XIV by Michael Mina

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat:

Michael Mina isn’t just a chef.  He’s a culinary mastermind, a trend-setter and a visionary when it comes to food, and if you haven’t had the luxury of eating at one of his many fabulous restaurants (18 to be exact, with 5 in Vegas alone), you’re missing out. He’s been awarded almost every culinary trophy you can think of (James Beard winner times two, Bon Appetite chef of the year, Michelin stars, Wine Spectator awards, getting the drift here?) and is responsible for the single most delicious thing I ate in 2010… The lobster pot pie.

The year was 2010.  Wait– you know that already.  The place was Michael Mina restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. We were having the tasting menu, four courses of “tastes” that were more like full-on meals.  Caviar with smoked salmon and creme fraiche on golden brown potato cakes, kobe rib eye steak with butter-poached porcini mushrooms, an array of insanely delectable desserts like glazed chocolate brownies and white chocolate brown sugar wafers… and a lobster pot pie.  Gorgeous, flakey buttery crust, roasted winter vegetables, and huge chunks of tender lobster basking in a brandy and lobster cream sauce, all individually portioned into perfect little pies.  Rich, gluttonous, dreamy, and totally, completely perfect. It was a religious experience.  I may have been raptured.

So when I caught word that Michael Mina was opening up a restaurant here in Los Angeles, I was pumped.  Lobster pot pie? Twenty minutes from my house? Whenever I want it? Jiminy Cricket was right, guys! Dreams DO come true!

Except here’s the thing:  XIV (pronounced “14”, apparently. When in Rome..) does the pot pie a little differently.  As in, it isn’t served in individual little pies so every person can have the pleasure of cracking the crust and eating down to the bottom.  It’s served family-style, one big ol’ pie that the server kindly hacks up in front of you and portions out to everybody, ruining the crust, cooling the creamy interior of the pie so that the last bite’s cold, and basically ruining the entire experience.  I mean, it’s still delicious, and the recipe’s the same, but I want my own pie, damnit!

Anyway.  It was the best manager in Hollywood (meaning my manager)’s birthday, and so we went to XIV to give it another try. And since it was a celebratory evening, we decided to give ‘er with the tasting menu.  The restaurant itself is gorgeous, designed by Philippe Starck in deep rich tones, soft yellow lighting, comfy chairs and extravagant sofas to relax in, fireplaces, candelabras, kind of like what Professor Xavier’s study might look like at the X-Mansion.  We couldn’t help but notice, however, that it was rather empty.  As in, dead as a doornail. Servers leaned against the empty bar checking their phones, kitchen staff with glazed eyes and idle hands stared off into the distance… If it wasn’t for those expensive antique rugs covering the floors, I’m pretty sure you would have been able to hear an echo in there.  It was obvious: XIV was in a slump.

But have you ever noticed that the quieter a restaurant is, the worse the service is?  After several minutes, we were finally greeted by our lackluster server with a menu to peruse.. and then five minutes after that, our server returned to half-heartedly take our drink orders.  The shining glimmer of hope that this was still a restaurant by the Michael Mina we’d grown to love was the little plates of complimentary naan bread that arrived to quell our appetite. Salty, buttery, chewy and delightful, served with a delicious honey-yogurt dipping sauce.  Things were lookin’ up!  Except when I took a glance at the menu, which had changed drastically.  Gone were the gourmet comfort food offerings I was so looking forward to, replaced by a scant list of a few “share plates” and a couple of ho-hum entrees.  None of which was the lobster pot pie.  It was gone. I was starting to see why the place was empty.

The rest of it all went down like this:

First course: (individual portion) a tuna “truffle”, minced tuna rolled in crispy crumbs and served with a salty yuzu and soy sauce on the side and (for the table) a “stuffed” avocado with crab, which was more like a halved avocado, turned upside down, and placed inelegantly on a hunk of crab salad.

strange little avocado shell thing

Second course (20 minutes later): (individual portion) a very basic beet and chevre salad and (for the table) a slightly soggy fried green tomato with burrata cheese and an overpowering and bitter mustard vinaigrette. Where on earth was Michael Mina in this food?

fried green tomato

Third course (another 20 minutes later): (individual portion) a thin slice of duck prosciutto draped over sweet and sour kumquats, and (for the table) a wild mushroom “tart”. In quotes because it was more like a pile of sauteed mushrooms over a puny little piece of pastry. Really?

