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Minako & Boulevard, sublime to ridiculous (long)

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Minako & Boulevard, sublime to ridiculous (long)

Fine | Feb 27, 2003 03:14 AM

Many thanks for the recommendations(s) that led a friend and me to Minako, where we dined lavishly, deliciously, and--partly due to our own ignorance about how these things work--quite expensively. (There was no explanation on the menu or by the very charming Minako herself that alerted us the food would keep coming till we cried "Uncle-san" [sorry, I'm in that kind of mood, which I shall explain below].)

So, both the flesh--mostly raw and cooked fish, including what she said was mackerel but tasted more like delicious fresh sweet butter than any other fish I've ever had by that name--on the kaiseki dinner and the radish, seaweed, and more salads, tofu dishes, and tempura vegetables on the shogun vegan meal kept coming and coming till we'd, unawares, spent over $100 with a small bottle of sake, tea, tax, and tip. But neither of us felt "ripped off." I plan to return soon and start working my way through the amazing list of a la carte choices.

As previously mentioned, one could blink and miss this tiny spot, but it would be a mistake to do so. Fresh, of course cooked to order as well as "designed" for each diner, organic ingredients, served in both friendly and good-looking surroundings. I'd call it a Chowhound's dream. (2154 Mission, near 18th, SF)

A sudden change of plans this evening left us out early enough to go to Boulevard, where we had not eaten for a number of years. Although the restaurant was far from empty, we were immediately seated at a nice, view table about 8:30.

I ordered a glass of Vouvray. The wine was both unrecognizable and unpleasant to my palate. (I've drunk this French chenin blanc in many restaurants, including the FL, as well as countless times from my own cellar. The hint of residual sugar has always made it appealing to me as both an aperitif and a good companion to many foods.) I asked the waiter to please see if perhaps the wrong wine had accidentally been poured. He came back a minute later, said "she" had said she poured the right one but had dumped it out and poured another. He plopped it down and off he went.

What do I think he sould have done? 1. Brought the bottle to the table 2. Offered a tiny retaste so I could find out if it was still unpalatable to me. 3. At the very least, asked once during the course of the meal--especially as it sat virtually untouched--if I was still dissatisfied.

It became clear to me--confirmed when I rechecked the wine list on leaving--that this wine had been vinified to a far drier level than any other Vouvray I'd ever had and, in the process, lost the familiar fruity voluptuousness.

Our appetizers were good, if not drop-dead wonderful: 2 shrimp/greens beignets on top of a sandab, on top of a couple of good for February tomatoes (12.75), even though it gave us a start when the runner announced "black bass" as he left it. This was one of those instances where craft seemed defeated by art: The essential crispness of the puffs was compromised by the heat and steam rising from the fish layer. The other dish was greaseless, deep-fried calamari with mayo (the menu might have said aioli, I don't recall, but there was no detectable garlic) and also a fried artichoke heart and a sort-of fried 1/8 of an artichoke (13.75). Not bad, but no oomph.

My main course consisted of a piece of Rhode Island
Blue Bass on slivered celery root in what
tasted like a cheese-flavored cream sauce (or,if you prefer, a gilded lily) and a piece of slightly salty, lightly crusted wild sea bass on spinach and garnished with very tasty, tiny, unfamiliar wild mushrooms. Completing the plate was a satirist's delight, teeny, barely cooked cubes of potato touched with pesto, the kind of item that gave California Cuisine and Nouvelle before it a (not always deserved) bad name. (28.50) Both pieces of fish were nicely cooked and seemed quite fresh. I enjoyed them. I declined to taste my dining companion's wild boar--it was still slightly rare, despite the request that it be cooked without traces of pink. It came with kale and polenta and was declared good, though a bit too richly sauced. (27.50)

Had I left several dozen spaces between the two preceding paragraphs, perhaps I could have begun to convey the never-explained, never mind apologized-for wait between the first and second courses. About half an hour. I did my best to offer the waiter an opportunity to explain when I joked that had I known the bass was coming all the way from Rhode Island ....

The offending wine was $8; corkage a startling $25.

When I was leaving, I asked the fellow at the front stand for a wine list and copied down the name and description of what I'd had. He assumed it was that good I wanted to remember it. I said, "That bad. Like the whole experience." He may have muttered something like, "Sorry," but there was absolutely no effort to determine what had gone wrong or, heaven forbid, what could be done to attempt to make it right.

As I started to write this post, the following went through my mind: "Maybe Boulevard should change its name to The American Laundry, for if it's not a 'laundry,' how can one explain the staff's apparent total indifference to making its customers feel they're welcome or that their return business is desired?" (That's a joke, if a tasteless one. I'm still feeling very ill-used but don't want to be sued!)

We rarely go to high-end restaurants anymore: They don't work well with my commitment to healthful eating. On those rare occasions we do, we expect both the kitchen and dining room to make it worth both the money and the dietary lapse. Boulevard on this Wednesday evening failed on both counts. (I have to assume it was at least partly the kitchen's fault that we were kept waiting so long.)

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