Monday, July 02, 2012

Farewell to Foie Gras @ Michael Mina

The final week of foie eating was upon us, and we had some visitors in town who had never had foie gras before.  We needed to remedy this.  So, weeks ago, I made reservations for Fleur de Lys, as I'd been there once before, but it was part of a big group event, so we weren't able to order the foie dishes, and I'd heard so much about them.  This seemed like a great place to introduce our visitors to foie, and for me to get to try a few more final foie dishes!

Being a paranoid person, I called the day before just to double check that they were indeed still serving, since I knew a lot of restaurants were running out of inventory.  And they delivered a bombshell: no.  No more foie.  I promptly cancelled my reservation and desperately starting seeking out an alternative.  Where could I get a reservation, for a group of 6, the next night, with some awesome foie?  I remembered that a friend had recommended Michael Mina, but I had a less than steller experience there on my last visit.  Still, I gave them a call to see if they were still serving.  Joyful news!  Not only were they still serving, they were starting a special 7 course foie menu that very night and not advertising it at all.  They described it as all of MM's classic and very best foie preparations.  As they read the menu to me, I heard a slew of amazing things: "foie and comte mac and cheese", "seared scallops with foie", "caramel foie ice cream", etc, etc.  The menu sounded fantastic.  And they could seat us.  I put my skepticism from my previous trip aside quickly booked a table.

The foie tasting menu menu was 7 courses, for $150, with optional wine pairings for an additional $60.  The wines were 2 ounce pours of some really fantastic wines, and that part of the meal was a really great value.  I really enjoyed all of the wines.  The food however, was much less of a deal.  It was 7 courses, but the amount of foie in them was not all that substantial.  Like my last visit to Michael Mina, it just seemed overpriced for the quality of food.

The menu was creative, yet fairly traditional at the same time, building mostly on classic french sauces and preparations.  Not as much molecular work or elaborate plating as many of the similar meals I've been to.  I was slightly disappointed by the lack of classic cold preparation on the menu.  I thought that a 7 course foie dinner would really let our visitors experience all aspects of foie, to see if they liked it or not, but besides a little mousse in the amuse bouche and a little shaved foie on a salad, they did not get a  real taste of a cold preparation.  You can read about their like/dislike of the different dishes in the ratings below, as, besides Emil, the two foie-newbies were the only ones to give me their final ratings.

The major issue of the night was how inconsistent everything was.  This was particularly frustrating because I felt like they were so close to delivering a great experience, but just kept falling short.  For example, one person received a near-perfect medium-rare scallop, while mine was well done.  Or the chunk of seared foie in one dish had a great sear on it, and another didn't.  Some dishes were served hot, some were lukewarm.  One dish had a really flavorful puree on it, one had some great sauces, and others were completely tasteless.  They clearly had the skill to make it all work sometimes, but just not consistently throughout the evening.  While none of the food was bad, there were certainly no wow moments, and nothing stands out in my mind.

Service was generally pretty good, with friendly enough waitstaff who seemed knowledgeable about the dishes.  There were a few issues however, like never bringing a coffee cup for one person, saying they would find out details on something and not ever coming back, and having two staff members tell us completely different things regarding an ingredient in a dish (details on all of this below).

I left the evening fairly disappointed.  Overpriced and underwhelmed.  At this price point and calibre of restaurant, they really should be able to deliver a more consistent experience, with at least a few memorable dishes.  I don't foresee myself going back soon, while nothing was bad, it really didn't seem worth the price.  I do still want to check out Michael Mina's other SF establishments sometime, particularly RN74.
Foie gras 'cherry' and foie gras velouté.
Dinner at Michael Mina usually begins with an amuse bouche duo of a soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Standard diners continued to receive that dish, but as we were doing the foie menu, ours was re-worked to be foie based.

The foie gras cherry has been on the menu at MM for the last few months as part of their hors d’oeuvres platter.  Inside was a tiny maraschino cherry, covered in a foie gras mousse, with some sort of red coating.  And a little leaf added to look like a stem.  It looked adorable, and I love the pairing of foie and cherry, and I love foie mousses, so I was very excited for it.

Unfortunately, it looked and sounded much better than it tasted.  The mousse, like so many, didn't have much foie flavor at all.  The cherry pairing would be nice, but the cherry was so tiny that it was lost and didn't add much cherry flavor.  I have no idea what the coating on it was, but it was a little sweet, perhaps a white chocolate?  I asked about it, but the server didn't know what it was, and promised to go find out for me.  He never returned.  This was a disappointing dish since it has been a signature little bite of theirs, and given the components, it could have been fantastic.  My least favorite dish of the night, but the 4th pick for three others.

