It’s the end of an era for chef Michael Mina. While the toque has more than 30 restaurants all over the country (and one overseas at Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Financial Centre), he recently closed his flagship, fine dining institution Michael Mina in San Francisco.
But the space won’t sit empty for long. The Cairo-born, Ellensburg, Washington-raised chef will debut a new culinary destination, Estiatorio Ornos a Michael Mina Restaurant, there in September.
We talked to the heralded chef — whose empire includes Bourbon Steak, Stripsteak and International Smoke — to learn more about why he decided to close his namesake restaurant, how the pandemic affected diners and the industry, and his go-to spots for an excellent meal in San Francisco.
Why did you decide to shutter Michael Mina?
This is the first space where I had my own restaurant in 1989. The space continues to evolve and will always be what founded my career and MINA Group. I want to ensure it’s always relevant — and I felt it was time for an evolution of the space.
Last year was a collective reflection period and I sat back to really think about what I wanted the next chapter of this space to be and what is best for our city in transition. San Francisco is always going to be one of the best food cities in the world, and I am 100 percent committed to continually evolving our concepts to support its growth and really honor a place I would be nowhere without.
252 California Street is a very personal place to me, and I wanted to pay homage to AQUA [editor’s note: Mina helped open and build the lauded San Francisco restaurant early in his career, first as chef de cuisine and eventually as executive chef from 1993 to 2002] with this new iteration — the global seafood restaurant where it really all started for me over 20 years ago. You could call this my homecoming!
What can diners expect at its replacement, Estiatorio Ornos?
Estiatorio Ornos a Michael Mina Restaurant invites the Bay Area and its guests to indulge in the celebratory spirit of the Greek Isles from the bright, airy, coastal aesthetic to the simplistic, flavorful Greek seafood dishes and specialties, and the warm yet relaxed Mediterranean style of hospitality.
The dining room will transform to invite guests in with wrap-around booths and an expansive, vibrant bar to set a tone that returns to the high energy of AQUA. The menu — a collaboration with my partners chef Girair “Jerry” Goumroian and chef Nikolaos Georgousis — will feature shareable, seafood-centric Mediterranean delicacies inspired by the food each of us ate growing up in their respective households.
Do you think diners’ tastes have changed during the pandemic?
I think they have become more educated on food. Most have had more time to cook than they ever have, and this gives our industry a fun challenge as it pushes us to continually elevate our game.
I’ve also noticed how people have clung to their favorites and specific cuisines they’ve missed in a restaurant — the experience, the ambiance and the purity of the culture. We’ve tried to embrace this and are continually working on the purity of our concepts as it relates to their cuisine and country of origin.
How have you adapted during the pandemic?
We launched MINA Family Kitchen and several other virtual brands — and like many in our industry, we learned an immense amount about delivery and takeout. We also looked at our core concepts as a company and have chosen a handful of cultures/cuisines where we are going to lean in on those heavier than we ever have.
Several cities, including San Francisco, are now requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants. What are your thoughts on health security for your restaurants?
We have always worked extremely hard to abide by the laws/restrictions in every city and every restaurant and that’s what we’ll continue to do. [Editor’s note: All MINA Group restaurants are Sharecare Health Security VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide, which means they adhere to more than 65 expert-validated standards to promote public health and safety. You can find them on Andiago, an app and booking platform that recommends trending restaurants and hidden gems in any city and also shares those that earned the VERIFIED badge.]
What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?
What’s your go-to meal when cooking at home?
I love cooking outdoors. I’ll eat anything from the garden and really love to cook over fire at home — from a simple fresh fish to roasted vegetables.
What’s next for you?
We are opening Bourbon Steak in my home state of Washington this fall! I am so happy to reopen this restaurant space in downtown Seattle and continue to grow with a city that’s meant so much to me growing up.
Your Bourbon Steak outposts are among the best steakhouses. What do you recommend people eat there?
The rib cap and lobster pot pie are a must.