For the Boyfriend’s 28th birthday, I took him to Michael Mina, one of those big-deal, Michelin-rated restaurants in San Francisco that all the foodies rave about. Neither of us had eaten there before, and due to its surprisingly subtle exterior, we got lost trying to find it. (We kept passing Perbacco and Barbacco, two high-profile Italian restaurants nearby that had more prominent lettering on their facades.)
The interior of Michael Mina contained high ceilings, large mirrors, and a suit-and-tie crowd. What could have been a stuffy atmosphere was offset by personable staff and noise from an open kitchen. While waiting for our menus, I read Yelp reviews of the place. One reviewer disliked the slightly noisy ambiance and compared it (unfairly, in my opinion) to that of a cafeteria. The Boyfriend and I, on the other hand, thought that it provided conversational privacy and saved the place from an uncomfortable degree of formality.
We spent the next two hours enjoying great food and even better table service. The Asian fusion menu, described by the restaurant website as having “Japanese ingredients and French influence,” featured some unique combinations such as shabu-shabu with foie gras and seared hamachi with sake gelee. Every item on the menu (especially the meat-heavy appetizers) sounded delicious, which made it hard for us to decide on our meal, and the service, from beginning to end, was impeccable. Everyone, from our server down to the busboys, was prompt, friendly without being assuming, and made us feel welcome.
We rejected an appealing five-course tasting menu, which included hamachi, sea bass, pasta, steak, and dessert, for the a la carte selection and ordered the Nantucket Bay Scallops and the Australian Wagyu Shabu Shabu for appetizers. The scallops came prepared in three ways, as advertised: fried, pan-seared, and raw. My favorite, the pan-seared scallops, were paired with slivers of grapefruit and pickle. For the shabu-shabu, we were given bok choy, radishes, sausage, and wagyu to cook in a lemony dashi broth. After we consumed the meat and salad, our waiter served the broth to us in bowls.
Next, the Boyfriend and I shared the Black Truffle Trofie (trofie is a pasta shaped like a tiny, loose corkscrew), a small, mildly-flavored dish that turned out to be our least favorite because there was nothing memorable or especially good about it. In the same way, I was slightly disappointed by my entree. I’m a steak person by default, but I also know that an exceptional braised pork is superior to most steaks, so I took a chance with the Braised Kurobuta Pork. The sauce was decent but the meat was fattier and less tender than expected, and the sides were well-prepared but forgettable. For his entree, the Boyfriend ordered the “Five Seas,” a sample of five types of fish cooked five different ways, which turned out to be delicious and which I liked much better than my pork.
Next came the six-course dessert, which consisted of fiore di sicilia-flavored macaroons that tasted like Fruity Pebbles, white chocolate and grapefruit crisps, jasmine and brown sugar wafers, toasted marshmallows, coffee cake, and chocolate and honey lozenges. I was too full at this point to eat all of it, but I loved the brown sugar wafers, which were very light and filled with a subtle, jasmine cream.
Throughout our meal, we munched on butter-toasted sourdough bread served with pots of mascarpone topped with a thick layer of honey. We also sipped on the signature sake cocktails, which tasted innocuous but turned out to be relatively alcoholic.
One weird thing I noticed was that the wait staff pronounced “mascarpone” in strange and different ways. I pronounce it so that it rhymes with “Nascar-pony,” which I know to be correct. Two of the wait staff called it “marsca-pohn,” which was blatantly wrong, and one dude dropped the hard “e” at the end and said “mascar-pohn,” which yielded a combination I’d never heard before. Considering there’s one right pronunciation for this relatively oft-used spread, I think Michael Mina (and all high-end restaurants) would do well to train their staff to name it properly.
After dinner, the Boyfriend and I went home and collapsed in a post-prandial stupor. I developed a minor stomachache while the Boyfriend expressed an urge to defecate. Penis, alert to our state of indisposition, made himself predictably conspicuous and showed no sign of shame when I berated him, so we ignored him by passing out.