Saturday, February 05, 2005

Life is Good...

Had an interesting day. Spent nearly 4 hours reorganizing a good part of my wine collection. I have a wine cellar unit called a Vinotemp. It's very large, 3 bottles deep and can hold nearly 1,000 bottles of wine. I haven't bought much wine lately (trying to save a bit of $$'s), but I'm pretty sure my collection is still pretty close to 1,000 bottles, a good portion of which is in the Vinotemp. Crazy, huh?

Things were getting a bit haphazard in the ole Vinotemp, so I pulled out nearly all of the wine and did a pretty big reorg. The weather was cool, so my garage temp was low enough so that the wine wouldn't get heat stroke. There was a point where a very large portion of my garage floor was covered in with wine bottles, and I have a pretty large 3 car garage... gazing out at the wine was an oddly comforting feeling. If I do say so myself, I have some pretty cool wine there and it was a good feeling to see all those bottles and to know that I will be drinking them one day with my friends and family. Happy, happy.

So I restacked everything and found about 3 cases or so of wine that I decided to get rid of. The front office staff and teachers at my children's school will the beneficiaries of this as usual. Nothing earth shattering, but some pretty nice merlots and other whatnot, mainly from the Central Coast and some decent Italian stuff. Hope they like it.

Had a good meal at dinner with my wife and kids. I made some great prime rib eye steaks... one of my favorite things. Spice/herb rub seared into a crust on a HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT cast iron skillet then finished off in the oven at around 540 degrees, served with highly aromatic jasmine rice and the freshest steamed green beans seasoned with just a touch of Fleur de Sel. A simple but incredibly delicious and satisfying meal. The wine was a 2001 Marco di Giulio Mark K Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon... great. Good Saturday and spending quality time with my wife and kids... happy happy!

Like I said, Life is Good... I need to appreciate it more. :)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Money, Money, Money....

What's the deal with MONEY? I know it's important, and I know nearly everyone (myself included) would prefer it if they had more. But what is the deal with being so focused on what we pay and what you paid and how much this or that costs?

One of the message boards that I lurk and occasionally post on has had a bit of drama lately regarding an upcoming food gathering where a bunch of people are going to eat dim sum. People arranging it said that it will be around $15 to $20 per person as an estimate. One guy gets all up in this saying how it's not fair to split the stuff up because somebody might eat more than the other guy, or get an expensive dish, etc... Most people don't think it's a big deal, because in dim sum, that's just the nature of the beast, and by the way, the difference may be like two or three dollars, and at MOST five or six. Give me a BREAK! You're going with a group of people to have a good time... if you like groups (I don't always like LARGE groups), that's just part of the deal, and it's not like it's a lot of money. If it's a problem for you... DON'T GO. BTW, I posted that advice, and no doubt will soon get flamed. :)

Another thing was a pretty big blow up that occured when I didn't want to tell people how much I paid for the Michael Mina meal reviewed below. Like it's any of their business. It was a special menu, and not normally offered... and to top it all off, I think they gave me a really low price, and I didn't want people to figure that they would get that too... oh well.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Restaurant Michael Mina - San Francisco - OHMYGOD!

Had a GREAT meal at Michael Mina a couple of weeks ago... I am late to post this. Sorry. Funny thing though, it caused a bit of a stir on Chowhound. People wanted to know how much this meal cost me, and I really didn't want to post that publicly... I'll post why and what I think about that later... in the meantime, here's the good stuff...

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go to Northern California for a couple of nights on business. The first night I was in Santa Rosa and ate at Syrah – great meal, see review below. The second night, I ate at the amazing Restaurant Michael Mina – Wow. Really great. Amazing. Here is the scoop…

OK, I must start off by saying that if I have just one night in SF, I almost always head to my favorite SF restaurant, La Folie… I love that place, but alas, they were closed or on vacation until late Jan. I was greatly disappointed… but salvation was at hand in the form of Michael Mina. Also, important to note, I had a BIG lunch at Swan Oyster Depot that afternoon… LOVE that place. Enough preliminaries… on to dinner…

Restaurant Michael Mina (hereafter called RMM) is located in the Westin St. Francis hotel right in Union Square, San Francisco. RMM takes the space that was once a FABULOUS bar called The Compass Rose, which was my favorite bar in SF… a very traditional, old style bar where ladies and gentlemen could get a proper drink. I still bemoan that loss, but am very glad that RMM is there now.

The place was ROCKING at 8:50pm, when I showed up for my 9:00pm reservation (as a single). Many people were in the lounge and hotel lobby waiting for their tables, but I must say it was very impressive how the front staff managed the people VERY PROFESSIONALLY and it really looked like they were moving people very well through with little to no hassle. A tough trick as you can imagine. Well trained front staff, well executed service. I was already impressed. I was seated at 5 minutes past nine at a nice deuce set for one.

After perusing the menu and very, very extensive and impressive wine list, I asked if it would be possible for me to order a bottle or two or three of wine and have the kitchen just cook to those bottles. I made sure to tell them that I understood it was a VERY busy night and if they wanted me to just stick to the menu, I would be happy to do so.

