Recently, on Facebook, I saw that two old friends from college had gotten together for a spontaneous weekend reunion “just because.” I loved seeing the pictures of them laughing, toasting, dining, skiing. It reminded me that we do so many things in our daily lives because we have to, because we said we would, because of duty or obligation. And I loved the contrasting notion of making room for doing something “just because.” In fact, it offers the perfect way to describe our recent dinner at Michael Mina in San Francisco.
Dear Darling Spouse and I had been inspired to book a trip to San Francisco because we had an airline voucher that was expiring. Use it or lose it. At the final minute of the final hour (practically), while sipping wine (of course), we redeemed the certificate and, voila, we had a trip to San Fran in January. Leaving The Three Offspring on their own for the first time (gasp), with Eldest (and legal adult) Daughter in charge, we headed to the airport with a lot of excitement and only a wee bit of fear and trepidation. (a.k.a. “Risky Business” and “Home Alone”)
We were staying the first night in the city before heading up to wine country and I was excited that one of my dearest friends (who happens to live in the city) would be dining with us. When planning the evening, Dear Darling Spouse had instantly suggested we book a table at Michael Mina. He and I had dined there quite a few years ago when it was located in The Westin St. Francis Hotel. We had ordered the chef’s tasting menu, chosen an incredible and extravagent wine with the help of the sommelier— the whole nine yards. The number of times we’ve raved about, savored the memory of, and told people about that meal has made it lengendary to us (and worth every penny). Yet, it had also pigeonholed the restaurant in my mind as a place strictly for extra special celebrations. So when Dear Darling Spouse mentioned it, I immediately said……No! It seemed too fancy; our evening was just to be a simple catch up with an old friend, I reasoned.
Luckily for all of us, I changed my mind. I thought about 2012 and reflected on how great it had been in so many ways and yet how hard in one, enormous way, with the death one of my closest friends from breast cancer. I thought about all the ways in which we are so fortunate. And even amidst the sadness of my friend’s passing, I thought about the moments of heart-rending grace and touching poignancy for which I will be forever grateful. I realized how much it meant to me to have the chance to dine with another of my dearest friends on this delightfully spontaneous trip. So I admitted my change of heart to Dear Darling Spouse and informed Dear Darling Friend that she’d better show up ready to celebrate anything and everything she could think of and that our destination was Michael Mina.
The restaurant has moved since we’d been there originally and is now in its own space on California Street in the Financial District— a lovely, warm, contemporary setting, less grandiose than at The St. Francis, but much more approachable and inviting to our tastes. Dear Darling and I arrived a few minutes before our reservation so we could sip a little something celebratory at the bar. We found a Michael Mina Cuvée Blanc de Blanc sparkler by Iron Horse that was perfect for the occasion. Judging from the folks around us on a Thursday evening, the Mina bar seems to be a great place to stop for a drink or a bite after work, not just as a dinner destination, which added to the welcoming ambiance and appeal for us.
A charming, youthful sommelier stopped by our table soon after we were seated. I think he could sense the giddy excitement amongst the three of us. We love chatting with friendly sommeliers because we learn unending fun facts and helpful tidbits from them. This was no exception. We explained our taste preferences, expressed a desire for Pinot Noir, and mentioned that we love small producers, which resulted in a gorgeous bottle of Chasseur Wines 2010 Holder Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Robust and full-flavored for a Pinot, the wine was restrained enough to be great companion for our food. Plum and pomegranate stood out to us, offset by notes of spice to balance.
Winemaker Bill Hunter, who worked at Rombauer and Bonny Doon before starting his own label (“Chasseur” is French for “hunter”), focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and produces only 2,500 cases a year. We learned from Chasseur’s website that Assistant Winemaker Andrew Berge grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where we live, and since this is almost the same as being related, we will no doubt make a tasting appointment on one of our next visits to sample more of their wines.
For dinner, we were appropriately amused and impressed with the amuse-bouche of mushroom soup accompanied by a tiny and very gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. We luxuriated in chilled dungeness crab appetizers and ahi tuna tartare. Rounding out the food at our table, we had roasted black cod paired with sweet and sour pork (an innovative take on “surf and turf”), as well as Maine diver scallops with Japanese artichokes and wilted greens. The food was every bit as creatively conceived and exquisitely prepared as we remembered and our server was not only fun and friendly, but made delicious recommendations, as well.
Over the course of our meal, we laughed, talked, reminisced and looked ahead. But, most of all, we relished the reunion together. Oh, and we celebrated. We remembered to talk about all the people and things in our lives for which we are grateful.
So this week, we raise our glasses to celebrating “just because.” Why? Well, just because. Cheers!