Remembering Michael Mina, Version 1.0

Tonight is the final dinner service at Michael Mina’s eponymous restaurant in the Westin St. Francis, before it relocates and morphs into something less decadent and tablecloth’d in the former Aqua space next month. (You’ll recall that Mina is taking the opportunity to bring his steakhouse concept, Bourbon Steak, to the St. Francis in its stead.) The Scoop points us to Bauer’s first two reviews of the place, the glowing three-and-a-half-star opening review, and the four-star update in ‘08. The descriptions take us back to the heady days of mid-aughts fine dining, when trios were all the rage and everyone had money to burn.

They also remind us how Mina was part of the vanguard of chefs playing with ideas of contrasting preparations on a plate, influencing an army of Top Chef hopefuls in the process. Bauer’s first review from 2004 talks about the three-course seasonal menu, which featured not trios, but sextets of preparations in each course.

Foie gras, roasted and in torchons, is presented on a square Royal Doulton plate with two rows of three indentations, each holding a small dish with an intricate preparation. On the left is a perfectly seared lobe on slow-roasted cherries and jus prickled with pink peppercorns. Above that is a quarter-size coin of poached liver, rich and cool like creamery butter, with a dab of fleur de sel in the middle, set on thin slices of raw fruit. This hot-to-cool progression reveals dramatic differences in nearly identical flavor combinations…

Bauer was won over by the pomp of the service, the design of the room, and the elements of surprise in each dish, but even he admitted it could be a bit much. “This decandent experience can be overwhelming; the dazzling flavors hit the palate like a kaleidoscope, changing and morphing with each bite.” Later, for his four-star update in 2008, Bauer wrote, “Michael Mina is a great and ambitious chef… and at this restaurant he’s cooking on a more complicated and distinctive level [than ever before].” (See some shots of dishes courtesy of No Salad As a Meal.)

We’re sure we speak for many when we say we’re eager and curious to see how Mina adapts his haute vision as he reinvents Restaurant Michael Mina in its new home (252 California Street) in mid- to late October.

“Vanishes like an apparition”: Remembering Michael Mina’s first review on its last weekend [Scoop]
Earlier: Michael Mina Announces Plans for Aqua and His Eponymous Restaurant [Grub Street]
Eat Vicariously: Michael Mina, San Francisco [No Salad As a Meal]

Remembering Michael Mina, Version 1.0