I'm just back from dinner at Michael Mina, and I had a terrible experience in nearly every regard. None of the food was terrible, but not of it was inspired, it was fussy, it was expensive, and the service was poor.
The nice interior fades when you look up at the silly column tops and realize they painted the nice old ceiling in the room and in the grand lobby next door a boring beige so the completely different rooms won't look too awkward next to one another. Just letting them be themselves would have worked better.
The service seemed very unprofessional/inexperienced. Clearly they wanted to emulate something like the Fifth Floor, where there service was very polished and attentive. Instead, having too many smiling bustling people reciting every ingredient on the plate you'd already read all about on the menu was just another interruption. Why did the bother putting the napkin on my lap for me if it was just going to get tossed there so I'd have to arrange it?
We had the three-course menu. You choose one start and one main course to get going. You can't get the 8-course meal unless everyone at the table does, so all five of us were compelled to stick with fewer items. Probably just as well.
My first course of "soft shell crab tempura" was basically deep fried crab in greasy dough. Light, clean-tasting tempura this was not. It came with crab meat which was ample but ordinary, not terribly fresh-tasting. The tiny bits of garnish didn't add much flavor.
The warm bread roll for each diner reminded me of fancy dining before really good restaurants came to the Bay Area. Dull white bread in the age of Acme?
My main course, the lobster pot pie, was fun to see arrive. A nice copper pot with a puffy crust was dished onto the plate with the lobster pieces arranged again into form, then the veggies and sauce ladeled over. You eat it off the plate; the pot is whisked away. The sauce is heavy and creamy, and masks the lobster and vegetables. With the crust getting soggy, it's just uninteresting.
The dessert menu comes after you've eaten. What a disappointment. Warm chocolate cakes, fruit tarts, crepe suzettes, bread pudding. Nothing really interesting, nothing that promised to offer a palate-freshener. I chose the cheese plate because it came with fruit compotes. The figs were not ripe, the peach was not ripe.
The restroom is a long walk away upstairs. The space used to have nice restrooms, but now you stroll to restrooms that have not been remodeled to match the restaurant. Cheap wall paper. Very unappealing.
Others had the Kobe beef -- not much better than ordinary beef, with uninteresting accompanying items. Their scallop appetizer was okay but nothing exciting, and for all the emphasis on the different bites and accents on each plate, they weren't that varied. The much-touted chocolate chip cookies for dessert were fine, but I couldn't imagine pairing them with a rootbeer float.
We sat for a little while at the end. When they came to get the bill and run the credit card, they immediately asked if we had a coat check and brought our coats and bags so they could get us out and free up our table, though we were enjoying our talk. Then they cleared every item they possibly could.
The bill was $140 each with tip. That included the 3-course menu, one $12 margarita, and the $15 extra for the lobster pot pie. I didn't have any wine with dinner (my friends who split a bottle three ways and didn't have the lobster paid the same amount).
Spending almost twice the money at the Fifth Floor felt like an expensive extravagance that I was glad to have done once. The $140 at Michael Mina feels like wasted money that could have been spent better at any number of places in SF. Michael Mina turned a big reputation into a tourist trap in a fancy hotel.
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