St. Francis Hotel, Union Sq., SF Visited November 5, 2006 – Dinner
The lovely Barbara Barry decor beckons eager diners up the side stairs to Michael Mina, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The dining room is smaller than I expected, and while the dove gray theme is pleasant, it becomes uninteresting; settling as a muted but elegant backdrop as the dinner unfolds. Small touches at the table are appreciated. The butter was topped with fleur de sel in tiny ginkgo leaf dishes, which were placed individually for each diner. The lighted silver trivet cast a warm glow on the table.
The menu is available in two ways: either choices from three courses ($88), or as a six-course tasting menu ($135). If the Tasting of Seasonal and Classic Dishes menu is chosen, then the whole table must order it. Wine pairing is available for the tasting menu at an additional $85 per person.
The wait staff seemed well-trained if a bit bored. Sparkling water was San Pellegrino and still was Voss.
The wine list is a massive two-sided affair. We brought two bottles of wine with us and the corkage at $35/bottle is a bargain compared to the wine list up-charges.
The middle three courses were noticeably over-salted. Our dining companions, who had eaten at Michael Mina recently, hadn't experienced the heavy-handed salting on their prior visit, so it may have been an off-night.
Overall, we enjoyed dinner (with the exception of the over-salting) but the wine sticker shock and the weak links in the threesomes, make Michael Mina an expensive date that we’re not anxious to revisit.
Note on the photos: Michael Mina's lighting is very dim, as a result the photos make dishes less attractive than they were.
Amuse #1: Quail Egg wrapped in a crepe with corn emulsion, American caviar and crème fraiche
Served in a small, but not tiny, bowl which required the use of a spoon. The dish would have been better presented as a shooter since the elements were great together.
Cutting up the little parcel, you ended up getting a watered picture of the chef's intent. The presentation made it impractical to get the whole crepe-wrapped egg into a spoon with some of the sauce and garnish. The corn emulsion overpowered the delicacy of the caviar and egg, so it was a good thing that most of it was left behind in the bowl.
Amuse #2: Parsnip and truffle custard with a fried oyster on truffle sauce
This was lovely but was another impractical presentation. The custard in its own bowl left the lone oyster atop a sauce that could not be scraped up with a spoon. Combining the two elements in one bite was near-to impossible. I chose not to cut the oyster, as my companions did, and was rewarded with a nice crunch. A balanced sea and land of batter and fresh oyster with a hint of the divine truffle underneath. This sauce could have me waxing poetic about truffles, an ingredient I often avoid for a dislike of it. I swept the remaining sauce up with a torn piece of my Acme roll and then wandered over to Jack's plate to do the same thing. The custard was creamy and delicate, with a very muted parsnip flavor, and perhaps a hint of truffle which I didn't detect. Like parsnip crème brûlée without the brûlée.
Trio of Sashimi:
Japanese Fluke, Hearts of Palm, Honey Lime;
Tasmanian Trout, Avocado, Green Apple Ponzu; King Amberjack, Scallion, Mushroom Yuzu
The waiter inquired as to the sensitivities of the diners when we ordered and Jack mentioned that he didn't like wasabi. When our sashimi was served he was surprised that his plate was different. There was no Tasmanian Trout (one of his favorites). Instead he was given two identical fluke dishes. He was disappointed. I would have expected that the chef might have created a quick alternative rather than just double one of the pre-set threes. The wasabi didn't seem to be so tied to the Tasmanian Trout that it couldn't be served without it. Hmm. The spectacular choice of the trio was the amberjack with enoki mushrooms.
Potato Crusted Florida Pompano, Pickled Zucchini, Lime Aioli, Micro Basil
The sliced "pickled" zucchini had seen a fish stock or brine and was really fantastic - a very interesting accompaniment. The Pompano was a tiny bit south of done with a liberal amounts of salt but the potato crust was delicious, pulling the fish along with it. Nice. I will happily cook this from the new Michael Mina cookbook.
Sonoma County Duck - Foie Gras: Saffron Couscous, Asian Pear, Pistachios; Barley Risotto, Cranberry, Pecan;
Quinoa, Huckleberries, Almonds
Things are not good when only one of three make a hit. I'm starting to dislike the "trio" design of the menu. All the foie were very similar, despite the differing sauces, and were not in the best-seared-foie-ever category. I would pass on the duck on a return visit.
Colorado Rack of Lamb: Yellow Bell Pepper, Curried Eggplant, Caperberries
This dish was over-salted but none-the-less delicious. This is the course I can highly recommend. Perhaps I just like "Colorado lamb". The sauce was wonderful - just the right balance of curry to eggplant. Delicious.
