When Aqua opened in San Francisco in 1991, the impact was immediate and far-reaching. In a time well before food blogs, websites and The Food Channel brought fame to thousands of celebrity chefs and restaurants, this small seafood restaurant stood out for its design, concept and menu. Its success was largely due to Michael Mina’s and George Marrone’s vision of creative, refined ways to prepare seafood, exquisitely fresh, often raw. A seafood restaurant light years away from the crab shacks, deep-fried calamari appetizers of casual dining chains or the red-boothed restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf. In the years that followed, Aqua’s unassuming glass storefront, nestled amidst the towers of the Financial District, was a window into the future of San Francisco’s culinary star power.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and we find Michael Mina coming back, quite literally, to his roots. In mid October, several hundred people helped Mina celebrate the fact that the beloved spot at 252 California Street was his place to shine, once again.
“This Is Home”
“This place…these walls…have meant so much to all the people here tonight,” Mina said in his welcoming comments. With wife Diane at his side, Mina recalled the long road his career has taken and the surprising way in which the opportunity was presented to own the place where he got his start.
Mina was visibly overjoyed at the prospect of turning the building he knew so well into his newest Michael Mina restaurant. Acquiring the lease barely six months ago, Mina asked Frost Tsuji Architects to bring a warmer aesthetic into the space. A departure from the white-on-white design of the former Michael Mina Restaurant at the Westin St. Francis, 252 California Street is a blend of earth-colored walls and bold metal latticework for an almost Polynesian effect.
The party (make that TWO parties) was not a trial run for dinner (the restaurant opened for dinner October 19), but it was easy to imagine coming here on a cold San Francisco winter’s evening and feeling instantly embraced and satiated. It’s a fitting design for a chef and restaurateur like Mina who has matured and is ready to navigate the next corner. After all of the triumphs and difficulties he has experienced, Mina doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything.
Mina’s space at the St. Francis is now one of his successful Bourbon Steak restaurants. Mina and team can now concentrate on what sounds like the pinnacle of his expansion plans. Surrounded by raised champagne glasses, Mina concluded his speech with this: “My goal with my life, and my career, started here. And I want it to end here.”
We’ll drink to that.