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).
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.
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.
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
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
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