Chef Michael Mina may be an expert in refined American cuisine and seafood, creating dishes that are elevated, memorable and delicious—his beef tartare from the now shuttered but much beloved Aqua Restaurant is a fine Exhibit A. The Master Chef is also adept at launching restaurants that are exciting and on-trend. For the Bay Area, we can look forward to the opening of Pabu and The Ramen Bar in the near future. Mina shared tasty details about the concepts with Bay Area Bites recently. His comments have been edited for content and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: Tell us about Pabu and The Ramen Bar.
Mina: We couldn’t be more excited about this opening. Pabu and The Ramen Bar are slated to open in mid-June at 101 California in the FiDi. Pabu and The Ramen Bar is a collaboration and partnership between myself and Ken Tominaga, owner and chef of the famed Hana Sushi in Sonoma County.
My family and I have been regulars at Ken’s restaurant for years, and I’ve been looking for the right project to work with him on. I have been very fortunate, and at this stage in my career, the most rewarding opportunity is to build partnerships with chefs like Ken that need and deserve a showcase that this opening will create.
Ken has always wanted to do a big Japanese concept in San Francisco – it’s been a lifelong dream of his. When this opportunity presented itself and 101 California Street became available, I toured it and knew immediately that it would be perfect our collaboration.
Pabu will be a modern izakaya and sushi bar offering authentic, and high caliber Japanese cuisine, and contemporary takes on traditional Japanese dining options including a sushi bar, izakaya, robata grill and a specialized Shabu Shabu program.
The Ramen Bar, my first fast casual concept, will include both a take-out and dine in option, and feature signature ramen bowls from Ken, which will include fresh noodles, a choice of homemade broths, proteins, and an abundance of on site, freshly-grown vegetables and greens from our indoor/outdoor urban garden. This space will also include a unique bar concept highlighting the best in Japanese whisky, beer and sake.
Bay Area Bites: What dishes can folks look forward to for both spots?
Mina: We’ve got a lot of really cool things: at Pabu, an a la carte menu will be available in the izakaya and dining room highlighting seasonal small plates, grilled items from a robata grill, rice, and noodle and soup dishes for the everyday.
Some of my favorites from the menu include Ken’s award-winning sushi and sashimi, skewers, and tempura, as well as Ken’s “Happy Spoon” oyster topped with uni, ikura, tobiko and ponzu crème fraiche.
In the formal dining room, we’ll also be featuring two omakase menus – one is a traditional representation of Japanese products and technique while another is the Sushi Nigiri Tasting Menu.
We will also be featuring a specialized Shabu Shabu service, emphasizing a unique and interactive clean eating experience for the guest – featuring A4 and A5 Wagyu and fresh vegetables cooked in savory broths at their tables.
At The Ramen Bar, we will be highlighting four ramen offerings including our Tokyo Chicken Shio with beer can chicken and shio kombu (edible kelp), and our Kaisen Miso with shrimp, crab and Tokyo negi (Japanese onions).
There will also be a seasonal soba offering at The Ramen Bar with house-made gluten-free chilled noodles and broth.
Bay Area Bites: How will this be different from the Baltimore Pabu you opened with Ken Tominaga?
Mina: Both Ken and I have been on the hunt for the perfect location for this Japanese venture and while the opportunity first arose in Baltimore at the Four Seasons, San Francisco had always been the ideal market for both Pabu and The Ramen Bar. I’ve known 101 California as a neighbor for many years, and always thought it could be the perfect spot for an upcoming project. When the space became available, I showed it to Ken, and he fell in love with it immediately.
Obviously this project will be much bigger than the Baltimore restaurant – in terms of space. We have 10,000 square feet to work with, and are excited to take full advantage of the picturesque and natural indoor and outdoor setting to grow our own downtown herb and vegetable garden.
Bay Area Bites: What do you think the ramen scene is like in the Bay Area? How do we compare with other cities like Baltimore?
Mina: In many ways, I think the ramen scene in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco, is still burgeoning. It still exists in the underground and has an almost cult following. With The Ramen Bar, I want to create a bigger platform for this style of Japanese cuisine, and make it more accessible for locals. Our location at 101 California is perfect for this, and why we’ve decided on doing both dine in and take out options with The Ramen Bar.
Bay Area Bites: What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Mina: I love roasted nuts, especially pistachios. They are my go-to late night snack.
Bay Area Bites: Are you still doing the East Indian concept on Steuart Street?
Mina: Right now we are focusing all of our attention and energy on the opening of Pabu and The Ramen Bar. It’s the concept I’ve always wanted to do in San Francisco, and feel incredibly lucky to have Ken to partner with on this opening.