The five-course menu at Mina Test Kitchen kicks off with a bang: a pair of golden zeppole topped with caramelized onions, potato mozzarella fonduta and a dollop of glistening caviar. Two decadent bites of crunchy, sweet, creamy and briny—it’s the kind of dish that makes you groan, but if you swing by the unmarked San Francisco restaurant next month or even next week, it won’t be on the menu.
Things change fast inside Test Kitchen: a new amuse every week, a fresh menu every month, an entirely different culinary concept every quarter. As its name suggests, the eatery is a perpetual work-in-progress, a restaurant laboratory where Michael Mina and Co. workshop ideas and where guests flock to consume lavish meals at mid-range prices.
The pop-up space launched a year and a half ago with Middle’terranea, a hybrid Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant inspired by Mina’s Egyptian heritage and Mina Group partner Adam Sobel’s Jewish and Mediterranean roots. Since then, the cozy 45-seat space has housed a 1920s-style Italian American bistro, an Indian small-plates concept, a Bloody Mary brunch and an international barbecue joint helmed by cookbook author and Food Network personality Ayesha Curry (whose husband is Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry).
“It blossomed into this dream factory,” Sobel says of MTK, where he serves as executive chef.
This quarter, Sobel and crew are testing Postcards From la Costiera, an Italian seafood concept. Though Sobel’s already planning the room’s next incarnation, when Postcards closes in late March the team will have just one week to train and transition, learning new dishes, repainting the walls and creating a fresh venue on a timeline reminiscent of Top Chef’s infamous Restaurant Wars.
If that pace seems somewhat masochistic, consider the results: “When [each pop-up is] complete, we have a restaurant on a silver platter with a neat little bow on it,” Sobel says. All but one of the concepts that have called the Cow Hollow space home are on their way to permanent brick-and-mortar locations elsewhere. “It’s kind of our secret weapon.” Mina Test Kitchen, 415-625-5469.