Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dinner @ Michael Mina

[ February 12, 2012 ]

One of the first fancy dinners I ever went to in San Francisco was at Michael Mina, back when it was located at the Westin. They have since moved and re-conceptualized a little, and I've been wanting to get back to check it out for ages. When I saw a seasonal, local crab dish on the menu for February only, I knew it was time to finally go.

The restaurant itself is beautiful. Open, airy, elegant yet not stuffy decor, gorgeous custom designed servingware, plenty of space between tables so as not to feel cramped and private.

Service was attentive and unobtrusive.

The presentation and plating was lovely.

Unfortunately, the food did not measure up.  There was not a single wow moment in the entire meal, and several things were actually pretty bad (foie gras arancini, scallop).  And most notably, it was most certainly not worth the price tag.  And everything was really heavy.

On the other hand, I did get to eat 9 desserts. The dessert here is offered only as a dessert service, you can't just order one, you have to get a tasting menu of 7 desserts. And they bring a pre-dessert dessert in addition to that, and they brought us a complimentary cake too. The desserts were not spectacular, but were good, and better than most of the savory dishes.

Overall, I'm stuffed, don't feel particularly well, and am pretty disappointed, particularly given the cost. I did enjoy the experience of being there and having a slow paced meal in a beautiful setting with good company though!

Amuse bouche - potato leek soup, Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel grilled cheese.
This is a cute idea for an amuse bouche, but was kinda heavy for a warm up course. The grilled cheese was fine, but not particularly noteworthy. Bread was heavily buttered and the cheese not really all that melty. The soup was creamy and comforting, but not particularly flavorful.
Toasted sourdough bread with ricotta and honey. 
The bread was way, way too oiled for my taste. And sigh, sourdough, which I just don't really care for.

The ricotta and honey were delicious, as expected, and pair together really well. I just would have liked them more on a different bread and one that wasn't coated in oil.

I think there was something else in the honey/ricotta pot (sesame oil? I don't remember).
hors d’ oeuvres: steak tartare, foie gras ‘arancini’, smoked salmon terrine, dungeness crab ‘cake’.    $48.
Hors d' oeuvres platter consisted of 4 small bites for each of us.  The platter for each person was $16, making each bite $4.  They were definitely not worth that price.  These all sounded fantastic, but completely failed to impress.

  • Steak tartar, served on a crispy potato cake: I liked the potato cake, but didn't care that much for the tartar. I don't blame the tartar though, I just don't really like steak tartar in general.
  • Foie gras arancini: Well ... I thought this would be some play on a fried rice ball. There was no rice or fried, but it was a ball. I still don't know exactly what it was, but basically a foie gras truffle, perhaps mixed with cream?  One diner described this as eating a ball of butter and said he wished he didn't put the whole thing in his mouth at once.  I didn't want to finish mine, and even my other foie gras loving companion didn't want any extra of this.  Yes, we actually threw out foie gras.
  • Smoked salmon terrine: Probably the best one on the plate. Smoked salmon, creme fraiche, salmon roe, on a little rye toast. Decent flavors, very cute presentation. I've had much more flavorful smoked salmon though.
  • Crab cake: Not really what I was expecting, as it was very lightly pan fried rather than deep fried. I liked this as you really got to taste the crab. I have no idea what it was doing on top of a giant chunk of cucumber though. Bitting into it this way left you tasting only cucumber, the proportion was way off.  One diner speculated that they wanted it to be the same height as the tartar? Regardless, deconstructing it to just enjoy the crab was the way to go.
I wouldn't order any of these again, but the salmon and crab cake itself weren't bad.

Crudo of hawaiian kampachi with pink lady apples, japanese uni, mitsuba, sea beans.  $20.
Well ... the pink lady apple chunks were tasty (the squares). The uni was decent. But the kampachi was incredibly flavorless. There wasn't anything wrong with the texture and it wasn't fishy or off-putting in that way, but it just lacked any flavor or freshness whatsoever. The assorted sauces on the plate were also pretty flavorless. This dish fell down hard, which is pretty surprising given its price per bite.

