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Restaurants & Bars 18

Tasting Menu Crawl – Michael Mina – Who Knew?

Krys | May 20, 200503:39 AM

Uber long

Who knew I’d be crazy about Michael Mina? The concept sounds so silly and precious.

This was the most fun I have had at a restaurant in a long time. It was the perfect balance of entertaining, creative presentation, casual sophistication and, most important, tasty chow.

A quick aside. The little lounge in the lobby of the St. Francis, at the foot of the stairs to the restaurant (whew), serves small plates and desserts from Michael Mina.

Go to the lounge and order the Banana Tart Tatin. This is the best banana dessert I have ever had in my life.

They have about a dozen small plates like the lobster corn dogs and black truffle popcorn (an homage to carnivals?). Ok, I need to stop making fun of the concept, because the reality is fun and interesting … in a good way … in a delicious way.

They offer a three course prix fixe menu ($88) or a nine course tasting menu ($120). Pairing wine with the tasting menu is $75. A vegetarian tasting menu is available upon request. I THINK you can also order a few classic MM dishes a la carte, like the lobster pot pie. I was focusing on the tasting menus. I did see someone have the normal sized version of the lobster dish.

For the three course menu, there is a page of appetizers and a page of entrees. They are a mixture of seasonal dishes and MM classic dishes. These menus have all those three way presentations.

For the nine course tasting menu, you have a choice of two pre-printed menus, one seasonal and one with Michael’s classics. I’ll put the classic menu at the end since I have it and MM doesn’t have a website with the menu. Scroll WAY down to see it.

Those three course dishes are just stunning. MM is way ahead of the pack in presentation. The green salad three ways looked amazing. The people at the table next to mine seemed very happy with it.

So here’s the tasting menu I had. Again no wine notes, since that isn’t my thing. The wines were very well paired with the food. There were two standouts. The wine at Michael Mina was very, very good. The wine at the Ritz was on another level, in a class by itself.

Seasonal Tasting menu

Many dishes came with two presentations.

Amuse buche: A day boat scallop on a potato pancake on a pool of sauce that was the best tarter sauce I’ve tasted. The scallop was topped with crème fraiche and caviar.

In the bowl next to it was a thin slice of scallop cerviche topped with caviar.

Bread: MM wins the bread contest. MUCH better than the Ritz. Lovely warm crusty sourdough rolls served with sweet butter.

Hamachi Parfait
Crispy Rice Cake, sea urchin vinaigrette.

This looked like a piece of sushi roll sitting on an orange pool of yuzu. That crispy rice on the outside is indescribable because it sounds awful, but it worked so well. The hamachi was topped with wasabi tobiko (these lovely caviar type of eggs that just popped in your mouth in the most delightful way). The dab of sea urchin had a deep fresh taste of the sea.

The wine that paired with this dish was outstanding. On it’s own it had a diesel like smell (bear with me, I’m in the middle of a wine class). However, it took on all sorts of wonderful tastes with the Hamachi Parfait.

Tempura Langoustine – Chilled Ceviche
Asian pear, Galangal

One side of the dish had a batter coated tender langoustine tail one end resting in a creamy, whipped green galangal. A dab of diced Asian pear salad supported the other end of the tail. A little cup held some a tiny piece of cerviche topped with slivers of lemon peel and a spear of lemongrass. Ceviche was ok. Shellfish tail was outstanding.

Ya know, I never heard of galangal until a few days ago. Suddenly I've had it twice in two days. Here at MM, and at Won Thai in Hercules. What are the chances?

It is a ginger like root. Have no clue if MM used lesser or greater galangal. More info in this link:

Potato Crusted John Dory
Walla Walla Onion, Malt Vinegar

Ok, this is MM’s take on fried fish with the little pool of malt vinegar on one side. The fish with the wonderful thin crispy crust was topped with the dollop of a different tartar sauce. There might not be much of it, but MM knows his tarter sauce. Lovely sweet carmelized onions.

I substituted the Lobster Pot Pie for the Seared Fois Gras since I don’t eat fois gras.

