In July 2008, I experienced my gastronomic hymenorrhexis, dining at then two-star Michelin Michael Mina in the St. Francis Hotel–see photos here–which is now a Bourbon Steak. It was only three official courses, but as a freshly minted non-teenager, to give you a sense of my restaurant sensibilities, The Cheesecake Factory was oft-considered worthy of a special occasion. So I was admittedly spellbound by the immaculate service, multiple amuse, petite fours, all features of a meal I had up to that point never witnessed.
Four years later, and a hillock of Michelin-starred meals amassed, Michael Mina–now a one-star establishment on California Street in the former Aqua space–would be the relative Lilliput of our four-day vacation.
With meager expectations, I must say I was generally impressed. I should note that the first 45 minutes of our 3.25 hour dinner would be marred be a sozzled woman at the bar who had weaponized her voice with Fran Drescher-like quiddities. Following that, though, service was hiccupless, led by Thomas, our bespectacled captain and one-time manager at Bar Boulud.
As for the food, every savory item, from the creamy chicken-black truffle finger sandwich to the flushed medallions of strip steak, proved satisfying. I would return again to try two in particular: (1) an aggressively seasoned roulade (or porchetta) of rabbit fenced in by spring vegetables and (2) and a properly deveined, silky lobe of foie (a dish we added to the tasting menu), the sweetness of which was magnified by hints of vanilla coming from Jordan almonds.
Shortly thereafter, alas, with dessert things started to go a bit pear-shaped. These were Hannity desserts: one-dimensional and worryingly unbalanced. One was so boozy, I almost thought it asked me rhetorically, would you like caramel with your whiskey? Given that the restaurant permits a la carte dining, there’s no reason not to share several appetizers and entrees before venturing elsewhere for confections.