty much dunking the bread in this spread and inhaling it. Mmm.

Crispy Wolfe Ranch Quail

Our favorite dish of the night. The sauce reduction was on the sweet side with just a hint of heat (the menu said harissa, which is a Tunisian chili sauce, so that would probably explain it). The plate's yogurt garnish was a hats off to Mediterranean flavors, while the medley of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers reminded me of Italy. Excellent dish all around!

Pork Belly and Geoduck Clam Salad

The boyfriend's appetizer, which wasn't as great as we'd expected. Personally I think the dish was trying to do too much (like some of the contestants on Chopped) with two flavorful "delicacies" plus a funky curry sauce and random greenery for the "salad." The pork belly itself was not tender enough ... not sure if it's because it was in a cold dish or because it was slightly undercooked. Loved the presentation though.

Braised Pork Short Ribs

For my entree, our hostess first put a plate before me with just the quince, polenta, and greens, sans short ribs. She then pulled out a small saucepot with the short ribs inside and spooned the steaming meat onto the center of my plate. Necessary? Not at all. But really cool? Yeah! The short ribs were well cooked, and the sauce (hock jus) was rich and savory. The quince and polenta were good accompaniments, and I even had a few of the fried pig ears (those cute little triangles in the photo).

Prather Ranch Lamb Chop

Solid and well-seasoned, although I think they should have used a sauce that could cut the gamey taste a bit more. You could very well find a better lamb chop elsewhere for about the same price, though.

And finally -- dessert. Those of you who personally know me or who read this blog enough know that dessert is my favorite part of a meal. Unfortunately, the desserts at Michael Mina were the least impressive course. They do a dessert tasting for $15 per person at the restaurant, so you do get to try a lot for the money, but nothing really floored me. Unlike the creme brulee and chocolate souffle and passionfruit mousse at Danko. (Yes, I can still taste them ... and that makes me a little hungry. And sad. But mostly just hungry.)

Overall though, I think Mina is definitely worth visiting if you're a foodie. I just wouldn't go there with any recent memories of Danko. And the service at Mina is definitely stellar -- they make you feel welcome, always check in, explain everything served on your plate, and even leave you with handwritten birthday cards from the manager!

Happy holidays! Be safe and eat well!

Michael Mina
252 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111