I love Sicilian food so when I heard that a Sicilian restaurant had just opened on Mint Plaza (close to Chez Papa), I had visions of spaghetti alla Norma, pasta con le sarde and cuscusu, dishes I loved during a visit to island of Sicily several years ago. Sicily has always been at the crossroads of history. On the island you will find Phoenician, Greek and Roman ruins, some not so ruined at all like the Greek theater in Taormina which is still used today for performances. The Arabs ruled the island for two centuries and introduced many foods, such as couscous and sugar cane (Sicilian pastries are heavenly). When you dine at 54 Mint, you see the influences of all these cultures on their food, which is why it does not taste at all like what we call “Italian” food (as if there were such as thing since almost everything in Italy is very regional).
54 Mint is in a small industrial space with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. Unlike many restaurants, they do not place the tables too close to one another so there’s a lot of privacy. It’s not too loud or hot, so dining here is such a pleasure.
We had two starters: the timbale of eggplant and courgettes, and the piquant caponata (a sweet and sour vegetable dish served at room temperature or cold), both of which were very delicious. For main courses, we chose pasta alla Norma (made with eggplant and tomatoes) and trenette with Sicilian pesto, which were savoury and fresh. Offering cuisine to satisfy all diets, they have non-pasta dishes such as fish baked in sea salt. We glanced at the tempting dessert menu but were too full to ask for dessert. Maybe next time.
What I truly appreciate about 54 Mint is the terrific selection of Italian wines and grappas. Italian restaurants in SF don’t always have such a good Italian wine list to choose from, which is a shame. At 54 Mint, they even had two kinds of Barbera d’Alba, something I always look for in any restaurant (I love red wine, don’t really care for white or rosé). As an after-dinner drink, we ordered the grappa and was surprised to find that they had three kinds (we opted for the grappa made from Barolo grapes). Again many Italian restaurants in SF don’t serve grappa, so 54 Mint has already made its way into my list of favorite restaurants in the city.
The service is superb: they do not rush you. They don’t take away the dishes as soon as you’ve finished. They certainly do not take away your dining companion’s plate before you’ve finished your meal. These are things that are done too often in San Francisco restaurants and I find it absolutely offensive. Not at 54 Mint. Indeed, as in Italy (and Europe), the staff at 54 Mint wait until you ask for the check. There’s nothing more annoying and hypocritical than being presented with a check just as soon as they’ve taken away your plate, followed by a patronizing voice that says, “No rush.” You know perfectly well that the staff want you to leave immediately. I wish more restaurants would follow 54 Mint’s example.
We went to 54 Mint for dinner, but if you go for lunch, there’s an added bonus: you get to have coffee next door at Blue Bottle, my favorite cafe in San Francisco.
16 Mint Plaza
San Francisco, CA
+1 415 543 5100
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