Michelin Star Dining

By greenteapanda

July 29, 2007

Category: Food and drink

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Normally, pandas like me can be satisfied with the food outside, but we are also lucky to have very wealthy donors give us the "panda treatment."

Since I am currently in the San Francisco/Bay Area, there are choices for many fine restaurants in the Michelin guide. New York is the only other U.S. city with a Michelin guide, but there will apparently be others in the future. San Francisco is rather unique due to the high number of excellent restaurants in a small area. It might have a little to do with the public transportation available, so people don’t need to worry if they drink a lot during their meals.

So, to get to the point, last night I was very happy to have the opportunity to eat at the Michael Mina restaurant in the Financial District. It’s the first time in my life I have eaten at a two-star Michelin establishment. The maximum is three (there is one of those out in Napa Valley, the wine country nearby) – and the vast majority of restaurants get no star at all. I had the Vegetarian Tasting Menu, which last night consisted of:

Heirloom Tomato Salad
Hearts of Palm
Fresh Chickpea Falafel
Trilli "Carbonara"
Summer Pole Beans
Organic Strawberries (dessert)

I got all the courses with a wine pairing. Each of those courses came with a half glass (aka "taste") of wine matched in flavour and texture to the food being eaten at the time. The ingredients apparently come from the California coast, so they all had excellent flavour. Especially the tomatoes, which are the best I’ve had in any meal in my lifetime. The ‘Trilli "Carbonara"’ also was superb, with a flavour resembling bacon, but obviously still vegetarian (and confirmed as such by the wait staff). The weakest part was the Falafel, which was rather plain, but made up by the excellent Cucumber Riata and Pickled Ramp that were served along with the Falafel tasting. Besides the above list, there were also a trio of soups (corn, split-pea, red bell pepper) and a green-bean tempura prior to the tasting and bon-bons filled with lime ice cream after the dessert. Rolls that were fresh additionally got served alongside the meal. Unlike other "excellent" restaurants, they continued to offer fresh rolls throughout the service without the need to specifically ask them to do so.

Before dessert, the option to have a drink like coffee was offered. I elected to have Vanilla Oolong tea. The tea had a very strong vanilla flavour. The person treating me to dinner could even smell it. Very happy with that.

After the meal, Michael Mina himself came out to check everything was excellent. I was particularly impressed by that, since many chefs get lax about restaurant quality once they open other locations to take advantage of personal brand recognition. After opening the other locations, they sit back and bank customer’s money while no longer providing service. Not this one.

It was also nice to experience after having been to The Top of the Mark. A famous place for its views of San Francisco, when it is not foggy. Last night was foggy. The appetizer there was adequate (guacamole and chips), but as far as Mexican food goes, I’d rather go to Taco Bell. The Top of the Mark is apparently one of the best bars out there, but I think the reputation comes from its apparent view of San Fran on clear days (of which San Fran doesn’t have many). The reputation there may have to do with the cocktail strength (strong!), but that only meant I was getting to the point of tipsiness during the tail end of my Michael Mina tasting.

The Michael Mina restaurant tab for me alone was around 200 Euros, but even so, I’d say it was good value for the money, especially for a special treat. I didn’t once think "Oh, this food is better at X restaurant" or "Other people only think this place is good because they were hungry after driving 10 hours to get here." The service, attention to detail, food – all fantastic.

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