San Francisco-based chef Michael Mina specializes in resort restaurants. His company, the Mina Group, oversees 19, including eight in California, four in Las Vegas, one in Scottsdale, Ariz., and another in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Mina's first South Florida foray was Bourbon Steak at Aventura's Turnberry Isle Miami, which debuted in 2007. His latest, Michael Mina 74, opened in November at the Fontainebleau, a perfect setting for the chef's bravado style.
And what's not to love about the mod, low-ceilinged, 215-seat room with its pops of violet-blue and mirrored walls that create a feeling of infinity? The tables and chairs remind me of the Danish modern furniture of my 1970s suburban childhood. Banquettes feel entirely French. Awkwardly long booths with narrow tables would be right at home in a bar. All told, it is the coolest restaurant I've visited in years, falling somewhere between restaurant and club. But it's the four-star design that I'll remember more than the service or food.
Our visit started with a vulgar greeting from our young waitress. At one point during our meal, she disappeared. We were without water or drinks, and flagged down a passing gentleman in a suit who became our server for the evening. Only when he handed us his business card at the end of the evening did we realize he was the general manager. Being waited on by a distracted GM is not a good way to experience a restaurant.
Either way, Michael Mina 74 has a timing problem.
It started with what we thought would be a leisurely first course of shared small plates. But instead, four dishes arrived at once. There was hardly enough room on our narrow table, and it was unclear which dishes were meant to be served hot. Since the hamachi poppers ($16) with a crispy rice coating are from the raw bar section of menu, we figured they were supposed to be cold. But they were somewhere in between. When I asked a waitress manning the rolling raw-bar cart if the ricotta dumplings that accompany the lamb meatballs ($16) were meant to be served at room temperature, she nodded her head in agreement. Cold dumplings are not to my liking
Octopus a la plancha ($18) with romescoand toasted Marcona almonds was cold and salty. Chanterelle and truffle tart ($24) with warm burrata and mushroom jam was marvelously messy to eat, but worth the trouble with its earthy creaminess and flaky pastry.
Back to that rolling cart with oysters, clams, shrimp and ceviche (market price): What a nice idea to see before you buy. We had enormous Florida prawns and fresh tuna ceviche. Only later did I realize that neither of these items made it to our check. I'm not sure if they were comped because of service hiccups. If they were, the good will was lost since it wasn't mentioned.
Bad timing resumed with entrees. The restaurant makes a very big deal when someone orders Mina's luscious Maine lobster pot pie ($85), which I've had at his Aventura restaurant. It's brought to the table screaming hot in a copper pot. It's one server's job to assemble the dish on the recipient's plate, draping the lobster in its magnificently rich brandied sauce.
It's a five-minute process, which everyone at the table will want to watch. The only trouble is that everyone else's dishes get cold in the process.
Still, potato-crusted pompano ($30) showcases the mild-tasting fillet with a potato crust and a slightly tart tamarind-brown-butter sauce.
Temperature aside, Berkshire pork prepared Caja China-style ($28) is an amazing study in the other white meat. The plate arrives with three different cuts. There's an injection-brined tenderloin, a piece of pork belly that's first dry rubbed with adobo Criollo spices and a crunchy Cuban pork cigar. Joining the pork fest is a mixture of pigeon peas and annatto rice and chile and kumquat relish.
In keeping with the pork, we ordered a side of creamy black beans and (cold) tostones ($10) and nicely charred Brussels sprouts with Honeycrisp apple ($10).
Dessert features an amazing pavlova ($11) that gets a tropical makeover with a lemon-verbina pineapple broth. There are also (cold) beignets ($11) with butterscotch sauce you'll wish you could take home by the jar.
Toward the end of our meal, a party of three sat down at the next booth. We watched as each guest was presented with an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized hors d'oeurve meant to introduce diners to the menu. "This is our way of welcoming you to our restaurant," we heard our waitress say.
Puzzled as to why we didn't receive the same courtesy, we asked. Our server said they're given to people who've had to wait for a table. But the restaurant was half empty.
I asked again a week later, and the chef de cuisine responded by email that guests are randomly selected to receive the amuse bouche. It's also given to guests celebrating a special occasion or doing a tasting menu.
Michael Mina 74 ought to rethink that policy. Because to us, it felt like poor hospitality.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave.
Cuisine: Eclectic American
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner nightly
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $12 valetCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun