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Michael Mina's Signature Restaurant

Of the high-profile restaurant openings of 2004, Michael Mina is neck and neck with Slanted Door for buzz. Having tried Mina's austere (read: underwhelmingly simple for the price) cuisine at Aqua back in 1997, we were wondering if the menu at his namesake spot in the Westin St. Francis would be worth the hype. Considering that the fellow has grown his empire to reach Vegas, San Jose, Dana Point, and soon, Mexico City, the likelihood of the experience being a stunner seemed low.

Well, we got spanked. Course after course of really quite creative dishes slammed our palates beneath the huge beige columns that stud the homogenously elegant space. For all of the same old suits and conservative good behavior that fill the former Compass Rose (who else can afford this place?), the food is remarkably fun, if a bit overwhelming.

To dine at Michael Mina will require you to part with at least $78 each for a three-course tasting menu or $120 each for a seven-courser (not including excellent wine pairings, darlings). You can, however, order a la carte. The winner is the seared diver scallops prepared six ways: one cold with lemon and Osetra caviar, a second, cold with corn and truffles, and a third with smoked tomato and Maine lobster. The other three scallop portions were served hot with variations on the same garnishes. I suggest not sharing plates since the bites are so small, although if you're dining with a classy sharer you can pull it off.

This one-thing-six-ways convention rules the three-course tasting menu, resulting in, actually, twelve savory mini-courses and a similarly detailed dessert finisher. Mina designed the Royal Doulton china for the restaurant so that simple, formidable white plates have three or six compartments for these preparations. Watch out for the foie gras plate; it's got enough foie gras (in torchon and seared form) for two to four people!

We found the crispy dishes to be a tad on the greasy side, so stick to just one of the following (as opposed to all): tempura soft shell crab with Dungeness crab salads; crispy skin black bass with lobster, razor clams, and crab; and potato-crusted Dover sole with a British feel.

We did really enjoy the Kobe beef rib roast three ways with truffle fries and spinach, white asparagus and horseradish mashed potatoes, as well as creamed morels and asiago potato gratin. This menu is filled with more complicated dishes than you can really even imagine. The overhead to keep that kitchen stocked with ingredients must be incredible.

Michael Mina is probably going to do well here, since the menu is exciting, the location central and fairly glamorous in that buzzing hotel sense (though the Westin isn't exactly cutting edge). It's worth the money if you order sensibly and steer toward dishes that aren't too far on the fried side. And did we mention that the service is really, really terrific? Those who miss high tea at the Compass Rose can still have afternoon tea daily between 2 and 4pm.