San Francisco fancies itself as a haven for foodies. As a Londoner, I’m unconvinced it stands up to the great British capital, but the city has one restaurant that could give London’s best a run for its money, Michael Mina.
Mina, the eponymous chef was born in Cairo and raised in Washington. He is responsible for 16 restaurants across the United States, and in San Francisco visiting his namesake restaurant is de rigueur amongst bay-area gourmets.
The city’s financial district is exactly where you would expect to find a restaurant like this, the ultra chic, all glass frontage leads you in to a high ceiling room, a huge space for a restaurant in this city. The tables are well spaced, and the bar is well separated, making the dining area seem quieter and more private than you would expect.
Having seen the cocktail menu I decided to arrive early and visit the bar. I’ve long since been a fan of ‘bartender’s choice’, a concept where your faith in a bartender’s abilities outweighs your inclination to read a menu. The bar at Michael Mina is, however, the first place I’ve ever seen “On a whim”, on the menu, surely some kind of oxymoron? Albeit an extremely welcome one.
The time had come for me to move to the dining room, where cocktails get swapped for champagne to accompany the menu. I take the time to survey the menu and the rest of the room, mostly men, the same sort of ratio you would expect from a steakhouse.
A few more minutes staring at the menu and I’ve already decided the choice is going to be impossible. Fortunately, this coincided with a request to “put myself in the hands of the chef”. Something I’m only willing to do when a food choice is hard for the right reasons. So, strapping myself in, I braced myself for what would become nine courses of interesting, complex and perfectly prepared food. A tasting menu with American size portions – a welcome assault on all my senses (and organs).
What followed was a theatrical and carefully considered display of dishes. A show of technical ability from the kitchen, but also care and attention to great ingredients. Even the drinks impressed, not only were the chosen pairings intelligent and well explained, one of the courses was paired with a very intriguing beer. A bold, but perfect move.
Michael Mina is quite possibly the best restaurant in San Francisco, but what if it were in London? I would definitely have it on my list, alongside Petrus, Dinner and Viajante.