Michael Mina Bellagio – Las Vegas
March 30, 2007
On March 27, 2007, Linda and I dined at Michael Mina Bellagio, one of the branches of Mina’s major restaurant at The St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. (www.michaelmina.net/michaelmina_bellagio.) This restaurant is quite different from Picasso, on the other side of the Bellagio complex, where we had dined the evening before. It is more informal in décor and ambience, but more serious about its cuisine and a lot more expensive; in fact, according to the website, it is also much pricier than Michael Mina in San Francisco.
We started by ordering two glasses of the Iron Horse sparkling wine; they got the evening off to a good start. The menu is quite complicated with à la carte choices and three tasting menus. We chose the Michael Mina Cookbook Tasting Menu, which includes an autographed copy of his new cookbook from which all the dishes come, and the Sommelier Wine Pairing. It was $175 each for the menu and the cookbook and $75 each more for the wine pairing.
An unremarkable amuse-gueule of white bean soup was brought, but then the remarkable menu began to arrive.
- The first course was Tartare of Ahi Tuna (page 171)
Sesame Oil, Toasted Pine Nuts, Garlic, Chiffonade of Mint
2005 Dr. Thanisch Riesling Kabinett, ‘Bernkasteler Badstube’, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
The initial presentation of this dish was very pretty with the tuna in a molded mound and the other ingredients dabbed around, but, before I could take a picture, the waiters “prepared” it for us as one might prepare a steak tartare tableside, by mixing it all up. Anyway, it was delicious and offered a generous portion of ahi. The slight sweetness of the wine went very well with the slight garlicky spicyness of the tartare.
- The second course was Maine Lobster Pot Pie (page 189)
Baby Carrots, Fingerling Potatoes, Black Truffles
2001 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet ‘Clavoillon’ 1er Cru, Burgundy
This course was also excellent. Once again the waiters came immediately to lift the top crusts off the pies and put them aside where pieces could be eaten with the content of the pies. I managed to snap a photo of my waiter in action this time, but the photo was blurry so, once again, my blogreaders can just see the dish ready for eating. Maybe I should have tried to take a video. The Puligny-Montrachet was good and went well, as one might expect.
- The third course was Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass (page 203)
Mushroom Consommé, Shrimp and Scallop Ravioli
2003 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Gris, Alsace
I enjoyed this dish, but it was a bit too complicated with too many flavors which were not adapted to stay in the background as did the vegetables in the pot pie. In this case the wine was slightly more tart than the cuisine and went well.
- The fourth course was Trio of American Kobe Ribeye (page 90)
Horseradish, Classic Béarnaise, Foie Gras Emulsion
2003 Quintessa Napa Valley
The trios are a signature presentation technique of Michael Mina; quite a few appear on the à la carte menu. He presents three pieces of a main ingredient side by side with three different garnishes. In this case the beef was delicious, very finely and heavily marbled and, thus, very rich. I would have preferred smaller pieces of beef and more of the garnishes. The wine was a good choice
- The dessert was a “Tasting of MICHAEL MINA Signature Desserts” (page 152)
Warm Chocolate Cake, Coconut Panna Cotta , Mini Root Beer Float
2003 Samos Muscat, ‘Vin Doux’, Samos (Greece)
Linda asked them for a substitution and was served a delicious crème caramel with cranberry sauce. I enjoyed the three desserts. The chocolate was dark and top quality; its cake had the warm soft center of a good French moelleux au chocolat, such as the one that Franck Cerruti’s mother-in-law used to serve at Don Camillo in Old Nice. The root beer float was just that, although I think that his root beer was not as sweet as the soda fountain variety. The wine was appropriate and had a bit more bite than a French Muscat.
A small plate of four exquisite mignardises finished the evening.
All in all, it was an excellent meal, one of the best we have ever had in the U.S. However, it was also probably the most expensive meal we’ve ever had in the U.S. I think that for that price we should have received more. Generally big tasting menus include more courses than we had, although they are not as substantial as the Ahi and the lobster were here. A small vegetable course between the fish and the meat and a plate with a single piece of interesting cheese before the dessert would put the meal in the class to which it should belong, although the appropriate ambience would still be lacking.. The informal décor is okay, but the noise level is very high and the tables are very close together. The night we were there the restaurant was only half full, including the somewhat hidden second room. If it had been full, the noise and crowding would have been unpleasant. They should remove a third of the tables and spread out the rest.
The waiters were professional and delivered everything to the right place at the right time, but they seemed rushed. This was not elegant for the two dishes which they had to finish at the table, and I’m not just referring to my trouble getting the photos. The presentation is excellent and the diner should be allowed to appreciate it; the waiters should step back, take a breath, check their other tables and come back to finish. Our waiter never stopped by our table during a course; I never saw him even look at us. This became particularly unfortunate when coupled with my biggest complaint: while the wines were good, the wine portions were small for this price. Glasses which were emptied during a course should have been topped up. This was particularly true for the substantial beef course; I was without wine for the last half of it.
With more attention to giving full value for the price, Michael Mina might not have been half empty on this Tuesday when its direct competitor, Picasso was closed.