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Previewing XIV: Lots of Plates, Flavors, Mina

We were invited to the very first preview dinner at Michael Mina and SBE's XIV "social dining" experiment last night, an evening flush with lots of fancy plates and small bites, staff in training, Mina, Nazarian and some celebrity sightings. The idea was simple: Get the media (print, web, blogs) in first because they'll put our crazy concept into better words that we ever can, and after experiencing XIV, we do have a clearer picture of what they're trying to do. We just wonder if it will work.

The room looks very similar to the renderings but nicer, with plush couches and chairs, paintings over faux mantels, photos and knickknacks on shelves like a big living room. It's more contemporary around the long bar lined with Starck chairs and exhibition kitchen surrounded by stainless steel. The patio will eventually have barriers from the heavily trafficked Crescent Heights/Sunset Boulevard corner, which is a good thing because within a minute we witnessed at least one almost-accident.

We have no doubt about the caliber of food. All of Mina's restaurants (this is his 14th, thus XIV) are top notch, and he's obviously not at each one all of the time. Here the menu has about 35 items from top to bottom, including cheeses and desserts, which allows diners to choose their own adventure. But the catch: Atop the menu reads "All selections prepared for the entire table, eight dollars each, priced per person." Meaning, everyone at the table has to order the same thing, which is like tasting menus at most restaurants. But how difficult will it be to get six people to choose and order the same exact thing? Easier than we thought, actually, but are we the norm?

The servers bring out the individual portions and silverware on trays and set it in the middle of the table, and they just keep coming. Mina and Nazarian both explained that the kitchen will adapt to requests---dietary restrictions, vegetarians, and even if "someone just wants a steak." There's an entire vegetarian menu that directly mirrors the regular one, all 35 items, which is a nice touch. Keeping in mind that this was the very first time they had anyone in the place, our takeaway: The food is classic Mina (refined, great ingredients, balanced), and it is a fun, unique way of dining, but servers will need tons of patience for all the questions bound to be thrown their way. XIV will be a social and "social dining" experiment attracting both the general SBE-going public and Mina fans. They'll have to sort things out for themselves when it debuts on October 16.
· Michael Mina and SBE's XIV, Rendered [~ELA~]