I had the excellent luck last month to: A) meet a couple of awesome new friends at a shared table at brunch, B) become part of a dinner-going group with them and my friend A, with whom I went to Rome in December and who has brilliant connections and a serious take-charge attitude, leading to the four of us C) going to Lazy Bear for one of the most remarkable dining experiences I've ever had in my relatively charmed life.
I was extremely skeptical at first – Lazy Bear is a sort of private dinner club-turned restaurant that is super expensive and notoriously difficult to get tickets for, a combination that heightens my hype-dar immediately. But I didn't want to be a party pooper and I had a little extra cash cushion so I agreed to go. On the day of the dinner, a gorgeous sunny Saturday, I was loathe to get dressed up and go to what I was sure would be an overproduced and underdelivering San Francisco wankfest (pardon my French but I really was feeling very wary). But almost from the minute I walked in the door, the first to arrive, my expectations were proven wrong.
I was led to the upstairs bar, where the first four (of what we thought would be 12 but what turned out to be 16!) courses would be served, along with a glass of shockingly tasty rum punch; I usually loathe rum. As I looked around the room I was pleasantly surprised to see few obviously hipster yuppies (I like to call them yupsters – essentially these are the young, rich, 'original'-in-the-same-way-as-everyone-else, often tech-employed people who currently make up a large portion of SF and who flood everything cool you might ever want to do). Most of the other diners seemed kind of, dare I say it, normal. It was a welcome relief and I started feeling better already.
I relaxed even more when my friends arrived. A came dressed to the nines in full-on Chinese New Year style – we had all agreed to dress up and then the rest of us promptly forgot, so she was the only one, but luckily her outfit was, as usual, all class and no costume, so she fit right in. D and L were just as warm and funny as I remembered, too, so I knew it would be a good night.
And then the food started coming out, and the last wisp of my cynicism evaporated in a puff of impeccable aroma. I'll let the photos (credit to D for at least half of these – I lost track of who took which but I know a lot of them were his) and the descriptions of the food speak for themselves for a moment while I lose myself in a reverie of memory.
Whipped scrambled eggs with bacon, maple, and hot sauce
Foie gras with kumquat, fennel, and brown butter brioche
Red sea bream with plum blossom salt and almond milk
Firefly squid yakitori with persimmon yosho
Sweetbread nuggets with caramelized orange aioli
Perigord truffle with bone marrow and cheddar fondue and crudites
After those first six 'appetizer' courses we were guided downstairs to two long tables, set up for communal dining in view of the kitchen. The space was beautiful – I had been there when it was a BBQ restaurant, a year before, but the way the Lazy Bear people redid the decor was effortlessly beautiful, like something out of the life of a Minimalist Pixie Dream Girl – and each place was set with a menu that had space for notes and a tiny pencil printed with a cute scouts-themed phrase. It was adorable but still sleek, quirky and fun but not so much so that it was infantalizing.
The head chef came out and explained the goal of Lazy Bear to us – I made a note in my menu book that says "Everything is there for a reason..." Just like very good writing: every line does its part, and everything else gets cut. His style fit the rest of the evening perfectly: the food, the wine, and the service had all been warm and low-key but impeccable. And that theme remained for the rest of the night. At the beginning of each course, the chef who'd created it came out and explained the inspiration behind the dish and what the ingredients and process were, and we strained to hear them over our own muffled exclamations as we tried each dish for the first time. Everything, literally every single thing that landed in front of me, was stunning. Some courses I loved more than others but there was not a single dish that fell down on the job.
So here we go, back to the photos and descriptions (and my notes, transcribed for your entertainment in quotations marks) speaking for themselves:
Valentine's bread with cultured butter ("dat butter, tho. There's cheese in it??")
Asparagus with caviar, prawn roe, yolk jam, meyer lemon, potato, and creme fraiche ("Yessss asparagus! Dat yolk jam, tho!!")
Charred onion broth with country ham, slow cooked egg yolk, pink lady apple, and scallion (" 'Smell the hammyness' O.M.F.G. Egg yolk FUDGE, you guys.")
Steelhead trout with cured roe, burnt cream, artichoke, rye, and grapefruit ("Skin chips, yo. (JK it's rye omg)")
Rabbit with snails, stinging nettles, and green garlic ("Rabbit leg and nettle sausage, 'Basil-fed snails from Napa', Nettle rabbit gravy")
Lamb with date, mustards, farro, blood orange, olive, and garum (" 'We suggest you guys pick up the bone and gnaw on it like cavemen.' 'Good job finishing everybody's bones.' ")
Rhubarb with chamomile, pink peppercorn, and tarragon ("Don't rub another man's rhubarb")
Treats: Black forest macaroon ("I usually think macaroons are overrated but NOM"), Sassafrass caramel, Negroni gelee, Frozen s'mores, and Caramelized sesame cream puff
We ended the meal with tea and coffee, which, like the wine, cost extra, but was completely worth it. A's Earl Grey tea service was like a chemistry experiment, but in a surprisingly unpretentious way.
Overall, I will say something I very rarely say, especially in San Francisco where people say it so often and so casually: I was blown away by Lazy Bear. If I could afford it, I'd love to take everyone I know, every month. I only wished I could have shared the experience with more of my favorite foodies. So if you get a chance to go and you're wondering whether it's worth the money, DO IT. It really was more worth the expense and time and effort than pretty much any meal I've had in years.