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Bourbon Steak

Mina 'Steaks' His Claim

Michael Mina is on the move. The local food maven's restaurant, Michael Mina, is set to relocate to the Financial District, while the latest in his Bourbon Steak empire takes over the former space at the Westin St. Francis hotel.

The elevated steakhouse concept of Bourbon Steak with locations already in Detroit, D.C., Miami, and Scottsdale is meant to offer a less fussy fine-dining alternative. The menu boasts a nice range of dishes including lobster corn dogs ($16), Wagyu tartare ($18), and butter poached steaks ($42+). So why not just go to Morton's? Because you can go to Michael Mina and, let's face it, even foodies are brand whores.

Bay Area native, Omri Aflalo (Gary Danko, Michel Richard), sat down with SF Station to discuss reuniting with Michael Mina, and becoming the executive chef of Bourbon Steak SF.

SF Station (SFS): Since you're the EC, how closely do you work with Michael Mina?

Omri Aflalo (OA): We're side by side every day. He lays out the foundation of what he wants and I come up with something. He says he likes it or doesn't like it and we tweak it. That's what he wants with his chefs.

SFS: We know you worked for Mina in the past. Tell us about how you first met.

OA: I was at Culinary Institute of America in New York when I did a six-month externship at Aqua with Chef [Michael Mina]. Then I went back to school for another year and came back to SF and worked for Michel for a few months to earn some money before going to France for two years. That was in 2002.

SFS: How did you two reconnect for this project?

OA: I was back in DC last year, working with Michel Richard at Citronelle. Two months ago I was in the process of helping Michel [Richard] open a place in Virginia when Anthony Carron told me Michael Mina was moving up the hill and asked me if I would be interested in Bourbon Steak. Anthony and I were line cooks together at Aqua; he worked his way up and is now Michael Mina's right had man. I slept on the offer for 24 hours and said yes. It's a great opportunity no more moving form coast to coast and I get to set up some roots in SF.

SFS: How does it feel to be back and cooking in the Bay Area?

OA: Really good. You go to markets and you always run into different chefs here. The SF chef community is fairly open-minded, but it's a food destination so there are a lot of egos here, too. It's a tight community though and there's great food here. NYC is more about the flash and presentation, but in San Francisco it's about letting that great tomato be really great. The food is very farm-to-table, green, no pesticides that's why I wanted to come back to the Bay.

SFS: How will Bourbon Steak SF differ from the other Bourbon Steak restaurants?

OA: Each one is geared for the city they are in. This branch will be different because of the farm-to-table deal. We are really going to try to make this restaurant as sustainable as possible with beyond seasonal menus. We want to see what's going on in the fields and be market driven.

SFS: It's a Michael Mina restaurant, but is Bourbon Steak fine-dining?

OA: We want it to be an unconventional steakhouse. I don't want to call it fine dining because I don't want to scare people off. I don't want people to think it's a place people can't come on a regular basis. At the same time, the dishes are going to be at a very high level. We removed the tablecloth, but kept the same level of service and passion from the front and back of the house.

SFS: So many restaurants in the Bay Area are taking the farm-to-table approach, but not too many steakhouses. What is your approach to the farm-to-table trend?

OA: We really want to display local farms and the meats. We want to diversify the meats we're using with more cuts of the animals, and get in whole animals and use everything. We use Brandt farms for most of our beef and Prather Ranch for our lamb. Both are very small production and that's better for us because then we can dictate what we want. The owner of Prather runs the company with his two sons and takes cares of the cows. The sons run the slaughter facility.

SFS: Well, you really know the ins and outs. What do you want your diners to walk away with?

OA: I'm very passionate about what I'm doing, and I just hope the diners feel my passion, too.