Another three-way miss. Big cubes of fork tender beef. Kobe? One could not discern. One version with a good and tasty cap of fat and the other two lean. None of the preparations stood out, but all were fine. I loved the look of the three different colored cubes of potato.
Selection of Artisan CheesesAccompanied by Toasted Walnut Levain, Assorted Fruits, Candied Nuts
Tonight's selections were a goat cheese from auvergne (?) that I did not recognize (served with acacia honey); Fontina Val'dosta (served with honeycomb); and Cashel Blue from Tipperary Co. (served with chestnut honey). All also had nuts of varying types together with a fruit element. The accompaniments seemed forced. The cheese was fine on its own. Thin slices of crispy toasted walnut bread were served with the cheese course.
Dessert is often my favorite course, but not tonight. The star of the trio the pumpkin cheesecake; that exhibited a delicate beautifully balanced pumpkin flavor. The accompanying gingerbread ice cream was nice on it's own; with crumbled gingerbread veins running through it. I would not seek it out but it was definitely the second choice of the 7. The second offering was the no-point-in-eating strawberry napoleon with a broiled meringue top which did nothing for it, paired with milk chocolate ice cream and strawberry marscapone "glacage"- which won the star but did not win any friends on the plate. The last sadness was the tiny chocolate cake made with good quality chocolate but lacking in any nuances or qualities which would make me eat it. Perhaps the most disappointing offering was the chocolate malt replete with tiny chocolate chips. It was so thin and uninteresting I neglected to drink more than a sip or two to describe it to you. It was obvious the creator was lacking the experience of drinking a truly stellar chocolate shake.
With the Check
Milk and dark chocolate ice cream bonbons on a stick arrived on a silver salver. The dark chocolate was filled with cookies and cream ice cream. Good but unexpected and almost a little odd as a lingering last note.
Wines we had: 1996 Serafin Pere & Fils Les Millandes $136
Nose of blood and iron. Light lively center. Bright and slightly pickle-y. Has a lot of time. Hints of allspice on the finish. Really nice. 3-4
We brought (& paid corkage): 1999 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Rangen
nose of honey and wildflowers. Minerally soft center with a hint of honey and tart peach on the finish.
1978 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose of herbs and a bit anise. Bright cherries with a layer of earth and mushrooms on finish. Good acids.
Singing this night.
Joanne's notes on the service:
We ordered a bottle of Burgundy from the wine list. Jack placed the order with our waiter both by the bottle name and by bin number. The sommelier arrived with the wine, presented it and Jack looked at the label, a pause of a moment and he declared it was not the wine he had ordered (it was from the same producer). The sommelier apologized, whisked the wine away and arrived back at the table with the wine we actually ordered in less than a minute. It was if the second bottle was waiting in the wings. There was certainly no time to go and procure another bottle from the cellar. Odd and disconcerting, as the bottle first presented was considerably more expensive than the bottle that we ordered. Perhaps a coincidence? The bottom line is that the bottle was ordered by number and name. When mistakes happen, they usually occur when the wrong bottle is pulled from requiring a return to the cellar or bin to re-pull the correct wine - requiring some time to do so.
I inquired of the waiter as to the farm where the Colorado lamb was from. I was met with a blank stare. He responded that he didn't know and turned to inquire of the sommelier if he knew (which he didn't). I was never given the information that I requested. After all, Colorado Lamb is all the rage - isn't that enough information, or perhaps the source is closely held? The waiter did know that the dinner rolls came from Acme.
Jack on the Wine List, and more:
I wonder if the only reason Michael Mina got two Michelin stars is because the average bottle price is $300. I could not believe that restaurant critic Michael Bauer said their wine list had "Good values"! And he also said that it's a gorgeous room...well I suppose if you like big stone columns and gray everywhere you look. I think it would be more appropriate for holding a very elegant wake. The food: Each dish is prepared three ways for the tasting menu; so they would get it right 1 or 2 of the 3... but meaning, the others were just so-so (well, the Kobe-style beef dish - two tasted like good beef stew, but nothing more, and the third preparation had no appeal whatsoever).
You may notice that we do not give out a lot of praise. Having been to so many high-quality restaurants, it's pretty tough to impress us.
Most of our reviews are based on just one visit. We neither have the time nor the money (or often, the inclination) to visit most restaurants multiple times. So, please keep in mind that a single-visit review is a snapshot - the restaurant may be "on it" that day - or not. If the meal has a calamity involved (foreign objects in the food, wine poured on us, etc.) we try not to let it shade the overall review.
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