In October, chef Michael Mina moved his eponymous signature restaurant to the former location of Aqua, the renowned restaurant where he cut his culinary teeth more than 20 years ago. The menu has changed significantly since the restaurant was located at the Westin St. Francis, which is now the location of another Mina property: Bourbon Steak (335 Powell St.). And the new restaurant features a large cocktail lounge run by bar manager Carlo Splendorini. He specializes in what might be called “spot recipes,” in which the bartender creates original recipes on the spot, tailored to his patrons’ tastes and proclivities. If a patron doesn’t like one of Splendorini’s customized concoctions, he will invent a new one.
Michael Mina, 252 California St., San Francisco, michaelmina.net, (415) 397-9222
What is your bartending philosophy? The concept is hospitality first, second and third. The bartender should smile behind the bar and talk to you and offer you advice if you want it. We have all the major brands here, and we do organic and domestic as much as possible. The cocktail program changes every two to three weeks, and every cocktail has at least one homemade product.
Can you tell me more about this place? We have been open since October 2010. Michael Mina always wanted this place to be the face of the company. This is a really exciting, fun spot. It’s less formal, with high-level service and a high-level product.
Where else have you tended bar? I was at Gitane [6 Claude Lane] for two years and at Nobu in London for three years. I spent a year in Stuttgart and St. Tropez and then I was all around Italy. I also did a lot of private events. I started when I was 13 years old behind the bar. Then I went to hospitality school.
What do you like about bartending? I like people and making people happy. I like when people come back and shake your hand and say they had a great time. That makes my day and makes me smile.
What’s the menu like? You won’t find anything offseason. Or you can tell me what you are in are in the mood for, what kind of base spirit you like to drink and whether you want it citrusy or not, or something bitter or something aromatic, and if it’s OK if I can use an egg white.
How do you come up with the drink menu? I work with all of the bartenders, but the main ideas come from myself. I like to involve myself in every decision. The chef and the pastry chef are involved. They will tell you what’s fresh, how to make stuff, how to make this reduction or this texture.
How many new drinks do you come up with each day? It could be one or 10 or 15 drinks in a day, some of which could be repeated all night long.
How do your drinks pair with the food? Guests will order the chief tasting menu and ask us to pair a cocktail with it, and so we make it. For example, they might want a cocktail that goes with hamachi, so we make a cocktail with sake. You don’t want spirits to overpower the dish.
- 1½ oz. Plymouth gin
- ¾ oz. spiced pluot syrup (see right)
- ¾ oz. Dimmi liquore
- ¾ oz. lemon juice
Combine the ingredients into a shaker, add ice, shake vigorously for 10 seconds, double strain into a small coupe and garnish with a rosemary sprig.
Spiced pluot syrup
- 500 ml water
- 500 ml sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 5 sliced pluots
- 2 cloves
- 3 hibiscus flowers
Combine and simmer for 20 minutes. Let it cool down and fine strain into a glass bottle.