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Café to Café



Michael Mina's Seattle outpost

With more than 30 restaurants throughout the U.S. and one in Dubai, the Mina Group focuses on providing peerless service and "flavors that scream bold."

In 2009, they opened RN74 in San Francisco. "RN74" stands for Route Nationale 74, the road that travels through the Côte d'Or, the wine growing area of Burgundy in France. The restaurant grew out of an idea from Raj Parr, a sommelier who had worked with Mina since 2002. He wanted a wine bar where last bottles of rare wines would be rotated on a board as they sold, like departures at a train station. Mina thought it was a great idea, but not for a small wine bar. They focused on the Burgundy region, and creating a wine list normally found only at Michelin-starred restaurants. The restaurant would be less intense: no tablecloths, waiters in jeans. No matter what position they held, staff members were all either certified sommeliers or on their way. There were wines available by the glass that had never been seen before: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) wines that range from $1,000 to $25,000 per bottle. At RN74, you could get a glass for $90.

In 2011, they opened a second location, in Seattle, with that definite train station feel. There is a board that clicks each time a wine is sold out, metal work on the ceiling that looks like train station decoration, and white-tiled bathrooms with obvious water pipes. Dark wood, a communal table (where staff members meet weekly to blind taste wine and learn from each other, and semi-private dinners are held), a central bar. The dining room lies beyond the lounge.

Burgundy prices went wild in 2012, and you see the result in the Seattle list. The Burgundy focus has lessened. The wine focus has not. Their thoughtfully-curated list has a large reach, and the staff a serious focus; they offer a five-course tasting menu with pairings. "We're very serious about wine and food communicating," says Seattle's Executive Chef Thomas Griese.

Mina also has an intense food philosophy that comes across in all his concepts. "Michael looks not only at food profiles, but the way each guest is going to eat something," explains Griese. "This is about dining as an experience and engaging with guests. I've worked closely with Michael and have a lot of information from him about his food philosophy and the importance of balanced food; creating a sensory experience and getting people more engaged in how they think about food. He'll call you just to talk food and see how things are going, or you can call him. He always has time. While he was working on a project in Hawaii, he was totally involved in one of our dishes, the tomato tatin. When he came to Seattle, it was the first thing he wanted to try. He was concerned that the acid was too high. In the end, I did a tomato confit with more oil, and that balanced it out." It's that kind of attention to detail that makes each dish an "OMG that's good" moment.

Griese brings not only Mina's core values to the table, but also those of Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame. He staged at The French Laundry, and worked with Keller at Bouchon in Las Vegas for two years. "They're similar in their beliefs in camaraderie in the kitchen, having a sense of urgency, and total attention to detail. I love what I do and so does Michael. We genuinely care about food. You get a great meal at any of his restaurants, but it is up to the local chef to run the food program. Mina restaurants are chef-driven." You can see the camaraderie between Executive Sous John Sheffey and Griese. John has worked with the Mina Group for nine years and helped open Seattle's RN74. "We clicked when we met; there is so much we want to do each day and if we push ourselves, it happens. We're told we're like a tornado when we meet up," Thomas laughs.

RN74 is called a modern French brasserie, meaning there are some elevated parts (like the tasting menu), and hours of preparation for things like the blanquette de veau Thomas did for Restaurant Week in October (photo below), as well as a good burger at the bar with a $5 beer.

When he arrived this year, Thomas had two things to accomplish: get the summer menu up and running, and dig deeper into the roots of what RN74 needs to be, "a great, approachable place." He wants every menu to be filled with items that make guests say "oh, that sounds good." "Thomas Keller used to say that 80% is the product, 20% is the execution," says Thomas. "I've fallen in love with this area, because the product is so good. I couldn't believe the mussels, oysters, King salmon. Mother Nature is the artist here. We work with farmers and foragers and growers to get the freshest mushrooms, squash, micro greens. I'm excited to be in this city and the Pacific Northwest. There's so much to explore."

With all the thought that goes into each dish, pairing, wine pour, and quality of ingredients, you might be tempted to think of RN74 as a very high-end spot. While the food is, the atmosphere is comfortable and casual, and the feel is more like family. "You always want to grow your repeat customers, but in Seattle it's definitely more of a family feel with customers. People come in and just say 'make me something' because they trust you."

While the October 7, 2017, closing of RN74 in San Francisco is sad (it's being replaced by a new Mina concept, International Smoke), it's a bonus for Seattle. The remaining wine inventory is coming here. Get ready for that last bottle departure clicking to start in earnest.

Connie Adams/November 2017

1433 4th Ave (Pike St)
Seattle, WA 98101

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