About a year ago, I had the opportunity to go to renowned chef Michael Mina's restaurant (named after him) in Las Vegas. I had such an enjoyable experience that when I moved to San Jose and heard that he had a restaurant here called Arcadia, I just knew I had to check it out. Arcadia is located on the first floor in the beautiful Marriott Hotel in downtown San Jose.
First impressions are important, and I felt things got off to a rocky start when I was making reservations over the phone. Although the woman on the other end was very helpful, when I asked her about the menu she butchered many of the words. I find it questionable when the hostess at an upscale restaurant can't pronounce words such as "foie gras", "creme fraiche", and "pinot noir".
Two weeks later my dining partner and I got to Arcadia. Upon walking in, I immediately noticed that the restaurant is very spacious. The tables are spread out, meaning that you don't have to hear the conversations at the other tables, or bump into other people's chairs as you get up to use the restroom. This is in stark contrast to the claustrophobic, cramped feeling I had at the Buca Di Beppo Italian restaurant in San Francisco a week later.
The decor is very tasteful, what one would expect in an establishment like Arcadia. It's modern but not in a cold, unfriendly manner. My dining companion and I were seated at a table across from what seemed to be the bar, though no one was sitting there at the time. In fact, there were no chairs or stools in front of it. Instead, a row of wine bottles lined the bar. I presume that area is used during lunch, when the restaurant takes on a more casual atmosphere. We had requested window seating; alas, those tables were already reserved, which is something to keep in mind when making reservations.
Since I had been to Michael Mina, I already knew what to order. Granted, I could have tried something different from the Arcadia menu, but I wanted to compare the two restaurants. We ordered the foie gras and Maine Lobster Pot Pie. However, my dining companion and I did choose a second appetizer. I read in a local magazine that Arcadia was famous for its lobster corn dogs, so we ordered that as well.
As you can see in the photo, the lobster corn dogs are cute and tiny, and sit on little dollops of whole grain mustard sauce. Although they didn't taste bad, they didn't wow me, either. They were light and crispy, but just didn't taste "lobstery" enough. It tasted like processed lobster rather than fresh lobster. Considering that this is a Michael Mina restaurant, I hope that I'm wrong.
And while I wasn't impressed by the lobster corn dogs, my biggest disappointment at that point was in the paper-thin foie gras. In my Michael Mina review, I marveled at the enormous size of their half-order of foie gras. It was the size of my forearm! Yes, the Arcadia foie gras is significantly cheaper than the Michael Mina version, but I was still expecting more. In terms of taste however, Arcadia's foie gras is on par with its Las Vegas counterpart. It comes swimming in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and melts in your mouth. The foie gras is great paired with the accompanying toast points, but I recommend trying some of it alone to savor its buttery, rich flavor.
As I mentioned in my last review, the Maine Lobster Pot Pie is Michael Mina's signature dish. It's featured in many of his restaurants and even in his cookbook. As in the Vegas restaurant, the server made a big presentation of preparing this dish in front of us. He brought out a copper pot topped with a pastry crust, which he cut out and set on the plate. He then scooped out some of the rich truffle cream sauce and smoothed it over the crust, followed by the lobster itself. Finally, he removed the vegetables and neatly arranged then around the lobster, covering the whole thing with the rest of the sauce.
The Maine Lobster Pot Pie in Arcadia is every bit as delicious as the one in Michael Mina. The lobster was sweet and succulent, the vegetables were soft but not mushy, and the sauce was rich and creamy, but not overpowering. In fact, my companion and I wiped our plates clean of sauce with our dinner rolls, not leaving a single drop behind. The only thing was that this dish was smaller than its Vegas counterpart. Michael Mina boasted a 2 1/2 pound lobster, but in Arcadia it seemed like it was only 1 1/2 pounds. At the same time however, the Arcadia pot pie was about $20 cheaper.
At last, we come to dessert. I wanted something light, so I tried their lemon trifle. I really liked the warm, chewy chocolate chip cookie at Michael Mina and although it usually comes with the Old Fashioned Root Beer Float (called Michael's Root Beer Float at Arcadia), I asked the server to add a cookie to my trifle, and he happily obliged. Sadly, I wasn't too crazy about my dessert. I still loved the cookie and ate it all, but I didn't like the trifle. I thought that the lemon pudding on top was too tart and overpowering, and I eventually removed it from my cup to get at the sweeter layers of mascarpone and custard below.
The service was generally very good. Our waiter was very helpful and friendly. The rest of the staff were eager to please; however, they don't seem to be too observant. Many came by to refill our water glasses, but kept forgetting that we had ordered a large bottle of sparkling water. We had to keep reminding them that we didn't have regular water. At one point a woman actually poured some water in my still half-full glass of sparkling water. I was distracted at the time and didn't get the chance to warn her. Fortunately, she caught this mistake on her own and got me a new glass. Interestingly, near the end of the meal, the waiter appeared with a small bottle of sparkling water. Although he didn't specifically say so, I believe it was to replace my wasted glass of sparkling water earlier.
Overall, Arcadia was a very pleasant dining experience. The restaurant is in a great location and the decor is relaxing and tasteful. The service is warm and friendly, but employees should be able to pronounce food terms properly and pay closer attention to what the patrons are drinking. The food is delicious for the most part. However, Arcadia is not Michael Mina. It feels like the somewhat inexperienced younger brother to the Las Vegas restaurant. It's probably unfair to compare the two. After all, they cater to two different clientèle. Las Vegas is all about showmanship — big, bold, and expensive. San Jose is a lot quieter, more conservative, and reasonable. But at the same time, since both restaurants are owned by the same chef, one should expect consistency in terms of food, service, and quality. Yes, I wouldn't mind going back to Arcadia some time — but if I had a choice, I'd go to Michael Mina.