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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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