First Bite: Bourbon Steak
While you were going about your business last month, Michael Mina opened two—that's right—two new restaurants in San Francisco. To put this in perspective, these are his 17 and 18th properties—Mina opens restaurants the way some people change hair-dos.
In the Westin St. Francis, Mina's eponymous restaurant gave way to Bourbon Steak, his meat-centric concept with outposts in Scottsdale, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Miami. Meanwhile, Michael Mina (the restaurant) moved to the former Aqua space where Michael Mina (the chef) got his start.
That this Bourbon Steak is the fifth in the empire tells you a great deal. The chef has got this concept dialed in, and the basic equation—steakhouse plus hotel restaurant—is a surefire draw for tourists, preferably of the business variety. They're also the guests who are least likely to blanch at the prices—$48 for Prather Ranch lamb chops, $15 for black truffle popcorn, an astonishing $45 9-ounce filet.
Though the menu name-drops various local producers—Iacopi Farms and All Star Organics among them—it remains silent when it comes to the beef, noting only that it is American Kobe, Australian Wagyu or Certified Angus. When I ask—first the GM, then the chef, then the publicist—whether any of the beef is grass-fed, grass-finished, I learn only that the Angus that comprises most of the steak offerings comes from a Midwest Ranch, and that "while the restaurant tries to source grass-fed meat, it isn't always available." (Other beef comes from Brandt Farms in Southern California and Snake River Farms in Idaho.) A quick survey of other local steakhouses, including Alexander's and Lark Creek, tells a similar story—most of the beef sold is of unknown provenance, all corn-fed, save for a grass-fed strip steak at Lark Creek that is sourced from Hearst Ranch and, it's worth noting, is cheaper than its Bourbon Steak corn-fed equivalent. I'm not suggesting that Bourbon Steak is dishonest, simply noting that for a restaurant that bills its menu as "contemporary fare focused on seasonal West Coast ingredients," it reads an awful lot like any other steak house—which makes sense, since Bourbon Steak is now very much a national chain.
Mina is a local hero, in the sense that he got his start right here in San Francisco. But at Bourbon Steak, housed in the physical space where he first debuted solo, it's easy to forget that. This restaurant will likely cater to out-of-towners with fat expense accounts, looking for uncomplicated fare. It's a shame, too, because it means locals will miss out on some of the better aspects of the meal here—the little spinach soufflé that accompanies the steak, the decadent, gooey banana upside-down cake with coconut sorbet.