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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Michael Mina's XIV: Great with Some Kinks


I first had Michael Mina's food at Seablue in Las Vegas and liked the way I could sample multiple small plates in one order. As one person dining, this allowed me to try various ways a certain kind of fish was cooked. The food was beautifully presented (for example, a rectangular dish with three pockets featured beef cooked three ways) but more importantly, meticulously prepared with quality ingredients and delicious. Like with Jose Andres from Washington D.C., I was waiting with bated breath for Mina to open an L.A. restaurant.

Amid mixed reviews of his XIV by Michael Mina in West Hollywood, I couldn't resist the multiple-course "light meal" that message boards talked about and so headed over for a special occasion.

The verdict is that some of the dishes on the tasting menu were excellent and others were average to below average, especially for the price.

My favorites were the corn soup, chicken cobb salad and duck. The corn soup was sweet, creamy and featured a perfectly seared piece of pork belly floating, along with what tasted like apple cider foam and cilantro bits. The soup was great in and of itself, but combined with the saltiness and crunchiness of the pork, bordered on divine.

Just as good was the Jidori chicken salad that was a deconstructed cobb salad where all the ingredients were gingerly laid out on the long plate, including a creamy slice of avocado, a lettuce the restaurant dubbed "baby gem" and just-potent-enough blue cheese chunks. I recall other classic cobb salad ingredients, like bacon and hard-boiled egg. The chicken breast was moist and not dry at all, unlike other salad meats. The dressing was light and complemented the components of the salad very well.



The Liberty duck breast came sliced on the bias with plenty of pink inside indicating juiciness, seared foie gras -- which is the best way I like duck liver, tender leg confit and some kind of corn bread. There was pineapple and star anise infused into the aromatics of the dish. One could argue this may be duck overkill, but it didn't taste very gamey or overly heavy.


The other dishes weren't as successful though equally interesting. It's good that we get to pick and choose any eight dishes on the menu. One could get eight desserts if one's heart desires, or eight main dishes if one's stomach is a football field (although portions are reduced for the multiple-course options). I had to order the luxurious-sounding, much-talked about lobster pot pie. I mean, what's not to like, right? Wrong. The pie crust was good enough, but 1) I could hardly taste any lobster meat, 2) the inside of the pie was bland, bland and 3) for the exorbitant price tag, it blows.



I love a good, bloody burger more than I can say, but the kobe sliders were nothing special. The fries were just as unremarkable. I make a better slider, if I may so myself!

We also had a skewer (first image above) of lamb chop, lamb loin and Merguez sausage that came with a hummus-like chickpea paste and yogurt-y raita. It looked beautiful on the plate but tasted just ok.

The naan-like flatbread we got before our meal with some kind of creamy accompaniment was good enough. The wine and champagne selection was extensive.

The desserts were the least memorable. One was a chocolate cake with some sorbet on top and the other was some foamy thing that was refreshing but nothing to write home about.

Service was stellar but I didn't love the tight quarters. For such a fancy restaurant, I'd prefer to have more space between the tables (reminded me of Balthazar in NY or those tiny French bistros where you're elbow-to-elbow with your neighbor).

I probably would return for a special occasion but with so many others to try, it might be a while. It's a bit of scene but go for the food. Valet is steep so park on the street if you can find a spot.

XIV by Michael Mina
8117 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414

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