The richness of Binn's food gathers momentum as the night goes on. You eat a few pieces of his celery Victor ($6) — a white anchovy laid atop each section of braised celery and then deep-fried — and enjoy its salty kick, the delicacy of its batter coating. Then you have a few spoonfuls of corn bisque ($8) and the sugar in the corn is paramount, followed by the suspicion that the No. 2 ingredient is cream.

It's not until the entrées arrive that you realize what you've gotten yourself into. The worst offender is the lobster Thermidor ($32), a dish that dates back to Belle Époque Paris. Binn presents it straight up: A lobster, sliced lengthwise so its legs and arms surround the body in a macabre filigree, is filled with chunks of overcooked lobster meat and pools of cheesy cream sauce. No matter how much you enjoy the first bite, it soon makes you take back every hateful thing you've said about Alice Waters (this month). Even Binn's dry, rather dull reworking of chicken Kiev ($22), a panko-coated chicken breast that the cooks stuff with chiles instead of ham and too much cheese, comes with butter-poached Thumbelina carrots and mashed potatoes saturated with cream. My first meal, I skipped dessert and rushed home to down a shot of Fernet in order to calm the grumbling, too-taut orb of flesh my stomach had become. On the second visit, I resorted to sharing entrées.

The bloated grandeur of the entrées, in fact, is so at odds with today's tastes that it points out just what a challenge Thermidor's owners have set for themselves. Looks-wise, the restaurant works — between the popularity of Mad Men and the return of the fedora, we've come back around to midcentury fashions — and when Binn lets creativity trump culinary history, his retro food tastes great. Is the time right for the comeback of lobster Thermidor? Not unless it's tweaked beyond recognition. In five years, who knows — maybe cream will be back in style.

Sole almandine: Some fine dining dishes should never go away.
Lara Hata
Sole almandine: Some fine dining dishes should never go away.

Location Info



8 Mint Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94103

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South of Market


8 Mint Plaza (at Fifth St.), 896-6500, Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 6 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat. Bar 11:30 a.m.-close Mon.-Sat. Muni: J, K, L, M, N, T. Noise level: moderate.

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