One of my dining companions had the following to say about it: "I still can't believe that they served this. The kampachi was some of the most unpleasant foul tasting fish I've had in quite a while and I normally love Kampachi. By far the worst dish of the evening, I actually wish we would have sent it back, it was really that bad."  This is coming from someone who I've never seen send anything back.
Seared day boat scallop & foie gras, persimmon, sunchoke, red ribbon sorrel.  $28.
This dish was a mixed bag.  It should have been fantastic: foie gras!  Scallops!  Persimmon!  Some of my favorite ingredients.

The scallop was nicely seared, but a little over cooked on the inside - I prefer scallops to be just slightly more rare.  But ... it was really, really fishy and not fresh tasting.  I love scallops and I really did not like this at all.

I enjoyed the crispy sunchoke crisps.

The foie gras was seared nicely and was pretty good, but lacked the creaminess I was really looking for.

There were also some little potatoes and a cake thing, I have no idea what it was.

My top savory bite of the night was a bite of the cake thing, with some foie gras, and some of the assorted sauces on the plate. The puree on the left hand side of the plate was particularly delicious, as was the foie gras sauce.

That said, while this was the best dish of the evening, $28 for a single scallop and a pretty small piece of foie?
Quinault steelhead trout, kataifi, arugula purée, lobster-mushroom royale.  $34.
The trout was cooked well, with a crisp exterior, yet still pretty rare inside. The kataifi crust was really delicious.

Also on the plate were some tasty mushrooms, lobster knuckles, and grilled cipollini onions. I've been really into cipollini onions lately, and loved that part. Sweet, grilled, delicious! The lobster wasn't all that flavorful or interesting.

In the little dish was some sort of custard, with some sort of fried thing on top. I don't remember the details. One diner thought it tasted like foie gras, but I didn't really.

Not bad overall, and not overpriced either.
Japanese inspired whole dungeness crab, ramen, tempura, miso butter poached.  $47.
The dish we were more excited for! Local dungeness crab!

This was presented nicely, they poured the broth in tableside.

There were two tempura pieces - one claw and one other large piece. The tempura wasn't very successful - the batter was pretty soggy and not crisp, it was really oily, and why on earth would you want to coat delicious crab in tempura anyway?

The 3 big chunks of crab (between the tempura pieces) were definitely the best, nice fresh crab, poached in miso butter.

Under the crab chunks was some assorted citrus segments and some roasted vegetable (zucchini?)

The ramen broth was pretty tasty, had some spice too it. Also inside the bowl was mixed greens, radishes, and some shredded crab meat.

The little ramekin contained some sesame oil (?) that we were told to add to the soup as we wanted for flavor. It was actually really tasty and I would have loved to dip bread in it!

I can't say this dish really came together for me. It was all good, but it failed to really wow me. That said, I probably enjoyed this ramen more than any other ramen I've had (except for ramen in Tokyo). It turns out crab ramen is way tastier than pork ramen!  But again, $47?  Just too high of a price for what it was.
Olive oil and chocolate mousse cake, cocoa nibs, chocolate garnish, ice cream.
This was a complimentary dessert since we were out celebrating.  Layers of olive oil cake and chocolate mousse, topped with some cocoa nibs, and ice cream (vanilla?)

The cake itself was ok, had a subtle olive oil flavor and was fairly moist. The chocolate mousse was much better when you just extracted a layer of it, rather than with the cake as it wasn't chocolatey enough to shine through the cake. The ice cream was forgettable, I don't even recall what flavor it was. The cocoa nibs added a great crunch and bitter flavor.
Citrus pudding, cake, merengue, poppyseed candy.
Palate cleansing complimentary pre-dessert.

For something meant to be palate cleansing, this was far too sweet and heavy! The citrus pudding was sooo sweet. There was also a chunk of cake in here. The merengue was really frothy and kinda flavorless. The poppyseed thing was just sweet. Meh.

