I’ve always thought Liholiho Yacht Club was a bit of a random name. Sure, it sounds Hawaiian but what does Yacht Club have to do with anything? Maybe it is alluding to a level of refinement that you might find at an exclusive place that brings members with a shared interest in sailing. Who knows? Needless to say, as you scan over the menu, you see hints of Hawaii throughout with spam and poke which you might find in a casual Hawaiian eatery, but once you actually bite into these seemingly simple dishes, you realize the execution is extremely more cultivated, almost elegant compared to a spam musubi off the lunch truck.
The entrance sits on a typical looking street in the Tenderloin, although I think the area is being marketed as the Tendernob to invoke the sense that it’s a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Once you enter, you’re greeted with a bustling bar on the right which also hangs a huge picture of the Chef/Owner, Ravi Kapur’s mom.
Hubster and I were dining out on weekday night and the place was completely packed. It was impressive although not surprising considered this is one of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco right now. I literally had to wait until midnight to make this reservation just so we could eat at reasonable hour. Now on to the food……
The Tuna Poke was tasty. It was prepared with sesame oil, green onions and topped with radishes, so pretty typical, but I was a little torn with the nori cracker. It had the airy texture like a shrimp chip which I liked, but it had no flavor in of it self. It didn’t even taste like seaweed. I think it would have complemented the poke well if there was a little more savoriness in the cracker.
You wouldn’t expect Duck Liver Toast in any Hawaiian restaurant which speaks to the haute-ness of the menu in terms of the ingredients. However, as unexpected as it was to see it on the menu, the ultimate presentation and taste was even more surprising. The duck liver was smooth and creamy, but it was topped with a pineapple and jalapeño relish which as expected helped to balance out the richness from the liver. I wasn’t a huge fan of the thick toast as I found it too thick and quite soft considering how it looked. Duck liver always goes better with a little crunch.
I really liked this (probably no surprise as my avid readers who know me). The marinated squid was tossed with some early girl tomatoes, deep fried tripe and sprinkled with tomatoes and fried shallots.
I had very high expectations for the Spam Fried Rice especially when I saw it was going to come with uni. Unfortunately, the dish did not have the flavor punch I was expecting, not that it was bad. In fact, it tasted quite fine, but the spam could have used a little more salt so as a result the whole dish felt a little lacking in flavor. Although the uni imparted a richness to the dish overall, it didn’t actually taste that much like uni. This could have been a dish that had been refined to the point that it lost it’s taste. It was also a super tiny portion.
The pork belly was prepared with pineapple, thai basil and fennel. The sweet and savory flavor profile reminded me a little bit of Vietnamese caramelized pork, I would have preferred to have a little more texture especially because it was so fatty. Maybe a little crispy pork skin would have been a nice touch.
The Baked Hawaii sounded so interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect. It looked so pretty when it came to table and upon cracking it open, it revealed caramelized pineapple ice cream housed inside a toasted meringue with vanilla shortbread tucked inside. I really don’t like meringue because the sugar sweetness is too much and I find the texture quite odd. However, this dessert was well done. The filling was surely the best part of the dessert.
Interestingly enough, Ravi Kapur happened to be cooking in the kitchen that night. I was so excited and snapped a couple of pictures but I couldn’t find the courage to ask to be in one with him. I think because he strikes me as a serious chef, someone who enjoys being in the kitchen as opposed to the celebrity chefs who enjoy being in front of the cameras. Needless to say, it is always a highlight for me to see the man behind the food actually be behind the food.
Overall, I really enjoyed the food a lot. There were so many other interesting looking dishes on the menu that I would totally look forward to coming back. My main hesitation which is mostly because it is Hubster’s is that the food is a little bit on the pricey side….. The portions aren’t huge and the ingredients aren’t all necessarily high end, and more importantly, it’s in the Tenderloin so how high could the rent be?! For example, the Spam Fried Rice with Uni was $17.50. However, it is San Francisco, so even in the sketchiest of neighborhoods, rent is always higher than it should be, and I think Ravi Kapur has proven himself with previous stints at Boulevard and Prospect that there probably was demand to push the price point to where it is. Expense aside, the food and ambiance definitely make for a great meal that I would recommend to everyone.
Liholiho Yacht Club
871 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
PAFO Ratings for Liholiho Yacht Club:
Ambiance 3½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars