by thedishandthedirt on June 6, 2010

Another fiefdom in the empire of Michael Mina, RN74 is Mina’s newest San Francisco establishment and a more casual restaurant than his namesake restaurant in the St. Francis hotel. [An interesting sidenote is that Mina is negotiating the lease to his old stomping grounds, Aqua; he is supposedly going to close up shop at the St. Francis to turn his attention to (a-to-be-renamed) Aqua, where he first drew serious accolades.] RN74 is Mina’s urban wine bar serving American and French influenced cuisine. The restaurant, on the corner of Mission and Beale (oh, so very close to my old law firm that I couldn’t help but shudder a little bit as I remembered taking those late night Yellow Cabs home), is cozy-cool (is that like shabby chic?) with a lounge-y bar area and a comfortable seating area. I was pretty curious to see what RN74 might offer, given some fabulous experiences at Mina’s other restaurants, including Michael Mina and Nob Hill.

The Dish:
RN74 offers a Sunday evening prix fix, which I decided to try…but like usual, I’m not afraid to supplement. So I ordered my appetizer off the main menu, as I couldn’t resist the sound of Burgundian escargots. Burgundian…it sounded so pompous, I had to try. This was, by far, the best thing I had all night. As described by the waiter, the sauteed escargots were on top of a potato puree with a nettle sauce. Ok, this description did no justice. When they set the bowl down, I thought they gave me green soup. Because all I saw was liquid the color of spinach in a bowl, which of course, was the nettle sauce (forgive me, when I think of sauce, I’m used to getting a chintzy drizzle, not a full-on heap). When I dipped in with my spoon, I located some escargot and bits of carrots that were not set atop, but more like amidst, a cloud of potato. That was no potato puree — that was potato whip because it was so light and airy that you could have set it atop my pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and I wouldn’t have a clue. To boot, the dish was delicious. The nettle sauce and potato whip so delicate and refined, with some meatiness of the snails and hint of crunch in the carrots to give some contrast.
Next course was the prix fix starter, prawn croquette with arborio rice, piquillo peppers, and a celery remoulade. Well, turns out, not my favorite. The serving was generous with 4 croquettes, but I found the remoulade to be overpowering. The croquettes already had a natural creaminess with the starch of the arborio rice and the delicate prawns, so the remoulade actually felt redundant and overpowering. There were a few sparse greens that added a necessary acidity and crunch to the dish, but more than anything, I felt like it was a bar dish and not something that I wanted to open a 3 course meal.
Second course was a slow-roasted leg of pork with lentils, charred onions, and wildflower honey. Ok, this was my bad. I should have known better. When I saw slow-roasted, I was thinking “tender.” Instead, the texture was firm and tough and I only gnawed through a few pieces before I called it quits. In fairness, the pork really did have a gorgeous smokiness with subtle sweetness to it, but for me (who is not a ham-lover, although I love almost any other form of pork), the meal reminded me of a cross-breed between Easter ham and a bbq sandwich. Set atop a pool of lentils, I guess I found myself a little mystified. The lentils were delicious, but they were overwhelming. The serving of pork was humongous, so the sheer density of the lentils seemed overkill. I’m not sure what the inspiration was behind the dish, so perhaps this was its intention, but I was getting a serious “I’m a refined bbq and baked beans dish.” Problem is, I don’t need a refined bbq and baked beans dish — I like unrefined bbq and baked beans, thanks.
Dessert was a bittersweet chocolate cake, almond croquant, cherries, and marzipan ice cream. Darnit, I was hoping for more, I really was. The cake was not distinctly rich, moist, or bittersweet. In fact, it was a little dry to me, and then curiously, the croquant coated the top of the 2 little cakes, which made it incredibly difficult to cut the darn things with your fork. The marzipan ice cream was the highlight, giving the whole dish some necessary ‘wetness,’ for lack of a better word.
The Dirt:
So it’s probably obvious that I left unimpressed. As some bloggers would say “meh.” I think my fundamental confusion was this — what kind of cuisine was this? Sure, I saw both American and French influences (as the restaurant sells itself), but I also saw a mushroom tempura. Huh?? And maybe it was my mistake to order the prix fix, but in the past, I’ve always felt that prix fixe menus had some rhythm and flow to it (I mean, somebody thought to put these courses together); but that’s not what I got from the meal. It felt a little scattered and my taste buds were a little confused (as was the person attached to the taste buds). My husband, a man of many words, said it best “Not my favorite.”
I will say, however, that the restaurant has a very comfortable appeal, little pretension, and wonderful, affable service. Plus, it’s a wine bar; and while my Gruner Vetliner and Santa Maria Pinot were great, it’s not like I was here to drink. So while I’m not likely to go with you, I wouldn’t be a hater if you decided to try this restaurant. And, I still love Mina. I’ve had such wonderful food experiences at his other restaurants that I’m not going to fault the guy. I’ll just consider this place a rebelling fiefdom, struggling to find its own identity outside of the empire.
As for the dirt, well, my husband admitted that he wanted to hook up with one of my friends about 15 years ago. But looking at her, I don’t blame him.
Bauer’s two cents here.

RN74 on Urbanspoon

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