RN74: Can The Mina Group Do Casual?
I've been thinking about RN74 since my dinner there last week (full disclosure: I went on a "media night" and was treated to dinner). It's no surprise that fine dining restaurants are on the decline here in San Francisco—this has never really struck me as a white tablecloth town, and with the economy being in the tank the demise of all but the best of the "fancy" restaurants seems inevitable. So when I heard that the Mina (as in Michael) Group was opening a more casual wine bar-inspired spot, I took notice.
Ah, but casual is relative, isn't it? Yes, the tables are set with paper placemats. Sure, the servers are wearing jeans. Yeah, the wine board in the back looks and sounds exactly like a destinations board in a French train station. But I don't really think the Mina Group knows how to do casual, food-wise. Chef Jason Berthold (who came to the Group from the super-casual French Laundry) is executing dishes that seem like they belong back in the lounge of Michael Mina, things like pea veloute and olive oil-poached halibut. If there's a rustic influence, as they claim, I didn't see it. The wine list, with it's 20-some-odd pages devoted to amazing Burgundian wines, does not give you that "I'm in French Tabac downing 3 Euro tumblers of good wine" feel (even though, by all accounts, there are some amazing values there).
None of this is to say that the food isn't good or that the space isn't very cool (hello, hydraulic tasting table that can go from low to high with the push of a button). But if you are thinking wine bar, if you have gougeres and charcuterie plates and oeufs en meurette on the brain, let me burst that bubble right now. Because though the Mina Group does many things very, very, well, casual is not one of them.