SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) – Another piece of the Levi’s Stadium high-end experience began falling into place Thursday as a renowned Bay Area chef and restaurateur launched his own vision of a multi-purpose facility within the stadium.
Chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak & Pub opened its doors in a soft-launch for 49ers employees and guests along with invitees of the Mina Group, which runs 22 restaurants including his namesake Michael Mina restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas.
A group of journalists also got a preview of the dual-restaurant layout and sampled some menu selections, leaving at least this reporter in somewhat of a food coma. More on that in a bit.
Bourbon Steak & Pub, which opens to the public August 11, will be open year-round and features a premium steakhouse ambience and dinner service, while a separate, sports-bar pub with an industrial décor and open for lunch and dinner. Both will be open year-round.
Mina has been a die-hard 49er fan and season-ticket holder for years, and said when 49ers CEO Jed York and President Paraag Marathe approached him about opening a restaurant at Levi’s Stadium he jumped at the opportunity. “I really wanted to do a restaurant but I wanted it to be much more than that,” said Mina.
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So on game days a third, open-space area with picnic-style tables next to the pub will feature Michael Mina’s Tailgate, an exclusive event area for season-ticket holders which will seek to emulate the party atmosphere Mina generated for years at his epic tailgate throw-downs outside Candlestick Park.
Mina said he came up with the tailgate idea when he looked at the restaurant plans and noticed an unused adjacent area. “It was kind of an odd space,” said Mina. “I said, ‘so nobody is using this space?’” It was his as soon as he detailed his tailgate vision. The tailgate/party space will be opened to all fans after games and on non-game days for buffet-style offerings.
Centered among all three dining areas is the open kitchen designed to be showcased and seen by patrons as they walk through the pub area. The kitchen’s centerpiece is a 13-foot tall rotisserie that can hold a half-ton of meat on a moving carousel. “It’s the only indoor rotisserie that I know of in the U.S. that can cook a whole cow,” beamed Mina.
Our group of journalists must have felt like we ate the whole cow. We began slowly, whetting our appetite with the beer flight sampler ($20) which included selections such as North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner, Speakeasy Scarlett Red Rye Amber, and Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. A similar bourbon sampler ($30) would have a server at your table individually smoking each sample to bring out its distinct flavor attributes.
We then tasted appetizers from both the pub menu and steakhouse menu. The dungeness crab deviled eggs ($11) with tomato mayo and bread crumb nuggets was a solid choice, as was the bacon-wrapped lobster fritters ($16), designed to be eaten with a lettuce wrap and aioli. The bacon began unraveling as I took a bite, but no worries, that just prompted me to cram the whole thing into my mouth which is what I wanted to do anyway.
But the most enjoyed appetizer among our group was the nachos ($14) – presented as a stack of tostada-style fried whole tortillas sandwiched around frijoles borrachos, corn salsa, some light crema and guacamole, and topped with a fried egg. At the table, the server slices it through and listo! We tore through that like we were on a mission.
Next up, the Gold Rush Burger ($28), made with Wagyu beef, bacon marmalade, secret sauce and aged cheddar. A burger this pricey better be good and it was definitely was one of the best burgers I have ever tasted. The french fries that came with it were done right – thick and with an outer crisp that wasn’t overly-fried.
There was also a lamb burger ($22) that I didn’t try but others said they loved, with chermoula, tomato-spread and cooked onions. I didn’t try it because I was mesmerized by the Smokin’ Double Barrel wagyu dog ($18), served with honey mustard, coleslaw and topped with some fried pork rinds. I don’t always eat a hot dog with a fork and knife, but when I do, it will be this one. I love a good sausage and this one was tops. Sadly, I decided not to finish it as things seemed to be wrapping up and I was getting full.
I was fully mistaken, however, because out came plate after plate of the Bourbon Steak signature meat dishes from their wood-fired grill: 18 ounces of prime Angus bone-in rib eye ($54), 10-ounce American wagyu skirt steak ($64), A5 Japanese wagyu Kagoshima rib eye ($34 per ounce!) and one or two others I couldn’t keep up with because my eyes were glazing over. I had gone from hoping to try a good selection to hoping the plates would stop coming.
Still, I can honestly say each bite of this meat was better than the previous one. I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunity to eat the wagyu beef, but its buttery consistency and velvet taste makes it seem as if it isn’t beef at all.
The side dishes ($10) of creamed corn & nopales, creamed spinach with shallots, black truffle mac & cheese were each a bit too creamy for me but I was damn full, so who knows, maybe they were just right.
We did not leave room for dessert ($12). I personally was reeling. The knockout blow came anyway, more like a combination of treats that pummeled me into submission. The light and tangy panna cotta, the warm apple crisp and the root beer float with sassafras ice cream and edible straws were the top choices for those of us with still-functioning digestive systems.
The Bourbon Pub’s menu definitely raises the level of your typical sports bar grub, while Bourbon Steak will continue to attract those who will gladly pay top dollar for a top-of-the-line dining experience.
Mina, hopes to vary the game-day tailgate menu, sometimes coordinating with chefs from the city of the visiting team – or just depending on the opponent itself, such as when the Seahawks come to town. “I’ve got a little something special for that game,” said Mina. “There’ll be about 200 birds here hanging from the neck.”
While his restaurant empire undoubtedly keeps him busy, Mina says he plans to be at his Levi’s Stadium venue for all the 49er games and for other extended periods as the facility gets up to speed. “It’s the Ferrari that’s in first gear right now.”