Friday, July 13, 2012

MICHAEL MINA...A TALE OF NEARLY FINE DINING

I'm not always about the fine dining, more of a diner kind of guy, but special occasions sometimes call for special dinners.  Such as it was when my birthday rolled around and the SO surprised me with dinner at the Michelin starred Michael Mina in San Francisco.  Located in the Financial District the modern yet cozy, comfortable place puts you at ease the minute you walk in--in other words it isn't a snobby coat and tie kind of place but one that is high end in both food and service.  


The wine list is extensive and pricey, there is a hefty mark-up on these bottles, and after agonizing over the choices and chatting with the knowledgeable sommelier we settled on a $39 bottle of Riesling that was more hint of sweet without being cloying and would go well with seafood dishes we ordered.  They started us out with a delightful amuse bouche of a grilled wagon wheel cheese  triangle (cheese from Cowgirl Creamery) and a small cup of chilled pea soup.  If this was part of their regular menu I would order it--tasty, crisp, buttery bread and cheese and a cool soup that tasted fresh and green--if ever something could taste green--this certainly did, a great start.  


I went with the seared diver scallops with bacon wrapped endive, wheat berries and a white ale reduction.  Scallops were perfectly cooked almost translucent and cut like butter.  The yellow sauce was citrusy and the green sauce was similar to a pesto and separately they were ok but mixed together and spread on the scallop they were divine.  As for the bacon-wrapped endive, well, everything is better with bacon.  


This is one of those places that gives you endless bread and again I could have eaten this all night.  It's a butter grilled sourdough served with a side of mascarpone topped with honey.  The side I wasn't a big fan of but the SO loved it, I gave him mine and just reveled in the bread.  


This is the dish that was the highlight of the evening for both of us--risi bisi lobster risotto with baby English peas, nepitella mint, stinging nettles and a Parmesan foam.  I can't say how much I enjoyed this dish my portion looks small because they split it into 2 bowls for us (which was nice of them) so the serving is larger and you could make a whole dinner of it.  The rice was slightly al dente, the sauce creamy slightly buttery, the lobster (could have been a little more--minor quibble) cooked just right and the foam had just the hint of cheese adding a whole other flavor level to this great dish.  Did I say how much I liked this?


Up until this point everything has been grand from the food runners to the servers to the food itself, everyone knows their stuff and the staff is attentive without being annoying--a rarity sometimes in San Francisco.  Something went down in the kitchen that we were not privy to as it took 25 minutes between when we had the risotto to when we actually got our entrees, it was very noticeable and we even got a table visit from the "captain" (sort of a fancy front of house manager for a restaurant).  When the food did finally arrive I have to say we were moderately disappointed.  The SO got the pan roasted lamb with moussaka, fried sweetbread balls and an eggplant caviar.  The lamb was decent if a bit heavy on the salt however their version of moussaka was a stickily, gummy ball of eggplant and stringy lamb pieces--it was neither tasty nor pleasant.  The sweetbread was fried into a small ball but you really couldn't taste anything but it was crunchy and the the eggplant "caviar" was really more of a smear of pureed eggplant and didn't add much to the dish and again seemed overly salted.  


I got the mustard oil poached black cod with mixed greens and small fried potato balls.  Best I could tell my dish was finished before the SO's as the yellow habenero sauce that came with it had a film on it like it had sat under heat lamps for too long and while the inside of the fish was cooked fine the outside was hardened.  On top of the fish was some type of gelled aspic that basically tasted like salt and actually that was the problem with this whole dish--too much salt.  I like salt as much as the next person but it's almost like my dish got finished and seasoned then sat, someone walked by seasoned it again and then before it finally came out someone else decided it needed more salt.  It was inedible and I just couldn't finish it.  Up to this point things had been going great but from the entree forward not so much.  We expressed our feelings to the server about the entrees, but not in a "this is the worst thing ever" kind of way, more of a "well, it wasn't up to our expectations" kind of way.  Both the server and Captain were very apologetic and while they didn't take the entrees off the bill they did offer us a free flight of desserts---which as you'll see probably wasn't necessary.  


First up was the fruit stuff and the best of all they sent was this deconstructed strawberry mascarpone cheesecake with basil ice cream and fresh and dehydrated strawberries.  For the most part I liked this, not so much the basil ice cream, again the SO enjoyed this, but the rest was tasty and a good enough end to this meal--and it probably should have been.  


But they brought more stuff out including this cubed gel thing with a little bit of apple in the middle covered in sweet crumbs served with a cooked rolled brown sugar (tasted a little burnt) with a cream filling.  And there was the passion fruit guava ice cream with dried fruit (both a little too tangy), a fruit gelee (not much flavor) and cream and pistachio nuts.  All of these were odd and not all that tasty to us.    


Then came these chocolate things.  A chocolate caramel brittle (just tasted burnt), chocolate truffle covered in cocoa powder (decent if not spectacular) and something they called their dessert version of an old-fashioned cocktail.  The white candy in it had all the liquor in it which the SO popped in his mouth because he didn't hear the server say this had the whiskey in it, that was a sight.  The rest were just different liquid versions of chocolate and it was basically like drinking a Snickers, not a bad thing just not what we were expecting.  

All in all a very unusual dining experience to be sure and while the entrees weren't so good and the desserts a little too strange I still enjoyed the rest of the food and ambiance of the place.  When you add the beginnings of the meal to the exceptional service it still makes Michael Mina a worthwhile place to go for a special meal or just the lobster risotto, you'll be glad you did.  



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