A few moments later, I was told that this would be no problem and that the kitchen was very much looking forward to having some fun with this. At this point, the Wine Director, Rajat Parr came by to introduce himself and chat about food and wine. We had a great discussion and I selected three half bottles of wine to have dinner with. I must say, the wine list’s selection of half bottles is VERY extensive. Rajat also told me that the kitchen was really going to take care of me that night by making a very special menu with a “three ways” service that is not normally done. OK, now I’m really excited and looking forward. By the way, this means that each course was served three ways. Actually, each course, including the Amuse was in actuality 3 courses. It could easily be said that each plating/course was enough food to serve as at least 2, possibly 3, normal tasting menu course/portions. I ended eating a RIDICULOUS amount of food.

Here is what I ate and drank:

Amuse – Oyster 3 ways: Baked w/Heirloom Spinach, Truffled Granite, Fried w/Truffle Aoli. OK, let me tell you the fried oyster with truffle aoli was one of the best oyster concoctions I’ve ever eaten. WOW was it good. The entire dish was fantastic.

Course 1 – Tempura Langoustine w/Chilled Ceviche 3 ways: Maroon Carrots w/Ginger, Pineapple Quince w/Galangal, and Green Papaya w/Mango. Small langoustine tails in a perfect tempura batter served three ways with the various accompaniments. Great ingredients and great flavor contrasts. Very good.

Course 2 – Potato Crusted Crusted Dover Sole 3 ways: Crème Fraiche Potatoes w/Caviar Beurre Blanc, Walla Walla Onion w/Malt Vinegar, Truffled Salsify w/Beurre Rouge. This might be a good time to describe how each of these “3 ways” platings were done. A large plate is brought which is segmented into 3 distinct sections. The main protein (in this case Sole) is done in three separate portions and the accompaniments/sauces/whatevers are served next to or above each piece of the main ingredient. This provides three distinct courses and tastes with each plated course. Really cool. The Dover Sole was GREAT. Very much a whimsical “fish and chips” offering on the Walla Walla Onions w/Malt Vinegar – a la Keller – and absolutely delicious.

Course 3 – Tasmanian Sea Trout 3 ways: Cauliflower capers and Maine Lobster, Lentils Toasted Cumin and Bay Scallops, Sunchoke Saffron and Cuttlefish. What a great ingredient! This was an amazing dish and the stuff done with texture and flavor complements were really great.

Course 4 – Crispy Skin Quail Mostarda w/ Sausage Sancerre 3 ways: Yukon Gold Potato w/Dijon and Seckel Pears, Purple Peruvian Potato w/Violet and Huckleberries, Sweet Potato w/Whole Grain and Cranberries. I LOVE quail, and it was really great to have it these three distinct and different ways. Eating ingredients I love served multiple ways like this just wonderful.

Course 5 – Kobe Beef Rib Roast 3 ways: Heirloom Spinach w/Truffle Fries, Asparagus w/Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Black Trumpets w/Asiago Potato Gratin. The Kobe was actually Wagyu beef from Idaho and it had a perfect and wonderful beefy flavor. The course with the spinach and truffle fries was very much a take off on steak frites (which I love). This was a GREAT comfort food course.

OK, as you can imagine, by now I’ve had the equivalent of something like 18 tasting menu courses of food, and I’m getting quite full. So what does a glutton who’s stuffed do at this point in a meal? You guessed it… ask for a small cheese course before dessert is served. Well I did ask them to make it small…

Cheese – OK, I’m really lame. I forgot to take any notes on the cheese, so I don’t remember. I do remember it was 3 different cheeses served classically with honey, nuts and bread. One of the cheese was a triple cream. I think there were dates and poached pears as well.

Dessert – Citrus 3 Ways: Key Lime Pie w/Marscapone Sherbet, Fallen Lemon Souffle w/Crème Fraiche Sorbet, Tangerine Crème Caramel w/Tangerine Ice Cream. Yes this is what passes as a “light” dessert. It was a perfect end to this meal. Boy was I full by this time. But let me tell you, the Tangerine Crème Caramel was TO DIE FOR.


1989 Domaine Trimbach Riesling Frederic Emile (half bottle)
1989 Chassagne Montrachet les Caillerets Jean-Marc Morey (half bottle)
1988 Cos d'Estournel (half bottle)

A couple of final notes. The service all night was absolutely FLAWLESS. I must really credit Micheal Mina for having an extraordinarily well trained and highly professional staff at all levels in the restaurant. From the front desk personnel to the waitstaff and the bus staff, all were excellent. I was very impressed. Also, Rajat Parr, the Wine Director, really knows his stuff and is a really personable, nice guy. He took really great care of me that evening and I am very grateful for his help. Lastly, the man himself Michael Mina came out to chat for a bit and he was as nice as can be. I was surprised to see that he seemed to remember me from some WAY earlier visits to Aqua in the early days and a brief meeting at Masters of Food and Wine. I’m just a working stiff from the tech industry, and not in the restaurant biz at all, so I was really surprised and impressed that he seemed to remember me. It was a very nice touch to chat with him for a while.

Now I have a dilemma, when I’m SF next, where am I going to eat? I still love La Folie, but Michael Mina is spectacular.

Run, don’t walk to Michael Mina. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny.

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