The velouté was much more successful.  It was a hot soup, with a foamy layer on top.  It had a really enjoyable foie flavor, not too intense, but enough to really taste it.  Just really well balanced.  It reminded me of a very similar dish we had at La Folie, except that I really didn't care for the La Folie version, as it was just too rich.  My 6th pick of the night, 3rd for two others, and 4th for another.

This came paired with a glass of champagne, Serge Mathieu Cuvée Select, France, NV.  It was slightly sweet, with some apple flavors.  A good drink to start the meal.
Bread, ricotta-mascarpone-honey spread.
Next up came the bread service.  It was pretty much identical to our last visit, and I felt exactly the same way about it.

The bread is from Firebrand.  Served hot and toasted, but again, I thought it was too oily.  I really don't understand why they put so much oil on, particularly when you are about to spread cheese and honey on it.  It was also over toasted, too crunchy and hard to eat, almost cutting your mouth when you bit into it.  And, of course, it was my least favorite type of bread: sourdough.

But, it came with a pot of ricotta, mascarpone, and honey to spread on.  Just like last time, I absolutely loved this stuff.  Creamy and delicious.  Nicely sweet from the honey.  The honey and mascarpone go together so well.  I ate the bread that I didn't like just so I could devour as much of this as possible.  And when the bread ran out, I actually just finished my pot of cheese by the knifeful.  Seriously delicious stuff.
Shaved black truffle and mache salad, duck cracklings, hazelnuts: before.
Next we moved on to a salad course.  It was presented without the foie gras on top, and then the servers came around with the foie and shaved it on top.  I liked the fun and interactive aspect of shaving it tableside.
Salad: now with (a very little amount) of shaved cured foie!
The mache was fresh, crisp, bitter.  It was lightly dressed with what the server described as truffle, foie, and hazelnut oil.  We have one diner who absolutely hates truffle oil, and we had inquired before ordering if anything had truffle oil in it. We were assured that the chef doesn't use truffle oil, ever, and that all truffle included would be real black truffles.  We asked the person who presented the dish however, and he said it was truffle oil.  Puzzling.  And the truffle oil hater took one bite of this salad and declared that he tasted truffle oil.  We asked our server about it again, and he insisted that there was none.  I honestly have no idea who to believe, but it is pretty puzzling that the person who served us the dish said there was truffle oil, but our main server said there wasn't.  Someone wasn't correct!

Anyway.  The real issue with this dish was the tiny amount of foie.  It was utterly lost in the dish.  I obviously could see it and knew they shaved it on top, but there was so little of it, and the greens were so bitter, that I did not taste it at all.  Really disappointing, I don't know why they were so stingy, particularly compared to other similar dishes I've had elsewhere.

There were also some tart apple batons, which I'm sure would have paired nicely with the foie, had we been able to taste any of it.

The menu also said there were duck cracklings, which none of us tasted or saw.  Even looking at the photos now, I do not see them.  We asked about this, and were later presented with a tiny bowl of them to try.  They were crispy little bits, reminding me somewhat of bacon bits.  I think they would have added a nice crunch and salt to the dish.

This wasn't the first mache salad with shaved foie that we'd seen recently, the previous version being at The Village Pub's Farewell to Foie dinner.  The Village Pub's version was more successful, largely due to the far more generous amount of foie, and the frisee to balance out the bitter mache.

The presentation on this also left something to be desired.  It looked like a pretty measly portion, and was kinda just thrown on the plate.

None of us liked this dish, my 8th pick of the night, Emil's 6th, another's 7th, and another's 9th.

Paired with Domaine Pichot le peu de la Moriette Vouvray, Liore, France, 2011.  It was sweet, yet slightly bitter.  I didn't really like it.
Jordan almond crusted foie gras, peppercress,  orange marmalade, brioche.
I was expecting a cold preparation next, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a seared chunk of foie instead.  And of course, it was seared a la plancha!  This was the current preparation on the regular menu.

The foie was ok, with a mediocre sear on it, but really suffered from not being hot.  Sigh, why do we keep getting cold seared foie gras?  Foie is just something that gets so much less tasty as it gets cold.  I wouldn't really call it almond crusted, but there were some slivers of almond on top that added a nice crunch.  The salt level in the accompanying sauce was very good.

The peppercress puree didn't really have much flavor and was lost.

The orange marmalade was a great pairing with the foie, with the perfect level of sweetness and fruitiness that makes for a successful pairing, although it did strike me as being out of season.  I'm more used to stone fruits or berries as a pairing these days.

The brioche was nicely toasted, but not particularly notable.

Also on top was a small piece of duck skin, sorta peking style, that was super crispy.

