Mega restaurateur and chef Michael Mina is taking his most personal restaurant, the eponymous Michael Mina, and making it even more so, dedicating a new menu to the flavors of his Middle Eastern background. That means Mina, who was born in Cairo and grew up in Washington, is moving away from the contemporary American menu that maintains a Michelin star at 252 California Street. In its place, executive chef Raj Dixit will prepare a new, six course dinner menu ($155, below). A new lunch menu, cocktail menu, and wine list are also devoted to Middle Eastern delights.
Like the expanding chain International Smoke, Mina’s partnership with Ayesha Curry, the new iteration of restaurant Michael Mina grew out of Mina’s Test Kitchen. That’s where the chef developed recipes as the pop-up Middle’terranea, the test kitchen’s most attention-grabbing tenant aside from International Smoke. After Middle’terranea’s success, Mina sought a permanent home for the concept. But eventually, he says, it occurred to him that the right space already bore his name.
To get the new flavors on the Michael Mina menu just right, Lior Lev Sercarz of New York’s La Boîte created proprietary spice blends for Michael Mina. Those include za’atar with sesame, sumac thyme and oregano and ras el hanout with cinnamon, cumin, rose buds, cubeb, allspice, clove, and thyme.
Josh Gaulin revamped the restaurant’s pastry and bread program to emphasize breads like baladi, an Egyptian flatbread. And on the beverage front, Michael Mina’s right hand wine director Rajat Parr and the restaurant’s sommelier Jeremy Shanker refocused the wine list on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food to accompany the new dishes. Lead bartender Megan Abraham, for her part, created new, spice-driven cocktails. And the new direction doesn’t mean forgoing caviar service — instead, Mina’s Russian and Californian caviar will come accompanied by labneh yogurt and other accoutrements like hibiscus and sumac onions.
252 California is where Mina says he “grew up” as a chef. It’s where the restaurateur, now behind more than 30 brasseries and steakhouses from California to Dubai, helped open the historic Aqua under chef George Morrone before taking the place on as his own. And now, it’s the team in place there that makes the new incarnation possible, Mina says.
“Even though there are some people doing really interesting things with Middle Eastern food out here, by doing it in this room, and with these people, it allows me to do it at a really high level,” says Mina. “We can open from day one with something I’m extremely proud of.”
“I’ve always loved everything we’ve done,” he adds, “but this is something that’s obviously very special to me. I’ve never been more excited.”