Fourth course (yet another 20 minutes later. Did I mention this restaurant was basically empty? What were they doing back there, growing kumquats?): (individual portion) pigs tail ground into gamey little nuggets, then breaded and deep fried, and (for the table) a glorious bowl of truffle mac and cheese, dusted with breadcrumbs and baked until crispy. Yay, mac and cheese!

mac n cheese

Fifth course (you guessed it): (individual) grass fed skirt steak served medium rare with a side of pickled moroccan vegetables, and (for the table) a lamb tagine with couscous, dates, and green olives.  This was the best course so far, and the most satisfying, but it still wasn’t a wow.  And for $95 a head, didn’t we deserve to be wow’d at this point?

the steak
the lamb

Sixth course: a dessert trio– black forest cake with cherry sauce, donuts and vanilla shortbread with earl grey anglaise and citrus cream, and a passionfruit panna cotta with white chocolate mousse.  The donuts won that round by a landslide, but at this juncture, after three and a half bleedin’ hours, I think we were just relieved to see the end of it all.

Donuts!

Now, I’ve gone off about tasting menus in the past, how gluttonous and unnecessary they can be, but I will say that the portion sizes on this one were just right.  But it was forgettable, a little disappointing, and slightly sad.  And not worth the hefty bill for our party of five ($700 with an automatic 20% gratuity added for our waiter, Mr. Personality). I think what it boils down to is, no one wants to be eating on a sinking ship, and unfortunately, XIV’s on its way to Davy Jones’ Locker.

However… Don’t hold this against Michael Mina.  I have a feeling he hasn’t been behind XIV in a long, long while. This just wasn’t his food, plain and simple.

So in other words, lobster pot pie: I still love you.

www.michaelmina.net

24 Comments Add yours

  1. Old_Warhorse says:

    So many folks only review the places they love and go back to again and again, but few bother to put the warning out there to let folks know that a place is not up to standard; thanks for that!

    The lobster pot pie does sound like it’s to die for and I will definitely give that a try if I ever find myself in Vegas for anything. 🙂

    Keep flyin’!

  2. katie says:

    From Michael Mina’s website
    Maine Lobster Pot Pie

    Serves 10

    10 ea Baking dishes about 1 qt each
    10 ea 1 ½# Maine Lobsters

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When handling the lobsters you will want to where rubber gloves to protect your hands. Start by removing the head from the tail by firmly grasping the head with one hand and the tail with the other. Using a quick twisting motion remove the tail from the head. Set the tails aside and reserve the heads for the sauce. Twist off each arm. When the water has reached a full boil place the tails in, boil for 5 minutes. At this point quickly remove the tails and plunge into a large bowl of ice water. This is to stop the cooking process. Bring the water back to a boil and place the claws in. Boil the claws for 3 minutes, then remove to the ice water. Let the lobster pieces stay in the ice water for about 5 minutes to insure the cooking is stopped.

    When the lobster is completely cooled remove it from the water. Remove the claws from the arms. Working with the claws first, hold them flat on a cutting and gently tap the shell with a kitchen knife until it cracks. Gently remove the claw from the shell, set aside. Use kitchen scissors to cut along the side of the arm. Carefully remove the meat from the shell. Working with the tails one at a time, spread the tail out on the cutting board so that it is flat. Using a serrated knife, make 3 cuts between the tail joints so that you have 3 equal sections, place the tail fan. Reserve all the lobster in the refrigerator until ready to use.

    For the vegetable garnish:
    2c White Pearl Onions, Peeled
    4c Mixed Gourmet Mushrooms, cut into bite size pieces
    30 ea Baby carrots, peeled
    30 ea Marble red potatoes, cut in half
    15 ea Baby green zucchini, cut in half
    15 ea Baby yellow squash, cut in half
    6T Butter
    TT Salt and pepper **
    The vegetables can be adjusted to your preferences.

    To cook the vegetables you will want to place the pearl onions, baby carrots and potatoes into separate pots of cold water that have been seasoned well with salt. Slowly simmer the vegetables until al dente. The cooking time for each item will vary depending on the size and type of vegetable. Strain and lay them out on a baking sheet to cool. For the mushrooms, zucchini and squash heat sauté pans over medium high heat. To each pan add 1T of butter and then the respective vegetable. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan, cook the vegetables one layer at a time. Season with salt and pepper and continue sautéing until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

    You will want to slightly caramelize the vegetables. Lay out on a baking sheet to cool.

    You will want to cook each type of vegetable separately so that you are able to ensure proper cooking of each one. All of this prep can be done ahead of time because you want the vegetables to be completely cooled before you assemble the final pot pies.

    Roux
    2T Whole butter
    2T Flour

    In a small saucepan slowly melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and continue cooking on low for 3-4 minutes. Reserve.