Overall this was a mediocre execution of a seared foie gras.  It wasn't bad, but should have been served much warmer, and had no aspect of it to really make it stand out in my memory.  They also clearly care about plating, with the two sauces smeared on the plate, and the brioche standing up, but it didn't particularly look nice.

Emil's 2nd favorite of the night, but another diner's 6th, and 7th pick for two of us.

Paired with Valle Iscarco Kerner 'nectaris', Alto Adige, Italy, 2006.  This was a syrupy, sweet, absolutely delicious dessert wine.  I loved it.
Pan seared diver scallop, foie gras royale, beurre rouge, leek fondue.
And now, for a dish I was pretty excited for.  Seared scallops with foie!  (You may recall from previous posts how much I love a good seared scallop, particularly one with foie anywhere else in the dish!)  At my previous visit to Michael Mina, we had ordered the seared scallop with foie dish, and I was expecting something like that, with a chunk of seared foie.  Even though we had just had a seared preparation, I was a little disappointed that this one didn't have any seared foie.

The scallop had on ok sear, but like usual, I would have preferred it to be more seared.  It was also cooked all the way through, and I prefer my scallops to be slightly medium rare on the inside.  Interestingly, Emil's was medium rare, so there were some consistency issues here.  Unlike last time, it tasted fresh, not fishy, but it didn't really have any sweetness to it that I so often love in scallops.

The foie gras appeared in several forms, but the flavor wasn't very strong in either.  The first was the foie gras royale, the white substance.  I really didn't taste any foie at all, but it was creamy, with a really nice consistency.  The second was in the beurre rouge sauce, cutely served in a little pitcher.  While it didn't have much foie flavor, it was salty and quite delicious.  Being a sauce lover, I may or may not of enjoyed a few spoonfuls of just the sauce.  Yum!

The leek fondue was the green substance on the plate.  It had a very strong leek flavor, and added a lightness and freshness which paired nicely with the scallop.  We weren't really sure why it was called a fondue however, as it didn't seem to have any cheese in it.

Finally, there was a tiny, ridiculously flavorful chive blossom and a few delicious crispy shallot rings.  I'm not sure you can go wrong with crispy shallots, they seem to make just about everything better.

Overall, this was a decent dish, but I preferred the similar one we had at Txoko on their foie gras tasting menu, as the scallop was better prepared.  My 4th pick for the night, Emil's 3rd, another diner's 1st, but the other's 9th.

Paired with a rose, Clos Cibonne Tibouren, Cotes de Provence, France, 2010.  This was very dry and not too sweet.
Michael's 'Mac & Cheese', foie gras mousse, duck confit, walnut gremolata.
This is the dish I was really, really excited about.  Who doesn't love mac and cheese?  And even better, this was made with my favorite cheese: comte!  And I always love foie gras mousses.  Emil had had a previous version of this dish before, and raved about it.  I was so excited.

The mac and cheese, as indicated by the quotes, was a play on mac and cheese.  I think I was expecting a more classic, creamy mac and cheese, with some chunks of foie, topped with a frothy foie mousse or something.  There were no elbow noodles here, but rather three pasta tubes, filled with the foie gras mousse and duck confit.  The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente.  The filling was a little strong tasting for me, I think from the duck confit.  The pasta reminded me a little of the squab and foie stuff pasta we had a Fifth Floor a few days prior.  On top of the pasta was a comte mornay sauce.  It was not creamy, nor really very cheesy, and was fairly congealed, as if it had been sitting for a while.  But it did taste like comte, so I liked it.

There was also a slice of duck prosciutto on top, that was very ducky, and I did not like.  I did appreciate that they were working in all of these extra duck preparations however, like the skin in the seared dish, and the cracklings in the salad.

There was also the walnut gremolata, which didn't have much flavor.

This dish was very visually unappealing, even though it was dressed up with some leaves.

My 5th pick for the night, Emil's and one other's 8th, but the other's 1st.  While this fell kinda short, I can imagine this dish being awesome, and kinda drool thinking about a foie mousse stuffed pasta in comte sauce.

Paired with Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Rouge, Burgundy, France, 2009.  This was a 100% pinot noir, that was really, really good.  Complex, smooth, with a good bitterness.
NY strip steak and foie gras 'rossini', brown butter spinach, focaccia, sauce perigourdine.
And finally, the main dish.  This is the dish I was actually least excited about, but ended up liking the most of the savory dishes.

The perigourdine sauce was poured on tableside, another nice presentation touch.  This one really did seem to just be real black truffle and not truffle oil.

The steak was tender, with a nice sear on the outside, and a perfect medium rare doneness.  Well executed.

