Sidewalk tables for eating al fresco.

Sidewalk tables for eating al fresco.

The story: Successful San Francisco chef/restaurateur Michael Mina has created a test kitchen, where he and a partner chef will wade into the hip pop-up waters every season. Mina Test Kitchen’s first pop-up is called “Middle-terranea” and highlights the eastern Mediterranean flavor that’s the essence of Mina’s Egyptian heritage and reflects the culinary interests of his partner chef, Adam Sobel (who’s inspired by Israel, Turkey, and Lebanon).

Dinner started on a perfect note for the warm summer night with this frozen limonana popsicle stick with basil bud frozen inside and topped with a summer peach with olive oil. It was both refreshing and pretty.

Dinner started on a perfect note for the warm summer night with this frozen limonana popsicle stick with basil frozen inside and topped with a summer peach with olive oil and basil bud. It was both refreshing and pretty.

A view of the bar in the former Cafe Claude space.

A view of the bar in the former Cafe Claude space.

Why I went: My food exploring friend Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging wanted to check out the new pop-up (which started in July) because she likes exploring new cuisine and there are few restaurants serving up Mediterranean food with a North African slant. I joined her and two of her friends for a recent dinner on Saturday night, and since it was a warm night, we chose to sit outside.

The vibe: Mina Test Kitchen is actually in the former Cafe Claude space in the city’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. Since the test kitchen will change every season, there’s no reason to revamp the look of Cafe Claude, so there’s still a very strong French brasserie atmosphere. While we sat outside in the tiny sidewalk seating, the inside is low-lit and lively with a bustling bar.

The laffa is a flatbread that's topped with berbere-spiced ahi tuna, baba ghanoush, crispy spring onions and pickled hot peppers.

The laffa is a flatbread that’s topped with berbere-spiced ahi tuna, baba ghanoush, crispy spring onions and pickled hot peppers.

One of two salatim (or salads) was this beautiful plate of grilled stone fruit fattoush, shaved cauliflower, radish, Persian cucumber, crunchy pita, chiles and mint oil.

One of three salatim (or salads) was this beautiful plate of grilled stone fruit fattoush, shaved cauliflower, radish, Persian cucumber, crunchy pita, chiles and mint oil.

The menu: Chef Sobel, who’s the executive chef and partner of Mina’s RN74 restaurant, has built a menu that reflects a variety of countries in the region that bridges Europe with Africa, but there are strong influences from Jerusalem and Turkey, and this influence translates to a burst of color on the plate with beautiful presentations of local ingredients. The pop-up menu is a set price of $45 per person (not including tax and tip) that is paid in advance when you make reservations, so the test kitchen works on a ticketing system.

Under this kataifi (or shredded fried fillo dough) was an avocado salad with pickled hot peppers and summer vegetables, fried walnuts and shug (a type of chili relish)

Under this kataifi (or shredded fried fillo dough) was an avocado salad with pickled hot peppers and summer vegetables, fried walnuts and shug (a type of chili relish)

Digging into the avocado salad underneath the kataifi

Digging into the avocado salad underneath the kataifi

The booze: There’s a beverage pairing available for $39, or you can purchase individual drinks of wine or beer (since it’s a temporary restaurant, they don’t have a full liquor license). Our friend Daisy ordered a light and surprisingly white Spanish rose that was actually a pinot noir ($12) and Sandy tried the Ashraf ($9), a mix of vermouth, kina l’aero d’or, apricot, lemon and lime juices and Greek yogurt.

Raventos i blanc rose of Pinot Noir of La Rosa, Penedes, Spain.

Raventos i blanc rose of Pinot Noir of La Rosa, Penedes, Spain.

The dining room of Mina Test Kitchen (in the former Cafe Claude)

The dining room of Mina Test Kitchen (in the former Cafe Claude)

Last salad of marinated cherry tomatoes, Medjool dates, and watercress that covered a saganaki-style Halloumi (a type of hard cheese that's grilled), pulled together with a brown butter-saba vinaigrette.

Last salad of marinated cherry tomatoes, Medjool dates, and watercress that covered a saganaki-style Halloumi (a type of hard cheese that’s grilled), pulled together with a brown butter-saba vinaigrette.

My favorite dish: Chef Sobel seemed to be running on all cylinders because every dish was spot on in flavor and presentation. My favorite was probably the laffa, a type of flatbread or wrap that was served up like a soft taco. In the filling, it was a mixture of Berbere-spiced ahi tuna, baba ghanoush, crispy spring onions and pickled hot peppers. I liked the contrasting textures and flavors that was an explosion of cultures in just a few bites.

One pimped up hummus plate topped with spicy lamb ragu pieces, toasted pine nuts, pomegranates, crispy zucchini, and za'atar pita slices.

One pimped up hummus plate topped with spicy lamb ragu pieces, toasted pine nuts, pomegranates, crispy zucchini, and za’atar pita slices.

Supplemental course of grilled prawn shakshuka ($12), a traditional dish of poached eggs with tomato sauce. Here it's done with quail eggs and flavored with matbucha (tomato paste), aleppo pepper and dill blossoms.

Supplemental course of grilled prawn shakshuka ($12), a traditional dish of poached eggs with tomato sauce. Here it’s done with quail eggs and flavored with matbucha (tomato paste), aleppo pepper and dill blossoms.

The last bite: Mina Test Kitchen might promote itself as a temporary and experimental restaurant, but these are pros and the menu, vision and dishes seem fully realized. Chefs Mina and Sobel have a sure winner in “Middle’terranea” and I can’t wait for it to find a permanent home.

Side dish of Moroccan street corn, Chermoula yogurt, feta cheese, cayenne pepper, orange zest and mint.

Side dish of Moroccan street corn, Chermoula yogurt, feta cheese, cayenne pepper, orange zest and mint.

Main course of harissa-marinated roasted chicken with smashed and fried fingerling potatoes.

Main course of harissa-marinated roasted chicken with smashed and fried fingerling potatoes.

Other main (this is one order) slow-cooked brisket with Yemenite-spice, basmati, chick peas, and lentils.

Other main (this is one order) slow-cooked brisket with Yemenite-spice, basmati, chick peas, and lentils.

A beautiful end to dinner: watermelon granita on top of rose water cream and toasted pistachio and basil.

A beautiful end to dinner: watermelon granita on top of rose water cream and toasted pistachio and basil.

The rating: 3.5 out of 4 camera snaps
3.5snaps

 


The deets:
Mina Test Kitchen, 2120 Greenwich St., San Francisco. (Middle’terranea pop up now happening till the end of fall.) Open Wednesday through Saturday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Pre-ticket reservations recommended (cost $45 per person), major credit cards accepted. minatestkitchen.com

Mina Test Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Check out Sandy’s take on our dinner on her food blog.

 

 

5 Responses to A Review of Mina Test Kitchen: Middle’terranea in San Francisco

  1. Sandy says:

    really we missed out on a dish? you’re right, on the menu, there is a cauliflower dish listed. There was plenty of food though… I really liked the flavors and want to check out the next round.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Yeah, we didn’t really miss it. But I guess it’s a sign that the serving staff still has to work out some kinks with table service. Remember, we had a few missteps there with them bringing courses we already ate or an extra order of the brisket came over?

  2. Row says:

    These dishes look fantastic! The bright and zesty flavours must have dazzled the taste buds. 🙂

  3. Cynthia says:

    Oooo! Thanks for this review. I’ve been meaning to check this place out.

  4. Carolyn Jung says:

    What a feast! What a fun concept by Michael Mina. My husband would be all over that hummus, too. He loves the kind with ground meat in the center like that, which I’m sure you’re not surprised at. 😉