    Lobster Cream
    3 ea Onions, medium dice
    2 ea Fennel bulbs, medium dice
    3 ea Carrots, peeled, medium dice
    ½ hd Celery, medium dice
    1 hd Garlic, cut in half
    10 ea Lobster bodies, from above
    2c White wine
    2c Brandy
    ½ c Tomato paste
    1 gal Cream
    3 sprigs Thyme
    1t Black peppercorns
    1t Coriander seed
    1 ea Bay leaf
    2 T Vegetable oil

    When cleaning the lobster bodies you will want to wear gloves to protect your hands. Grasp the lobster on the two sides (foot side and shell side). Gently pull the two sides apart. When all of the bodies have been separated, use a tablespoon to scrap the bones clean. Be sure to clean them very well.

    Heat a large stockpot over medium high heat until it begins to smoke. Add in the oil, then the lobster bones. Stir often until the bones are well-seared and bright red. Remove pan from heat, add in the brandy. Be sure to keep your face away from the pot because it may flame. Add in the diced vegetables and return pot to heat. Stir occasionally until the vegetables are cooked through and begin to brown. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes or until the tomato paste begins to brown. Add in the white wine and scrap the bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until all of the liquid is cooked out. At this point add in the cream and the remaining ingredients. Bring the pot to a simmer and cook for 15 – 20 minutes. Strain through a colander into another pot or large bowl. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to squeeze all of the juice out of the bones and mirepoix. Discard the bone mix. Strain the cream through a fine mesh strainer. Return the lobster cream to a stockpot and return to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 1T of roux. Let mixture cook for 1 minutes stirring constantly. When the correct consist is achieve the cream should just coat the back of a spoon. Blend using a hand blender. Cool using an ice bath. Reserve.

    For Garnish:
    1/4C Equal parts of chopped chives, parsley, thyme and chervil.
    2.5 oz. Black winter truffles (optional) Truffle oil Pie Dough
    3 lb AP flour
    2 lb Butter, chilled, small dice
    2 c Ice water
    2 T Salt

    To make the pie dough, sift 3 lb. of all-purpose flour into a large mixer. On low speed, drop small pieces of slightly chilled butter into the flour. Season the mixture with salt. The last step is to add the water slowly until incorporated with the flour. You may not need all of the water. Do not over paddle the dough. Remove from mixture and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is 1/8th of an inch. Cut circles that are 1” more in diameter than the baking dishes that you are using. Chill the circles well before using.

    To Assemble
    In each pot place 3 each of the carrots, potatoes, pearl onions, green zucchini and yellow squash. Divide the mushrooms evenly between the dishes. Place the equivalent to 2 arm sections worth of lobster meat, 2 claws, 3 medallions and 1 lobster fan in each dish. Ladle 3 oz of sauce into each dish. Garnish each dish with herbs, drizzle of truffle oil, and 1 sliced truffle.

    To cap the pot pies:
    3 eggs – whisked together to make an egg wash.

    Lightly egg wash the outer edge of the dough and carefully place the top on top of the baking dish. Gently press the dough to seal the edges. When all the pot pies have been capped, egg wash the top of each very lightly. Sprinkle lightly with salt (sea salt is preferred). Place into a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

    1. Channon says:

      Katie, I think I love you.

  3. Luke says:

    Wow, I hate that your experienced was tarnished so, but I must say, you have made me want to try this Lobster Pot Pie more than I can adequately describe. Although I live in Houston, so I will have to make own.

  4. Rod McBride says:

    I just read your review, and as a chef in Ireland..i can see this one closing real soon,it seems when something is not immediately sucessful at the high end of the resturant market,it is changed or down gradedfor something more mediocre and disappointing, sad to say but i think it’s a part of the recession era economy,that standards and amazing food is being compromised just to try and stay in business! A shame i know especially when you spend big money expecting something very special and great service!
    I have been dreaming to go to the states and do a food tour of the likes of Keller,Savoy,Puck,Trotter and Roubuchons places and many others besides.
    Hope youhave better food expereiences in the future. Rod

  5. That’s such a shame. For that kind of money, not only should the food “WOW” you, but the server should be enthused & eager to please, or at least play the part.

  6. Josh says:

    Sounds pretty disappointing. As a suggestion though, if you are ever in the vicinity of Wyoming, go to the little town of Hudson and eat at Svilar’s Steakhouse. It has been there forever and run by the same family. Excellent service and the sarma is fantastic. Not to mention they make some really mean steaks. My favorites are the filet and the t-bone. Really a unique experience, but certainly miles away from the gourmet places you often describe (and literally miles away from everything else, including easy transportation to major metropolitan areas…)

  7. Dawn says:

    Oh, I am so sorry. It’s sad to see a beloved place go down like this, and I feel your disappointment. At least you can always go back to Vegas?

