A fan of chef Mina's cooking and having produced multiple dishes from his cookbook in the past I certainly have a fondness for his concepts and cuisine - a meal at Bourbon Steak in Detroit last May was some of the most gracious service and best food I've ever received in the Midwest. That said, I must admit I feel a tad under qualified to write a true "review" of Michael Mina's ARCADIA, despite dining there on 02/19/09. Located just minutes from the HP Pavilion the goal was to arrive at 5:30, enjoy a great meal, and then see the Kings beat the league leading Sharks - unfortunately the traffic leaving 17-mile drive was much worse than expected and our arrival to Arcadia was delayed significantly....and the Sharks rocked the Kings. :-(
Arriving in San Jose I was surprised at how different it was from LA, San Diego, and San Francisco – California is just cool like that which each city offering its own flavor. With minimal delay the GPS guided us to the front of the Marriott containing Arcadia – or at least the attached parking garage that was at least 0.25 miles from Arcadia’s entrance. While I think it is pretty cool that Chef Mina continues his trend of putting all his establishments in hotels, better signage would have been nice. Traffic, parking, and walking aside we ended up entering the doors of Arcadia at 6:15 – thankfully our table near the window was held for us without question and the servers led by the affable Cheo were ready, willing, and glad to help us meet our time constraints.
Moments after receiving our menus the water glasses were filled and a fresh basket of incredibly hot rolls – the best rolls of the trip outside of Keller’s pain au lait – were brought to the table with a delectable and sweet salted butter. Olive sourdough, Ciabatta, and Whole-wheat Buttermilk all proved fantastic with the Olive sourdough the clear winner to my palate and my mother and aunt drooling over the buttermilk. Having already browsed the menu on the website we placed our orders around 6:30 and the black-clad staff got to work – impressively to say the least.
Finally getting a chance to breathe and enjoy the room while our food was prepared I must admit I was a fan of the stark and minimalist appearance - the dining room reminds me of the “dark” area of Ducasse’s MiX in Las Vegas. Clean lines, highly polished bar, a wide open kitchen – simplistic, elegant, and ‘masculine’ without being “bar-like.” I’ve not been to Michael Mina flagship, but I certainly liked the layout better than Seablue, Bourbon Steak, Nobhill, or Stripsteak that I’d seen. The huge open windows looking out into the SJ streets were very cool, as well.
Around 6:45 our mains began to arrive and each was incredibly fresh in appearance and wonderful in design – I was glad to see that our timing did not detract from the overall appearance and quality of the prep. For my mother, wanting something light lead her to order the Arcadia Salad with Fuji Apples, Candied Walnut, Point Reyes Blue Cheese. Wonderfully fresh and crisp, great in taste and contrast, the ample portion was a great surprise for the price and my mother thought this was as good or better than her salad at Bouchon 2 days earlier – a salad she deemed best salad ever at the time.
For my aunt – another restaurant, another crab cake – this time Michael’s Dungeness Crab Cakes with Tomato reduction and Avocado Jalapeno Aioli. Two small cakes (about the size of a large scallop each) were presented fancily on a mild tomato sauce with a spicy aioli that unfortunately seemed to overwhelm the taste of the crab. While I realize San Jose is not as costal as Monterey or San Francisco, I personally found these cakes quite disappointing and given their price I do believe they were the least impressive crab cake of the trip. Good, sure – but not worth the price, or missing out on other options.
For my selections, I simply couldn’t pass up Mina’s famous Lobster Corn Dogs with Whole Grain Mustard Creme Fraiche, especially since these were not available on my previous visit to Bourbon Steak. While good, the four small bites of lobster in delicate corn bread were once again overpowered by their accompanying sauce and remarkably low on lobster. Like the crab cakes, this selection was tasty but substantially high priced.
My second selection, the Foie Gras Sliders with Caramelized Onion Jus and D'anjou pear Chutney were substantially larger than the corn dogs and for myself the saving grace of the food at Arcadia. Fresh foie lobe was perfectly seared and topped with textural greens while the pear chutney provided a wonderful foil to the fatty foie with its sweet and cinnamon spiced essence. Two small brioche buns, loaded with butter, provided a great housing and the Onion Jus was just pungent enough to add another level of depth without overpowering any element – vastly better than the sliders at Bazaar the following day, albeit somewhat more pricey.
Given our time constraints we did not stick around for dessert and I actually paid the bill and walked to the Pavilion to save traffic time. Dessert options for the evening were witnessed on the way out and I do admit I still feel a little remorse about not tasting Mina’s famous root beer float with warm cookies – cookies I’ve made myself and been incredibly impressed by in the past.
As a final option we ordered a side of the famous Duck Fat Fries (served free of charge with a variety of spices and three designer ketchups at Bourbon Steak) and once again they were the best fries I’ve ever tasted – better than Keller’s Bouchon fries, better than Symon’s Lola fries. A smaller portion and only one boring ketchup was a disappointment for myself, but having never tasted those at Bourbon Steak my mother and Aunt were adequately impressed.
As pricey as Michael Mina’s options always are, I can’t say I did not expect the exorbitant prices and small sizes – but that doesn’t mean it is “right.” While some dishes (the foie, fries, bread, and salad) absolutely shined, the crab cakes and the corn dogs were rather unimpressive – especially at their pricepoint. All told, Arcadia was a good meal with fantastically helpful service and a place I wish I’d have visited under more timely circumstances – but probably not a place I would go back to given the simplistic “grill” menu and somewhat average appetizers. Personally, instead of spending so much on the food I’d have preferred to pay less and give a 25-30% tip to the servers.