The steak was topped with a grilled focaccia chunk.  It was very buttery and crispy.  Next was a chunk of seared foie.  This one was much better executed than the earlier seared dish, with a far nicer crust on it.  It was creamy, flavorful, and really well done.  I wish the earlier seared foie had been this successful!  They clearly did have quality product and the skill level to do this well, it makes me wonder why the dish that focused on the seared foie didn't come out stronger.  Like any rossini, the foie and steak were an excellent combination.

On the side were two preparations of spinach.  First, a puree, that unlike the peppercress puree, was actually loaded with flavor.  Again, this showed that they have the skill to do flavorful purees, so it is unfortunate that the other one fell flat.  The other was a wilted brown butter spinach.  I loved this.  The spinach had tons of flavor itself, and the brown butter it was drenched in was absolutely delicious.  Emil didn't care of this at all for some reason, and I gladly gobbled up his order too.

This was the most successful dish for our group.  It was my favorite savory dish of the evening, making it my 3rd pick overall, the 2nd choice of two others, and Emil's first.

Paired with Pecina Crianza Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain, 2005.  This was another very complex red wine, that I really enjoyed.
Intermezzo: bing cherry, hibiscus gel foam, tarragon meringue, vanilla chiffon cake.
This was similar to the intermezzo we had at Michael Mina before, in that it featured a creamy substance, a cake, a foam, and a crunchy bit.

The cherry was sautéed in tawny port and caramel, making it sweet and boozy, and quite delicious.  The tarragon meringue added a crunch and had a surprisingly strong tarragon flavor.  The cake was moist and ok.  I didn't really like this, but there wasn't anything wrong with it.

Both my and Emil's 9th pick of the night, last pick for one other, and 6th pick for the other.
Caramel foie gras ice cream, roasted apricots, vanilla brioche, honey gelee.
Being a dessert-o-holic, we had reached the point of the night I always look most forward to.  Dessert!  I really blame my parents for this one, as it was inconceivable in my household growing up that you wouldn't have a huge dessert after dinner, and we always had an epic amount of desserts to choose from, usually homemade.  So even after 7 courses, no matter how full I am, I'm always ready for dessert next.  Luckily for me, on our previous trip to Michael Mina the desserts were the strong point, and they were again this time as well.

We've had a lot of foie gras desserts lately since we've been doing so many foie tasting menus, and they always conclude with a foie based dessert.  Some have been very successful, but most have been kinda weird, so I never know what to expect.  Ice cream seems to be a popular pick, and our previous two foie dinners ended with it: Fifth Floor's amazing foie ice cream with fried rhubarb pie and Txoko's foie ice cream with prunes and cookie crumble.  This was my second favorite foie dessert ever, after the foie ice cream and fried rhubarb pie the first time we had it.

The ice cream was very sweet from the caramel, but also had a strong foie flavor.  It was creamy and quite tasty.

Under the ice cream was a grilled slice of brioche, with a subtle vanilla flavor, that worked really well to soak up the ice cream as it melted, and reminded me of a classic cake and ice cream pairing.

The apricots were very sweet, soft but not too mushy from being roasted, and a good, seasonal, pairing.

There were a few sweet honey gelee cubes with a nice honey flavor, not just sugary sweet.

There was also some pistachio crumble that I didn't really taste, which is good, as I don't particularly care for pistachio, and some caramel toffee that added even more sweetness and a nice crunch.

Overall, this was a very sweet dessert, but I really enjoyed it, particularly with my bitter coffee.  My favorite dish of the evening, but Emil's least favorite.  You may recall that he does not like sweets at all, and this one was pretty over the top.  He had hope in liking this though, as he ranked the foie ice cream dessert at Fifth Floor his favorite dish that night!  This was the 5th pick for two others.

Paired with a muscat, Jorge Ordonez Muscatel #1, Malaga, Spain, 2008.  It was sweet, syrupy, delicious.  Unfortunately, I split my glass after taking only one sip, and no offer was made to replenish it.  The staff were quick to see my spill and come clean up, but I expected someone to ask if I wanted a refill (I would have gladly paid for it).

Not pictured is my decaf coffee.  Like last time, it was a very good decaf, served in a sleeve to keep it warm, and with a pitcher of perfectly steamed milk on the side.  One of the best coffee services I've had.  Since I didn't want four cups of decaf myself, I offered some to a fellow diner.  He asked for a cup from one server, which never arrived.  He then asked someone else, who did promptly bring him a cup.
Milk chocolate lozenge.
We'd seen this before on our last visit to Michael Mina.  No foie in this one, but it was still delicious.  Creamy milk chocolate ganache inside, crispy shell, chocolate dust.  Lots of good chocolate flavor.  My second favorite of the night, Emil's 7th, another diner's 8th, and another's last.
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