  8. Natasha says:

    What a shame… hate when restaurants overpromisse and underdeliver.

  9. Natasha Japp says:

    What a shame… hate when restaurants overpromisse and then underdeliver.

  10. Rachael says:

    I would have cried. Maybe in public.

  11. Adi Davi says:

    Jewel, you should just open your own place with crazy awesome food, and make brilliant chefs make you anything you want (for us too)

    call it “Jewel of a food” or “browncoat inn”.. 🙂

    but really, this place sounds pretty bad..

    there is a great place i want to, an underground place you can only pay cash and bring your wine from home – but they make amazing smoked food – and they keep bringing new courses (in great portions) until you are full..

  12. Joel says:

    A bit of a haul, but the Studio Diner in San Diego has excellent lobster pot pie. Also recommend the monte cristo.

  13. wosushi says:

    That is completely tragic!

    Although, I am glad you wrote about it, because now I just might have to make lobster pot pie.

    Not might. Must.

  14. Nicole Gustas says:

    I’m sorry it was so disappointing, but I’m glad you warned us all off! Thanks for writing candidly about the bad places as well as the good ones.

  15. Beth - CarterMackenzie says:

    Frustrating when a place with such promise slips so much…

    After reading your take on the lobster pot pie I so very hungry now! Luckily I can smell the wonderful scents of a yummy dinner coming from the kitchen! A home cooked meal of comfort food – Mum’s cooking a big roast – beef this time, complete with yorkshire pudding, lots of different roast vegetables (especially roast kumera – a Kiwi sweet potato) and homemade gravy!

    Oh Jewel – if you ever make it back down to New Zealand – I’d love to bring you a sample of some kiwi greats! Particularly a pavlova (not the silly puny kind of thing you get in a restaurant, but one of my Mum’s – she’s the Pavlova Queen!)
    🙂

    Looking forward to reading more of your blogs!

  16. Mandie says:

    I’m always jealous when people brag of delicious shellfish entrees. Just the other day I got cocky and tried a bite of lobster and got violently ill. Allergies are the devil.

    I’m disappointed to read about your lousy experience; but glad to see you were willing to put it out there. They can’t all be winners.

  17. Berni-Germany says:

    Very good report, as usual…
    BTW I have to feed me and my family with a monthly budget of 400 EUR (560 USD). Thats life!

  18. fojoy says:

    Its unfortunate when a place that holds so much promise goes so far downhill.
    And don’t even get me started on the automatic gratuity even when the service is far from good.
    That’s just criminal

  19. wagdog says:

    I have a rule with restaurants: If I walk in and don’t get a good vibe I will immediately turn heel and leave. Otherwise it inevitably it turns into a waste of time and money. Harsh, maybe, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts.

  20. Tia says:

    When I get poor service and gratuity added automatically, I always pay less. I cross out the amount and write the amount minus gratuity along with my initials. I am not required to pay for crappy service and no cc company has ever been on the restaurant’s side.

  21. moonflake says:

    I happened to be in Las Vegas this very week, and the moment I read this post I had to rush downstairs to see if either of the two Michael Mina restaurants in the MGM Grand served the lobster pot pie. Imagine my delight to find that Nobhill Tavern did! I immediately made plans to go there for dinner, and closed my eyes at the $85 price tag for this single (but I hoped singular) dish.
    And Jewel, it was exactly as you described it…. the second time! Dismantled tableside to become a soggy mess, with the obvious intention being to reconstruct the lobster itself, shell and all, on top of the ruined crust, soaked in rapidly cooling sauce and then sprinkled with the veggies. And worst of all, because the lobster tail had not been removed from its shell (merely sliced in three) it had not been properly cleaned, and there was muck in the alimentary canal! Disgusting under any circumstance, and a fine-dining faux pas in my opinion.
    I’m sorry to report that it seems the recipe has indeed been changed, to emphasise flashy tableside serving and arrangement over taste, texture and actual enjoyment of the dish. So sad.

  22. Walter says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience. I found Minas in Las Vegas the last time I was there but, alas, it was closing and I was leaving the next day. 🙁
    Perhaps the one in Los Angeles realized people might be reluctant to enter an empty restaurant and so tried to hold you captive as long as possible. If so, bad choice, because a foodie like you along with your friends and all the people who read your blogs could keep them in business.

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