I believe that I may have truly gone to heaven last night after dining at one of the truly great gastronomic temples of San Francisco. Chef MICHAEL MINA opened his gorgeous dining room right of the lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square a couple of years ago, and it has quickly become one of the most sought after tables in California. We were lucky to get in and it was worth not only the cost, but anything else that it might take (like checking with reservations several times just to see when they opened up).
The dining room is a bit noisy, but not too much so and is quite grand in that it is a half-flight up from the busy lobby (with bar and piano) below and to the side where six towering three story columns hold up the ceiling of the very grand and large room. The tables are not too close, but they are not that well separated either, obviously they want to get in as many diners as possible. The service was gracious, efficient and even conciliatory in that after being at the table from 6pm to 930pm (we had just finished, but were lingering) we were told that we had to move to the bar, where we would receive complimentary drinks, within 10 minutes if we wished to stay and linger further as another couple had reserved for 930pm. Both of us were thrilled with this!
We opted for the tasting menu, but saw so many wonderful dishes going by we knew there were many other things we wanted to try, especially the monstrous LOBSTER POT PIE that came to the table next to us looking like a gigantic puff pastry souffle. Chef Mina offers the tasting menu at $135 ($85 more with wines, but we ordered our wine separately) as well as a four course menu at $80-something which offers many option of dishes which actually are trios as you will see in the tasting menu below as well. In short, this just gives you so many more things to taste (I ended up having 17 different things in the end!).
We started with an ILLMITZ PINOT GRIS 2005 from Austria that is made by the famous dessert wine maven Alois KRACHER (under the Illmitz label) and it was a true treat as I have never had a dry wine from him before. It was creamy, but also exhibited citrusy notes not unlike a Sauvignon Blanc. Our first amuse was a simple SOUR CREAM & SMOKED SALMON TARTARE BLINI with Poached QUAIL EGG and Hollandaise that was probably the least exciting thing all night, but still yummy. Next came amuse #2 with two BURGUNDY BLACK TRUFFLE items: a magnificent FLAN of TRUFFLE & PARSNIP that was creamy and heavenly and a FRIED OYSTER with BLACK TRUFFLE.
The first course of the tasting was TRIO of SASHIMI featuring TASMANIAN TROUT with AVOCADE and GREEN APPLE PONZU which was quite nice, the JAPANESE FLUKE with HEARTS of PALM, HONEY-LIME & JALAPENO that had a wonderful intense sour taste and finally the big sashimi winner of the year: KING AMBERJACK with SCALLION and MUSHROOM YUZU.
At this point we started a conversation with the young (and very handsome) sommelier and told him we seeked new, different and not $10,000.00 bottles of wine (there are actually many of these on the menu, and many pages of the huge wine list have nothing under $500-1000 on them at all! He recommended an amazing full bodied, exciting and fruit forward Burgundy Pinot Noir GIVRY 1er CRU "CLOS de la SERVOISINE" 2004 from Domaine JOBLOT that was easily the wine highlight of the night as well.
A POTATO CRUSTED POMPANO with PICKLED ZUCCHINI, LIME AIOLI, Micro Basil in Red Bell Pepper Reduction came next, followed by the highlight plate of the evening SONOMA COUNTRY DUCK & FOIE GRAS which consisted of a huge plate with three long sections vertically arranged with a piece of duck and foie gras in each section. Each was prepared completely differently:
SAFFRON COUSCOUS, ASIAN PEAR, PISTACHIOS & Sea Salt QUINOA, HUCKLEBERRIES & ALMONDS and the big winner again was the BARLEY RISOTTO, CRANBERRY & PECAN.
It was indeed a huge dish and we requested a long rest to quaff our Pinot Noir and relax before the next course of COLORADO RACK of LAMB with YELLOW BELL PEPPER, CURRIED EGGPLANT, Cranberries & Mustard with BRAISED LAMB CHEEK TORTELLINO and CHEVRIER (Goat) Cheese. It was another taste of heaven with the lamb beautifully rare, but the cheek tortellini stealing the spotlight. We also switched to a CORNAS 1999 "LA GEYNALE" from Robert Michel and this superb Rhone Blend was just coming into its peak at 7 years old with minimal tannins and lots of body.
The next course was another trio BRAISED KOBE-STYLE BEEF ZABUTON again with three pieces of beef on the vertical sectioned plates each prepared completely differently:
BOILER Cipollini ONION, RED BLISS Potato, ROSEMARY GARLIC
MUSTARD GREENS, PURPLE PERUVIAN Potato, Whole Grain MUSTARD
and the 1st place ribbon goes to CELERY, GARNET YAMS & SOY GINGER MARINADE.
While my guest opted for the cheese course of three cheeses:
St Nicholas goat with Asian Pear & Spanish Almond
Fontina with Raisins on the Vine
Bleu de Basque with Quince Paste & Pecans
I opted for the DESSERT SAMPLER which included:
PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE on a Ginger Cookie with GINGERBREAD ICE CREAM
PINEAPPLE FINANCIER with ROASTED COCONUT ICE CREAM
and MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE MALTED MILK SHAKE which was actually served in a small glass as a mini-milk shake and was quite refreshing with an intense chocolatey taste.
If this was not enough the treats that came afterwards were a DARK CHOCOLATE MINT ICE CRAM and one of the truly brilliant desserts of the century-MILK CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN STRUDEL.
After we paid (alot) we headed over to the bar for our complimentary drinks and I chose a glass of DISZNOKO TOKAJI 6 Puttonyos 1997 which was not too viscous, but totally intense and enjoyable as the perfect end to a perfect evening in what has to be one of the most perfect places to dine on earth!