The Michael Mina ExperienceJan 12th, 2012 | By Clout and About | Category: Food & Wine, Food / Wine / Restaurant Reviews
Written by Joanna B. Simon. Photography by Lulu del Rosario/Fototeqnika.com; Video filmed and produced by Viet Q. Mac
Balance. The very definition of the word is: to exist in a state of equilibrium or harmony. It is what we all endeavor to attain in our hectic, crazy day-to-day lives. For Chef Michael Mina, “balance” is a philosophy, his cooking philosophy, to be precise. Acidity, sweetness, spice, richness, all must be in harmony to create a successful food experience. This harmony in all things is certainly on display at Chef Mina’s flagship restaurant Michael Mina SF. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district in the very spot Chef Mina helped to conceive Aqua, this establishment bearing his name was voted Restaurant of the Year 2011 by Esquire Magazine and awarded a Michelin star for 2012. From the inviting décor, to the warm and welcoming staff, to the mind-blowing food – we experienced our own food enlightenment as we were schooled by the master himself.
Hospitality. From the moment you walk through the giant glass door, you know you’re in for a treat. The dark wood table-filled dining area, sans white tablecloth, is swanky enough to make you sit up straight, but not so stuffy that you have to stick out your stiff upper lip. Each and every member of the staff from the Captain (Giovanni Pugliese), to the Sommelier (Jenna Boyer), to the bus boy, made us feel like a part of the family. We were even lucky enough to go behind the scene and take a peek into the kitchen where all the magic happens and where we had the pleasure of meeting Executive Chef Mike Davis. Speaking of food, here’s what got our tastebuds talking:
We partook of the four course lunch menu times two, which gave us the chance to salivate over eight different delectable dishes. For our starters, we had Michael’s Classic Ahi Tuna Tartare (prepared tableside with habanero infused sesame oil, Asian pear, pine nuts, and quail egg yolk) and the San Francisco Seafood Stew (with charred tomato-lobster broth, grilled bread, fennel, and peppers). The first dish set our new standard for tuna tartare and is deserving of its impeccable reputation. It was light and supple, with just the right amount of heat and sweetness. We proclaimed the seafood stew “comfort in a bowl,” with its heart-warming broth and bountiful variety of seafood goodness. It’s the kind of dish you want to scoop up with your bread so you don’t leave behind a single drop. And as a matter of fact… we did!
Our second course consisted of the Fall Squash Risotto (with parmesan foam and toasted pumpkin seeds) and Hand Rolled Cavatelli Pasta (with rabbit confit and chanterelle mushroom cream). The risotto was rich and creamy and prepared al dente, just the way we like it. The show-stopper for this course was the cavatelli pasta and its rabbit confit. Oh how we loved the savory flavor of those little nuggets of goodness that we fought over.
You think you know what to expect when you order the chicken dish and the flat iron steak on any menu. Leave it to Michael Mina and his chefs to completely blow us away with this course and his Pitman Farms Chicken Breast (prepared with creamy faro, smoked chicken leg, Brussels sprouts, and piperade sauce) and Braised Black Angus Flat Iron Steak (with horseradish crust, “bone marrow” potato, and roasted root vegetables). The chicken breast was cooked to succulent perfection, the faro nicely nutty, and the Brussels sprouts… oh so delicious we could eat them by the bowlful! The flat iron steak was a welcome surprise as it was so soft and melt-in-your mouth, you almost did not need your knife to cut into it. The flavorful broth poured tableside married all the flavors of the beef and delicate root vegetables nicely.
On a glorious December afternoon with the hustle and bustle of the holidays right outside, we were reminded of the importance of balance in the form of subtle and bold flavors, sweet juxtaposed with salty, creaminess intermingled with crunch. We enjoyed our meal sitting by the large front windows, surrounded by financial district movers and shakers out for a quick bite, couples enjoying a romantic rendezvous, and groups of old friends enjoying a holiday celebration meal together. All things in harmony… balance… that is the goal.
Chef Mina, consider your goal “ACHIEVED.”
E X T R A
Q & A with Michael Mina
A few days before experiencing the meal above, we sat down with Chef Mina for a few minutes to get to know him a little better.
C&A: I’ve interviewed a few chefs now who mentioned you as someone they admire, respect and look up to in the culinary world. What virtues do you like to instill in those you mentor? Additionally, what qualities do you look for in those who want to come work for you?
MM: I like to instill the obvious virtues like getting them mentally equipped for a culinary career – having the understanding of the discipline and amount of work involved in becoming a chef. I also try to teach them how important it is to understand the whole business and the meaning of hospitality in the restaurant business. Important aspects include service, relationship of service and food, design, business side, financial aspects, and tons more. I aim to teach them about not just being successful but about longevity. It’s one thing to write one great menu, but another thing to sustain many years in a restaurant.
For hiring, I look for someone passionate about learning that also has good chemistry within the team. I like to find good teachers that help build their team.
C&A: Where did you get your culinary inspiration? Did you grow up around food?
MM: I grew up in a Middle Eastern family so food was a big part of my life. Social dining and spending many hours around the table with family was part of our culture. My true inspiration came from working in restaurants though – it really expanded my passion for the business. I firmly believe there are two types of people: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I am the latter.
C&A: How much time do you spend in all your restaurants and where do you spend the majority of your time?
MM: I spend a majority of my time in San Francisco as it’s my home base and where my offices are located. Any given week, I spend 60-70 hours in the kitchens – be it in my San Francisco locations or one of my other restaurants across the country.
C&A: What are the five most important items in the Mina family pantry?
MM: Seasoning is really important to us so there is always salt! We also eat a lot of pasta and home-grown seasonal vegetables from our garden. Soy sauce and olive oil are also staples for us.
MM: Favorite seafood dish? Egg-battered abalone
Favorite wine? Dauvissat Chablis “Clos” 2008
Favorite dessert? Spun to order ice cream
iPhone or Android? Siri
What’s on your iPod? A lot of 80′s music and lots of Rihanna
And now, please enjoy Chef Michael Mina in his own words and those of Michael Mina SF’s Executive Chef Mike Davis.