This really was as great as everyone says. The paired down version came in a small copper pot. The server, removes the top crust, tops it with the little lobster tail in the pot and then spoons the brandied lobster cream and seasonal veggies like pea shoots and mushrooms around the lobster tail. Everything …. great … beyond rich. I was full after that.

Crispy Skin Quail – White Asparagus
Bacon, braised morel, frisee

On one side of the dish was indeed a piece of quail with the most amazing crispy skin and juicy meat with a little tiny piece of bone attached. I didn’t care where I was I gnawed all the meat off that tiny bone. It sat on a pool of eggy hollandaise sauce with two baby thin shaved pieces of white asparagus. No match for Chez Spencer’s white asparagus. This was nice though with a endive flavor and crunch.

Next to the crispy quail was a wonderful little dish that had some slices of sausage, bits of intensely flavored bacon (we’re not talking bacos here), topped with frissee and a perfectly poached quail egg. So good and I’m not a person who likes quail eggs as a rule.

American Kobe Rib Roast
Au Poivre, Horseradish mash, carmelized onions.

Topped with three nice onion rings this was really just fillet mignon type of cut (a tiny cut) that was seared on the outside. Nice sweet carmelized onions and strongly horseradished mashed potatoes.

Banana Tarte Tatin
Caramel Sauce, cinnamon Ice cream

The waiter said it was a version of bananas foster.

When my fork hit that almost pudding like consistency tart I was skeptical, The soft baked bananas WERE almost like a warm pudding. The caramel was not too sweet and that ice cream was just wonderful with it.

This was paired with a lovely claret colored 1990 Neiport “Coheito” tawny port that had all sorts of spicy flavors. I know the name because I like it so much I asked the server to write it down.

Cappuccino was fine and only (ONLY) $4.50 as compared to the Ritz’s eight buck cup. Skip the coffee both places. The cheapo in me just can’t see paying that for a cup of coffee.

They don’t push the bottled water, but I wish I got the Voss Norwegian water in the stunning tall bottle.

There were two ice cream bon bons – one cookies and cream covered with white chocolate (nice) the other raspberry coated with dark chocolate and dipped in some sort of oatmeal thing (eh). There were no parting gifts.

The room I disliked so much at a Christmas tea, takes on a different quality at night. It has a casual understated sophistication. The music is live, from the piano in the lounge. There is an energy to the room but any noise is absorbed by the high ceilings.

The waiters, dressed all in black are professional and helpful. I would take clients and visitors here.

Validated parking is $17 for three hours. The Union Square garage is so close, that is just the better option. There is a small elevator for handicapped access to the dining room. Dress is business casual. There were some people there dressed in their ‘shopping in Union Square” clothes and carrying shopping bags (small tasteful shopping bags.)

One of the staff was from Las Vegas and talked about the three MM restaurants there. I asked if MM actually was in the SF restaurant. He said that MM is there every night except Sunday. In fact he came out and chatted with a large group.

I liked MM for the best balance of atmosphere, food and presentation. However, I give The Dining Room at the Ritz the edge because of the food and wine. Maybe the presentation isn’t as fun as MM, but the flavors are just so much better. It’s a totally different thing though. The Ritz is the closest to elegant top European restaurants. Michael Mina is all American and has a style of its own.

Tasting Crawl Rankings

The Dining Room at the Ritz
Michael Mina
The French Laundry
Gary Danko

Here’s Michael’s Classic Tasting Menu

Ahi Tuna Tartare
Scotch Bonnet Peppers, Sesame Oil

Maine Lobster Pot Pie
Brandied Lobster Cream, Seasonal Vegetables

Miso Glazed Sea Bass
Black Pepper Crab Consommé, Toasted Israel Couscous

Roasted Fois Gras
Maui Gold Pineapple, vanilla

Pan Fried Poussin
Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

Steak Rossini
Seared Fois Gras, Pinot Noir Sauce

Chocolate Cake
Peanut Butter Pudding Cake, Peanut Butter Shake.

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