Michael Mina, San Francisco, CA (May 2012)

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.

Red Rye’ding Hood: rye, strawberries, aperol, lemon
Chicken-black truffle sandwich and chilled asparagus soup
Sourdough with honey-mascarpone
Geoduck clam and fried clam belly, verjuice grapes, green almond purée and white gazpacho

North African spiced tempura fried soft shell crab

 Soba noodles, bonito, tomato, tomato consommé and green garlic aioli

Ginger oil-poached hamachi, scallions, beech mushrooms and tomato-ginger foam

Rabbit porchetta, foie gras, cippolini, favas and fiddlehead ferns
Jordan almond-dusted foie gras, orange marmalade, brioche, peppercrest purée and duck skin

Strip steak, carrot mousseline, roasted carrots, creamed spinach and black truffle vinaigrette

Coffee curd, espresso soil and milk snow

Deconstructed Snickers
Cardamon-roasted pineapple, coconut meringue, coconut-pineapple sabayon and cilantro


 Milk chocolate-honey lozenge

 Maraschino cherry sorbet, yuzu macaron, creme de violette and lemon purées
Caramel apple briquette with white chocolate

Jasmine and brown sugar wafers
Way too much whiskey!
 Walnut toffee and dark chocolate crisps

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