I probably would have enjoyed this much more if it were served at dessert time, when I had some bitter coffee to go with it, but on its own, just too sweet.
Decaf coffee, steamed milk. $5
Really great decaf coffee! I've been on a quest to find good decaf lately and haven't really found much, but this was surprisingly good. Complex flavor. I still sorta don't believe it was decaf.

Served as a small carafe (about 4 cups) in a neoprene warmer to keep it warm throughout the dessert service. This was a fantastic touch, as it did indeed stay piping hot.

It was also served with steamed milk. I love when places do this. I normally drink my coffee black these days, but I really like having coffee with a little milk foam on top. I don't know if this is a real drink anywhere, but I kinda made it up a while ago, and it is actually my favorite way to drink it. Sorta like a macchiato, but with coffee instead of espresso.

This coffee service may have been the highlight of the meal for me. It certainly was the best value for the money :)
Creamsicle: citrus cake, mandarin orange segments, buddah's hand, vanilla ice cream.
Course #1 in the dessert service (6 courses, $15).

This was pretty good. The cake was surprisingly flavorful, full of citrus flavor. A bite of cake with ice cream and citrus segments was really refreshing and delicious, and did actually taste like a creamsicle. Not too sweet either!
Briquette: caramel, apple, white chocolate. Brown sugar wafer with white chocolate mousse, jasmine.
Dishes #2 and #3 in the dessert service.

The briquette was a big surprise. It was somewhere in between a marshmallow and a super soft merengue in texture, far fluffier than it looks. It was described as an inside out candied apple. The main thing was white chocolate flavored, and it had some filling (apple?) and then was rolled in something crispy on the outside. It was flavorful, sweet, and just kinda strange.

The rolled wafer was tasty. The wafer itself was brown sugar flavored and the filling was a delicious white chocolate mousse.
Brown butter cake, rum bruleed bananas, candied cashews, cocoa nibs, flan ice cream.
Dessert course #4.

This was the winner for me by far. The bananas were enhanced by the rum. The cake itself was moist and flavorful from the brown butter. The candied cashews were just kinda there, not that interesting. The cocoa nibs again added a delightful crunch and bitterness. But the star was the flan ice cream - caramelly, sweet, delicious. If I wasn't in such a nice restaurant, I would have licked this plate clean.
Chocolate ganache, in a chocolate shell, surrounded by candied chocolate, on chocolate soil.
Dessert course #5!

This one needed to be deconstructed. All together, it was just kinda a sweet overload.

But, if you took it apart (mostly taking off the candied shell), it was a really creamy, flavorful chocolate ganache with a delightful chocolate layer to break through, and a bitter chocolate crumble to drag it through. And then, the candied layer was nice on its own.
Walnut toffee and dark chocolate crisp. 
And finally, dessert course #6.

Nothing particularly noteworthy here, just a piece of walnut toffee coated in chocolate. I eat brittle/toffee pretty much daily that is much better than this. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't interesting either.
Cheese platter: Triple cream with pickled something. Fourme d'Ambert blue with passionfruit gelee and pumpkin seeds. Hard goat's milk cheese with candied pecans and date puree.  $15.

This was a fellow dining companion's dessert. After he consumed all of the cheese, he left behind the sweet bits, which I tried. None of the cheeses seemed particularly noteworthy.

The candied pecans, date puree, passionfruit gelee were all flavorful and I can imagine they went quite well with the cheeses :)

Chocolates to take home.
And ... more dessert.  Additional treats brought to us by the waiter, usually just part of the tasting menu, but he gave them to us anyway.

  • Dark chocolate caramel: Dark chocolate shell around caramel filling.  Chocolate had a nice snap when you bit into it, shiny, decent. Caramel was ok, nothing spectacular.
  • White chocolate filled with boozy ganache: White chocolate shell around some sort of boozy filling. Very boozy, but just sweet and gross.

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