Saturday, July 17, 2010

RN74: Michael Mina's Wine Bar

Clack, clack, clack. I felt like I was in a train station instead of a Michael Mina wine bar and restaurant in the middle of San Francisco. Above my table, an old-fashioned schedule board with rotating letters, flipping to display the next bottle of wine. The board was a nice touch for the all-too-common semi-exposed industrial motif of modern restaurants. I could tell from my first step in the place that they took their wine seriously. Now I was curious about the food.

I have yet to dine at Michael Mina's namesake restaurant, nor XIV, his Los Angeles venture. I didn't set out with the intention to follow him, but discovering that the darkened, rather non-descript restaurant on my commute every morning was associated with him, I thought this might be a good introduction into his culinary kingdom.

RN74's Executive Chef is Jason Berthold, a young chef as inspired by the wine pairings as by the ingredients in the regional French and contemporary American dishes on the menu. Maybe I didn't do him justice by forsaking full wine pairings for my dishes, but I did indulge in RN74's "Summer of Riesling" promotion by ordering a glass. I asked for something semi-dry, and got a glass almost too sweet to drink with any food. The waitress was kind enough to replace my drink after noticing my reaction. That said, their seasonal Pimm's 74 Cocktail,a blend of housemade Pimm's, ginger beer, campari and prosecco, was appropriately sweet for a summer drink.

The bread and butter came out. I absolutely can't get enough of San Francisco sourdough. And when I say San Francisco sourdough, I mean it. The local wild yeast makes the best bread, something that I have yet to see replicated elsewhere.

Since it is a wine bar, the endless winelist easily dwarfed the simple one-page food menu. For the first course: soft shell crab (celery leaf remoulade, citrus, ginger). The remoulade was not as creamy as I had hoped, but the crab was fried well, without any greasy weight of most soft shell crab dishes.

The sauteed pork belly & stuffed squash blossom (heirloom tomatoes, bacon, basil, lemongrass) consisted of fairly standard pork. I have yet to find a pork belly that is notably deficient in flavor. Mostly, I'm looking for the right crispy texture along the edges of my pork belly. The novelty of this dish was the squash blossom. Seemingly solid, it cut apart to reveal some delicious, unidentified filling. The texture was somewhat like fish cake, but with bits of bacon embedded in the white cushion. The tomatoes had enough sweetness to cut through the fatty pork, a requirement when dealing with pork belly.

Main course #1: sauteed Alaskan halibut (gnocchi a la parisienne, cherry tomatoes, celery, ginger, mache My first impression was the quality of the fish's seared crust--crunchy and savory while hiding a delicate white flesh. This was a sign of a well cooked fish. The blanched and peeled tomatoes added the sweet component to the dish. The gnocchi were especially notable. Reflecting the texture of the halibut, each gnocchi had a bit of a crunch, but a soft interior making a pleasant mastication experience.

As a rule, I typically do not order chicken at restaurants. I generally like to see the restaurant's skill at handling more interesting fare, but supposedly the mark of a quality French restaurant is in its roast chicken. Very well then, bring on the roasted naturally-raised chicken (cornbread, mission figs, gold corn, cippolini onions, braised bacon, watercress). First off, not too dry for a chicken breast. And beneath the breast lay pieces of what I suspect came from the darker nether regions of the poultry. The cornbread was an odd complement, but the sweet figs were a welcome addition. Was it good dish? Certainly. Would I order it again? Sorry, chicken, but I'll have to side with your aqua-bound brethren and choose the Liberty duck breast next time.

No dessert for me this time, but I was plenty satisfied without satiating my sweet tooth. The dishes were fairly large, at least larger than I would expect at a wine bar. I'm sure the bar menu items are smaller, better for multiple courses and pairings. My experience with the restaurant menu was stellar. I'll have to come back and sample a variety of small dishes with the appropriate wines and let Chef Berthold and Wine Director Rajat Parr show me where this wine bar should really shine.

301 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
~$15 appetizers, ~$28 entrees, ~$11 small plates


1 comment:

gourmetpigs said...

I feel the same way about chicken and I also usually avoid ordering chicken breast because it tends to be dry.