Michael Mina is one of San Francisco’s most esteemed chefs, and his Financial District restaurant is a shining star in a city where fine-dining menus (at price tags more than above $100 and closer to $200) are taking all kinds of form.

Mina, who has grown from his time at Aqua (which is now home to his current restaurant named after him) to create an empire with restaurants around the globe, needs help to run his many kitchens. And for his namesake restaurant, he recently enlisted an old friend, Chef Ron Siegel, who also made a name for himself at the Ritz Carlton dining room (not to mention winning the original Iron Chef in Japan).

‘Ketto’ Menu
My friend Tat has always wanted to try Michael Mina restaurant, so we recently went on a Saturday night for dinner. While Tat was hungering to try the ala carte menu (he had his eyes on a lobster pot pie), I convinced him to try the tasting menu for $160.

The 9-course “ketto” menu is perfect for two because ketto is Japanese for “dueling,” so the ketto tasting menu provides different dishes for both parties, often highlighting the same ingredient but in two ways. Our server even suggested that having two different items per course was almost like eating two dishes if we decided to share.

While that sounded good in theory, keep in mind this is a tasting menu and tasting menus are notorious for having very bite-size pieces on the plate. In fact, one course of live spot prawn sashimi came on a huge square plate for Tat, and one of the server grated fresh wasabi at the table. The wasabi and other condiments on the edge of the plate made me think something more was coming later. We actually sat for awhile waiting when we realized that Tat already had his tiny serving of spot prawn sashimi already on the plate to the side.

The cozy dining room at Michael Mina in the Financial District.

The cozy dining room at Michael Mina in the Financial District.

Flavor and Execution
Putting aside the tiny portions that made it challenging to share, the menu by Chef Siegel was flavorful and interesting – but not exactly conceptually progressive.

The amuse bouche that started the menu – a duo of salmon with pomegranate gelee and a shot of gelee with sea urchin – really represented what the meal would be like under Siegel’s direction. The uni shot was elegant but on the sweet side and the salmon was perfectly cooked but had no unique flavor. It was really just a well-cooked salmon.

I felt that with many of the courses, dishes anchored by really perfectly cooked meats, like the ribeye or lobster. But there were no surprise. No show. And for $160, I expected to be wowed like I was dining at similar tasting menus such as at Benu.

Favorite Tastes
Still, that didn’t mean Tat and I didn’t enjoy our dinner. We did, especially loving the pastry chef’s offerings that were creative and delicious. Back on the main entrees, my favorite dish came early on with the starter course featuring osetra caviar.

While Tat had caviar with king crab and avocado, my plate starred an onsen egg yolk topped with two extremely crispy and delightfully golden brown potato sticks topped with a scoop of the caviar.

The Last Bite
As expected, service was polished yet friendly and the space is a romantic and cozy spot glowing like amber. The food is refined and perfectly cooked, but may be a bit lackluster for the price.

Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps

3-snaps

 

 

Michael Mina, 252 California St. (between Front and Battery), San Francisco. PH: 415.397.9222. Open weekday lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Website

Michael Mina on Urbanspoon

King crab with osetra caviar, avocado, kombu, feuilles de brick

King crab with osetra caviar, avocado, kombu, feuilles de brick

Onsen Tamgo (osetra caviar leek, candy cap mushroom essence)

Onsen Tamgo (osetra caviar leek, candy cap mushroom essence)

Top: Miso soup with clam, abalone, bachelor’s button Bottom: Saffron chowder with mussels, potato, and carrot

Top: Miso soup with clam, abalone, bachelor’s button
Bottom: Saffron chowder with mussels, potato, and carrot

Live spot prawn sashimi with soy sauce, shiso salt and wasabi

Ishi-dai “knife jaw” sashimi with mirin glaze and carrot

Plate of Bolinas black cod was served on a plate for Tat. Once the plate removed, underneath was a lobster tortellono, Brussels sprout and tarragon

Plate of Bolinas black cod was served on a plate for Tat. Once the plate removed, underneath was a lobster tortellono, Brussels sprout and tarragon

Cedar-grilled sawara with pomegranate, quince truffle jam, and ice plant

Cedar-grilled sawara with pomegranate, quince truffle jam, and ice plant

Top: Grilled Maine lobster with grilled apple, curry essence, chickweed, matsutake broth Bottom: Butter-poached Maine lobster, braised short rib, lobster mushroom, mustard greens

Top: Grilled Maine lobster with grilled apple, curry essence, chickweed, matsutake broth
Bottom: Butter-poached Maine lobster, braised short rib, lobster mushroom, mustard greens

Top: Tolenas Farm quail, apple-persimmon jam, ginger, turnip, persimmon Bottom: Pan-roasted squab, beet, hazelnut, fennel, and umeboshi

Top: Tolenas Farm quail, apple-persimmon jam, ginger, turnip, persimmon
Bottom: Pan-roasted squab, beet, hazelnut, fennel, and umeboshi

Top: Japanese A5 Wagyu with baby carrot, butternut squash, and sansho pepper Bottom: Prime beef ribeye, curry-scented sushi rice, grilled scallion

Top: Japanese A5 Wagyu with baby carrot, butternut squash, and sansho pepper
Bottom: Prime beef ribeye, curry-scented sushi rice, grilled scallion

Transitioning to desserts, we had a lovely panna cotta with persimmons

Transitioning to desserts, we had a lovely panna cotta with persimmons

Top: Date with quince, maple, fromage blanc Bottom: Pear with walnut, honey, and cardamom

Top: Date with quince, maple, fromage blanc
Bottom: Pear with walnut, honey, and cardamom

Butternut squash with dark chocolate, pumpkin seed, and ginger

Butternut squash with dark chocolate, pumpkin seed, and ginger

Although all the desserts seemed to come in shade of brown or beige, they were still delicious like the ice cream pops (bottom) and cream-filled cones.

Although all the desserts seemed to come in shade of brown or beige, they were still delicious like the ice cream pops (bottom) and cream-filled cones.

Chocolate mousse was velvety with sesame flavored cubes and bits of bourbon

Chocolate mousse was velvety with sesame flavored cubes and bits of bourbon

5 Responses to Review of the Dueling Tasting at Michael Mina in San Francisco

  1. I love the idea of a ketto menu so you can experience more food. I feel that there’s a lot of pressure on a restaurant like this, so it becomes much harder to live up to diner expectations. I’d still want to eat there, though.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I wonder maybe it might have been better (cheaper at least) to have ordered ala carte? No I feel bad I talked my friend out of the lobster pot pie (although, really, would you go to Michael Mina for a pot pie? ;-) )

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    I am so dying to try that tasting menu. Have not dined there since Ron took over. That caviar dish looks amazing. But then I love anything with candy caps in it, too. ;)

  3. Tara says:

    I was thinking of coming here for my birthday, but decided that Atelier Crenn would be a little more cause for a celebration. It is still on my list to try, but I can hold off for a few months now seeing your pictures. :)

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