There is a trend starting with restaurants utilizing this whole ticketing concept which was pioneered by the team that brought us Alinea. can be tough because you really have to commit to going when you buy the tickets. If by chance in the end, something changes, it’s not like you get your money back. You’re on the hook for getting someone else to use the tickets in your place. The upside of this whole concept is that you end up paying variable amounts depending on the day and time of your meal. Admittedly, it only varies by $5-30, but in a town like San Francisco where a dinner at a good restaurant already feels heavy on your pocketbook, it still feels like a bargain if you know you’re paying less than the other couple who is going to be eating at 8:30pm on Saturday night.
There are only 2 seatings a night at 6pm and 8:30pm and the layout is 100% communal with diners sitting along 2 long tables that stretch the length of the dining room. I suppose this could go one of two ways for people where you end up meeting some fun people and the dinner becomes more social or you’re trying to have an intimate dinner with your companions and it feels too loud and intrusive.
Coincidentally enough, I had only intended to have dinner with Overworked, Underfed and Hubster, but it turned out PcessJK and G-Man bought tickets for the same time so we asked them to move things around so we could sit together. This definitely made the delicious meal even more enjoyable because good food always tastes even better with good company. [Editorial update] The pictures below are much nicer than usual because Overworked, Underfed has more time and energy to invest in food photography, so the beauty of this particular entry is wholly credited to her.
The beginning of the meal started upstairs where they offer everyone an apéritif and a handful of small bites to wet the appetite as everyone waited for the previous seating to finish up their meal. For the most part, they all these little mini starters were quite delicious.
- The shot glass was filled with a savory mix of whipped scrambled eggs, bits of Benton’s bacon, maple syrup and chives. Breakfast in one gulp, very interesting.
- The small glass bowl held a piece of Hawaiian albacore tuna with a ver jus of white grapes. Clean tasting but not particularly interesting.
- The cracker was actually a flat piece of strawberry merengue topped with a foie gras mousse and some fruity gelee. It was the perfect mix of savory and sweet.
- The little egg roll looking bite was a canolli filled with caviar and creme fraud and a bit of sour cream and onion. It reminded me of a more refined take on a taquito with its crispy wrapper surrounding a notably saltier filling.
- The fried veal sweetbreads were topped with a mix of dry spices and pickled watermelon rind. Definitely one of the best versions of sweetbreads I’ve ever had. The pickled topping really balanced the oiliness that can be overpowering with fried sweetbreads.
- The mini beaker was filled with concord grape and lemon verbena soda which they served just as a we sat down at the communal table to start dinner. Delicious and refreshing.
As every good meal usually begins, we were offered some fresh dinner rolls which had a soft texture that reminded me of Hawaiian bread but were savory instead of sweet. I loved that the bread was served warm.
This course was absolutely delicious. It essentially was a cross between a panzanella and carpaccio but it was described as “fat on fat”. The bottom layer was fried seaweed focaccia and then came the avocados in the middle and finally a carpaccio of Miyazaki A5 Wagyu Ribeye on top. A mix of heirloom tomatoes and padron conserva finished off the dish nicely. Just looking at the marbling of the ribeye already hints at how rich this dish was going to be. Each bite was filled with creamy unctuous goodness that bordered on sinful when you tasted the ribeye. I have never had such creatively executed dish that perfectly highlighted the beautiful flavors of each individual ingredient yet brought them together in such an amazingly exquisite way.
I was a little hesitant when this dish came, and not because it was so beautiful with the colorful spread of summer squash, bell pepper, wax beans, haricot vert, snap peas, fennel and saffron nage in a sea of foam made from butter, saffron, white wine, and stock. It literally looked like they had gone and plucked some things from the garden so I was skeptical if it was going to taste very appetizing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Vegetables were fresh tasting and it all was very well-seasoned.
I’ve never heard of celtuce steam before, but it’s supposedly used a lot in Chinese cooking and can be described as somewhere in between an asparagus and celery in terms of texture. This was topped with some chicken skin, almonds and a crisp leaf. It was simple and didn’t particularly look like it would taste like much, but the chicken skin added just a bit of savoriness to the vegetables making for quite a nice dish.
The corn grits topped with duck ham represented another example of simple presentation that belies some powerful flavors. The grits were smoother than your usual grits with the most divine corn flavor I have ever tasted. Even with the cream and butter that goes into grits, there was no mistaking the sweetness of fresh corns with each and every bite.
The grilled pork shoulder was nicely prepared but the way the grilled peaches, turnips, succulents and stonefruit tare complemented the pork was the real highlight. It gave a very light and summer air to the dish.
The gran finale was a Miyazaki Ribeye Cap. Again the marbling on the beef signaled how unctuous each bite was going to be, but the tomatoes and eggplant complemented it quite well. The combination of black garlic, sriracha and tamarind lent a subtle Asian profile to the dish.
I didn’t find the desserts to be as strong as the main meals. On the left is White Sesame with green melon, sake lees and rose geranium while the dessert on the right is Blue Corn with blueberry and whiskey. They were both subtly sweet and somewhat refreshing, but not as interesting as the savory courses of the night.
From left to right, there was the Red Velvet with red berries, Caramelized Apricot with hazelnut and milk chocolate and Semifreddo of Vietnamese coffee. I suppose these were their versions of the petit fours, and as usual, I was pretty full by the time these rolled around at the end of the meal, but I took small bites of each and none of them were super memorable. It sounds like the sweets in general weren’t very good, but I think the dishes preceding it were so impressively yummy that the bar was too high for the desserts to make much of an impression on me.
Overall, this was definitely one of the best tasting meals I’ve ever had, if not the best depending on what one is looking at. Until now, Alinea in Chicago had held that spot in my book, and even though it’s been over 5 years since I ate there, it still stands out in my mind for the overall dining experience. Not only did the food taste delicious, but the unique presentation and engagement with the diners made for a more complete and creative dining experience. Some people think it’s gimmicky, but they way they incorporate all 5 senses (except maybe hearing) into the meal is something I have not seen done as well or as classy anywhere else. This was all before Grant Achatz recently changed the menu and concept there so I’m not sure what it is like anymore.
The defining characteristic of Lazy Bear, which is so appropriate for being a San Francisco restaurant, is the perfect execution of the farm to table concept. Not only does the menu evolve to highlight whatever is fresh and bountiful that season, but the potency of the flavor profiles infused in the dishes is impressive. The freshness of the ingredients is on display but the distinct flavors of the produce particularly the corn and tomatoes was so unique and truly memorable that this restaurant on the taste of the food alone probably beats out Alinea. However, the only reason I hold back on 5 stars for food is probably more because the desserts did not make as similar of an impact on my taste buds. I would highly recommend this restaurant as it is truly symbolizes San Francisco’s best.
3416 19th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
PAFO Ratings for Lazy Bear:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4½ stars