I somehow missed one of San Francisco’s AQUA closing, one of the city’s finest restaurants. I’m a foodie and eat out in San Francisco all the time, however I’m on the road as much as I’m here and frankly, AQUA wasn’t a big hang out for me…in fact, I went there all of five times over the years and the majority of those were when business colleagues were in from out of town and were told they must try the restaurant.
Not that it was over-rated, but it didn’t have the funky meets chic ambiance with kick ass food that I’m so attracted to. That said, famous chef Michael Mina was behind it and lo and behold, the place closed way back in April 2010.
On my way back from wine country about a week ago, an old friend was in from out of town and tried booking us a table at AQUA only to learn that it had been replaced by Mina’s restaurant, named after himself.
Sometimes you need an out-of-towner when you’re not in the town as much as you’d like to be. That said, I often wonder if I’ve done more restaurant reviews in New York and Paris than I have in San Francisco despite the fact that we’re based here.
Given that San Francisco knows it has good food and has a bit of an attitude about it, restaurants are not starving for publicity and attention either and sometimes that attitude gets in the way of a great meal.
With AQUA long gone, we ventured off to Michael Mina’s restaurant since I’ve been meaning to try it since it opened. The cuisine features Michael Mina’s sensibilities with Japanese ingredients and a French influence.
The dinner menu is à la carte with the option to have the chef cook for your table which is always a nice treat if you’re trying to impress. The menu also features items designed for the table to share.
We also learned that we could do a wine pairing with dinner — a 7 course dinner. My friend suggested we try it and although my eyes were burning to say yes given the menu selection, my previous two days of eating and drinking wine in Napa were trying to persuade me to say no, a simple entree will do. Alas, a decision was made. We opted for the 7 courses, which was an exquisite experience. I’m just thrilled my friend wasn’t hungrier and in more of a ‘foodie try all’ mood since Michael Mina offers a 20 course dinner as well. Yes, really.
While my colleague went straight for their buttery Chardonnay, I tried a very full bodied Zinfandel which didn’t quite do the trick for the earlier courses which included hen egg, tuna and lobster.
Alas, the wine guru came over gleaming saying he could open something that wasn’t on the menu: the 2009 Vineyard 29 Cru from Napa Valley. After having a splash, I joined his gleaming smile happy to be drinking in the same style of the last vineyard I stopped at before heading to south to the San Francisco for dinner: Duckhorn, known for its earthy but full bodied Cabernet.
We started off with an oyster “nice to meet you from the chef”, a Jidori Hen Egg, Perigold Truffle served with a cauliflower puree and toasted brioche.
The first couple of portions were extremely small, but when you’re signing up for 7 courses in three hours, you’re happy that they are. Secondly, they brought out the Ahi Tuna Tartare, one of my long time favorites. They even had a token Frenchman do the mixing of the incredibly fresh tuna which was tossed lightly in ancho chile, sesame oil, pine nuts and mint. His Chardonnay was a better pairing than my Cabernet since we opted out of the wine pairing per course. No doubt, one of the dryer Sauvignon Blancs would have done the trick as well.
Then came the pan-seared dayboat scallop, which was served with scallion, tokyo turnip, shitake mushroom and miso consomme…..perfectly done although I could have used two more tablespoons of that yummy consomme. We also upgraded to ensure we could sample the Japanese wagyu as if we needed any more food. It was delicious however and definitely worth it. The fish was served with a stinging nettle puree, full belly farms potatoes and a sancho chili reduction sauce.
Before we dove into the two meat courses, we had one more shot at seafood with their butter-poached Maine lobster marina de chioggia squash ravioli.
Alas came the Duck Breast, which was served with huckleberries (I so wanted more berries), Asian pear, Matsutake and butternut squash (after all, t’is the season). Lastly, they served a Garlic-Thyme roasted lamb which was topped with a red onion jam, fennel, butter beans and pimento peppers.
By the time we couldn’t move (remember my earlier Napa wine tasting haunt for two days), I felt as if Thanksgiving had come early. My full belly then gazed onto the most beautifully presented dish of the evening: dessert. I was about to decline until I saw the white on white beauty looking up at me.
The dish is appropriately called Tiramisu in White and unlike so many decadent chocolate dishes (white, dark or otherwise) that make your body crash from the sugar within an hour, this delicious white chocolate trio served with mascarpone, coffee sponge (yum), chicory, and benedictine was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
4 thumbs up. The service and food were out of this world, so hats off to Michael Mina for putting a smile to my already perfect wine and food weekend.
Photo credits: first shot from Mina’s website of Passionfruit Chicharrones. All other shots by Renee Blodgett, taken on my iPhone so forgive the quality. See other food/wine write-ups in the San Francisco/Bay Area here.