It can be hard to catch up with celebrity chef Michael Mina. He just opened his 26th restaurant, Bardot, a classic French brasserie at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. And that’s on top of the busy past few months that also brought the Ken Tominaga-collaborated izakaya (a Japanese pub that serves small plates) Pabu to San Francisco, and a new gourmet market concept called Locale in St. Petersburg, Florida.
But, maybe, the new project closest to his heart is Michael Mina’s Tailgate, a fun concept inside his Bourbon Steak and Bourbon Pub at Santa Clara’s new Levi’s Stadium, home of next February’s Super Bowl 50. He’s channeled his love of luxury football feasting into an epic spread before every San Francisco 49ers home game. The buffet, which costs $500 per person, has to be experienced at least once. One Sunday this past NFL season, Mina served San Diego-style fish tacos, sushi hand rolls, whole roasted pig, Kobe beef hot dogs, truffled tater tots — all of this paired with unlimited drinks, including Mina’s wife, Diane’s handcrafted Bloody Marys.
Somehow, amid all of the juggling of projects, the James Beard Award-winning toque found a few minutes to chat with us about the things that drive him and the places he’s excited to try in 2015.
You’ve been on a roll lately. What will people find when they go to your new brasserie Bardot?
Every detail transports guests to a café along the Champs-Élysées in the 1920s.
And we’ve heard a lot about Pabu. How did that project come together?
Pabu means “pub.” It’s a menu like an izakaya, with a bar area with plenty of small plates and things you cannot find other places. Every table gets its own little sushi bar, and we do nigiri at the table.
Do you do an omakase menu there?
It’s a seven-course omakase menu with dessert, so you get four pieces of different fish each course, with sake pairings, if you like, and the last [course] is shabu-shabu (a Japanese hot pot). Never in my life could I cook Japanese food at that level without a partner like Ken.
When you’re not eating in one of your own restaurants, where do you like to go?
In [San Francisco], for one of the higher-end restaurants, Josh Skenes worked with me at Stonehill Tavern and I love what he’s doing at Saison. For something casual, I go to Tony’s Pizza in North Beach. He’s got great pizza and meatballs, too. Out by my house, we go to Farmshop in Larkspur. The chef (Jeff Cerciello) worked with Thomas Keller at Bouchon, and the food is really good and seasonal. We love the date and carrot salad, the avocado hummus and he does a great burger, too.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Right now, I honestly would go to Japan. I just love the food and drink — there’s so much technique — and the whole idea of repetition to make perfection. As a chef, that never goes out of style.
Is that what drives you?
You keep striving because what is perfection today may not be tomorrow. You can’t let up. The joy is being able to conceptualize something and watching it come to fruition. When you have the right team, it gives you the confidence to do it.