There is irony to one of the most sought after restaurants, requiring a month’s advanced booking, being called “Lazy Bear.” Lazy one cannot be to get a reservation here. As a result, my visit to Lazy Bear had been a long time coming. A girlfriend and I were intrigued to try it when we first heard about Lazy Bear while attending a foodie tech panel, where Chef David Barzelay (Get it? His name spells “Lazy Bear.”) was participating. If a restaurant has survived as an underground supper club for years before finally finding a brick and mortar home, I was intrigued. Communal tables and conversing with strangers also was intriguing to me — like Thanksgiving! But with strangers. I liked the idea of dining with others who appreciated good food enough to seek after a ticket to this restaurant AND foot the roughly $150 price tag (pre-booze) for it.
If fancy dining with strangers is your forté, here’s how it works. Lazy Bear opens up reservations for the following month around the middle of the current month (ie. if you’re looking to book for June, wait til about May 15). Once you’re able to log on and find a suitable day, pick what time you want to dine: the first seating of 6pm or the second seating of 8:15pm (note: allot about 3 hours for your meal). Then, proceed to pay, in full, for your meal. Yep, before you dine. This isn’t a novel concept — Chicago’s Alinea has been doing this ticketing system for quite some time now, and The French Laundry will also be adopting this system once it reopens this fall. In fact, it was one of the primary topics of the foodie tech panel we attended.
I can see the reasoning behind this. On Lazy Bear’s website, they posit, “Think of it like buying a ticket to a concert, baseball game, or movie,” where you’d buy the tickets beforehand. There’s no knowing who will win a game when you buy a ticket — same as Lazy Bear. You won’t know what you’re eating until your auspicious day arrives. If you’re gluten free (by choice) or paleo, forget it. Lazy Bear was very generous to cater to food allergies, which my girlfriend had, but they won’t cater to preferences.
After you buy your ticket, mark every single calendar you have and remind yourself to fast for the meal.
We were expecting a dining experience, and that we certainly received. Since we set foot, the entire atmosphere was cozy, as if you were at home. The red and black plaid motif also helped. The Foie Prohibition had recently been lifted in California (hoorah!) so we were excited to see if any foie gras would be making its way onto the menu. Our dinner was the second seating, and we arrived a little early and were escorted upstairs to the “living room” for some refreshments and h’ordeuvres. The living room area reminded me of the Park City cabins we used to rent for my days at Sundance — cozy and woodsy motif. We had some complimentary punch, followed by delicious small bites on this house charcuterie plate, one of which included the anticipated foie. Not pictured below was also the broiled shigoku oyster, some of the best smoky oyster I’ve had (from someone who doesn’t usually eat oysters).
After about 45 minutes, we were asked to make our way downstairs. The dining room was comprised of two long, whole-piece wood tables, with the open kitchen in the background. I’m told this is Chez Panisse style (I have not been fortunate enough yet to dine there), but I loved how the chef would present each dish before the course, interchanging among all the chefs so that you could see it took a team to create the glorious meal presented to us. Each place setting also had a small notebook with the night’s menu, a golf pencil and space to write notes about each dish. We were encouraged to come up to the prep station to ask questions and check out the dishes being prepared. My girlfriend and I went up at one point during the night, to which I commented to Chef David that I recognized his aprons were from Hedley & Bennett (I recognized their ampersand!), and he mentioned they were custom made for the restaurant, with signature “family tartan.”
Some of my notes from dinner, mainly my fascination with the ingredients
Dish One: Grilled Seaweed Focaccia
It was hard to not like every dish that we had. The first dish was a grilled seaweed focaccia, made with a rye and buckwheat flour, kombudashi broth and cultured butter. Those who’ve read my posts on ramen know my fascination with kombudashi, so this bread was EVERYTHING. Light, fluffy and the creamy texture of the butter that made me want to lap up every bit of it.
Dish Two: Sweet Pea Custard
It was the start of spring when we dined at Lazy Bear, so pea season was in full swing. I have dreams about this sweet sweet sweet pea custard. I’m usually not a huge fan of peas, but these were so fresh and the taste so crisp, I have become a convert to pea snaps. The light, yet creamy texture of this custard made it hard not to appreciate and savor.
Dish Three: Broth of Toasted Grains
My egg dining experience will never be the same. This is the dish I went up to see the chefs preparing. It was served in a bowl, then the chefs came around and poured the broth into the bowls. It was sweet, creamy, yet warm and comforting.
Dish Four: Halibut
I’m not going to lie. By the time this dish came around, I was getting pretty stuffed. Perhaps the two alcoholic drinks, one of which hocontained a homemade jelly (like boba), were to blame. So like the 7×7 reviewer, it was starting to become a haze — a fluffy, delicious, hollaindaise-covered haze.
Dish Five: Rabbit
Meat course two, and I’m trying not to think of my friend’s pet bunnies. I’ve had rabbit before, but it isn’t exactly my meat of choice. This was not gamey, however, and the fava bean puree was delicious. The morels were from Mt. Shasta and were so fresh, perfectly paired with the puree.
Dish Six: Lamb
Meat course three and my girlfriend and I are starting to drift into food coma. I am fascinated to learn that the Romans also had fish sauce, called Garum (scribbled into my notebook)! I am having a hard time finishing this because I’m so full, but it’s tender and savory nonetheless.
Dish Seven: Strawberry Dessert
I really appreciated the Asian infusions to select dishes throughout the night. It wasn’t your typical soy sauce, haphazard “Asian fusion.” This was the real deal. Like this strawberry dessert, where the soymilk, frozen cold, was homemade and infused with genmaicha (toasted brown rice tea – my fave). I also loved hearing that the chefs were inspired to make this dish while eating at another restaurant – made me think of artists and painters.
Dish Eight: Cinnamon Dessert
Remember when i said I was full? I think there’s a separate stomach for dessert. This was delicate and lightly chewy (as pavlovas are) with the freshest blueberries I’ve ever had. And the fun fact: pavlovas are inspired by belly dancers!
The meal was topped off with a plate of treats (not pictured: devoured too quickly) which included a mint julep macaron and a s’mores ice cream with smoked salt – delicious!!
In all, we had a memorable experience that I’m glad I was able to have with one of my very good foodie friends who appreciated a good meal and was willing to try unconventional dining. After “testing the waters” of this restaurant, I’m excited to try it again for a special occasion and during another season to see what they have in store. While there are favorites from that meal that I would undoubtedly love to savor again (sweet pea custard!), it’s only a truly innovative restaurant that can come up with a meal from the resources they’re presented with each day, and that I can truly appreciate.
3416 19th Street (in the Mission)
Pre-paid dining seats: One month in advance, usually the 12-15 of each month (check Twitter).