I had a chance to catch up with Michael Mina about his plans for the former Aqua space at 252 California Street. His return to the space, where he was named chef de cuisine at the young age of 21 and where he worked for 13 years, is certainly a personal one. Mina has reassembled many individuals from the original team of architects, designers and project managers that worked on Aqua when it opened in 1991 and who obviously know the space well. Mina plans to create a newer and more accessible version of Restaurant Michael Mina, which is currently in the Westin St. Francis on Powell Street, but will be wrapping up in August or so. At the California Street location, Mina will offer an à la carte menu that’s built for sharing instead of individual tasting menus, and he will swap out the white tablecloths for walnut tabletops. And yes, the big mirrors will stay.
Jeremy Ravitz, the current chef de cuisine at the Westin location, will oversee the kitchen. The 18-seat bar will have a unique menu of larger hors d’oeuvres so you can order four or five to make a meal. (You’ll also be able to order these items in the dining room.) But in an interesting twist, only the bar seating will be open for lunch – there won’t be any table service. There are also six to eight seats in the lounge, where you can order seasonal cocktails and bar items in the evening. The restaurant will be open nightly after the planned October opening.
The fate of the Restaurant Michael Mina space in the Westin St. Francis (335 Powell Street, 415-397-9222) will be determined. Mina is meeting with the hotel union for a new contract, so we’ll have to see what kind of a deal is struck. If the intended and hoped-for deal happens, Mina plans to put a steakhouse concept in the space. Time will tell.
Another hotel restaurant transformation: The Clift Hotel has completed the transition from Jeffrey Chodowrow/China Grill Management’s Asia de Cuba to a new concept, Velvet Room (495 Geary Street, 415-929-2300), now under the management of the Morgans Hotel Group. The Philippe Starck interior has remained untouched, but the menu has changed from fusion to farm-to-table. The chef is Ewart Wardhaugh, who was previously at Sandy Lane, a luxury resort in St. James, Barbados. He is still tweaking his new lunch menu, but the dinner menu of approachable and seasonal California fare includes sweet pea soup ($8); grilled flatbread with shaved prosciutto, dried fig, cipollini onion, and sheep’s milk ricotta ($15); day boat scallops with a ragout of Rancho Gordo beans, dried chorizo, upland cress, and lemon oil ($27); and Pozzi Ranch loin of lamb with spring pea polenta, morel mushrooms, and red wine jus ($28). Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday–Thursday 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m., and Friday–Saturday until 11 p.m.
Over on Union Street is the newly opened Roam Artisan Burgers (1785 Union Street) from Josh Spiegelman and Lynn Gorfinkle. The menu includes sustainable burgers made from grass-fed beef, bison, turkey, or a vegetable version, along with Organic Straus Family Creamery ice cream or yogurt shakes and artisan sodas, local beers, plus kombucha tea and wine on tap.
Some news on Fillmore Street: Bittersweet The Chocolate Café at 2123 Fillmore Street has permanently shuttered. (The Rockridge location remains open.) And just next door, things are getting closer for Elizabeth Falkner’s Citizen Cake (2125 Fillmore Street) – stand by for an actual opening date. Meanwhile, Falkner (working with Lexi Barry) has totally revamped the dessert menu at the Bubble Lounge (714 Montgomery Street, 415-434-4204), and will be preparing that menu going forward. And yes, it’s designed to be Champagne friendly. The Lemon Drop features lemon curd, yogurt, blueberry compote, muesli crunch, and Champagne granita, while the Dark Chocolate Pain Perdu is served over chocolate sauce with citrus caramel and pink peppercorn Chantilly. The new menu launched June 15.