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Lazy Bear Is Effing Great - By Ali Wunderman - January 19, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Lazy Bear Is Effing Great

(Ali Wunderman)

Almost two years ago, I got wasted and accidentally performed a restaurant review.

Lazy Bear was only a few months old at that point, but it was already the hottest thing going in the San Francisco food scene. The juxtaposition of my drunken nonsense with such a respected eatery amused audiences, and thus my food-writing career was kicked into high gear.

A sense of self-deprecation over my drunken antics was at the forefront of the story, with Lazy Bear serving as the backdrop, so my intoxicated review sadly failed to communicate meaningful commentary on the restaurant, which really does deserving all accolades it’s ever gotten. Suffice it to say I was hesitant to show my face again after essentially making a joke out of Chef David Barzelay’s unique vision, which went on to earn two Michelin stars (despite my buffoonery).

(Ali Wunderman)

But life is cyclical and of course I did eventually return — yesterday, in fact. It was my aunt’s birthday, and my mom wanted to celebrate. Out of nervousness I immediately revealed to staff that ’twas I who wrote the drunken review, despite earlier promises to myself to maintain silence.

Chef Barzelay greeted me personally and immediately upon seating, which made me feel like a big shot in front of my family (while revealing that my not-so-secret secret was out).

“Are you more sober this time?” he half-joked, eyeing the provided field guide-slash-menu where I was busy scribbling, “I hope Chef doesn’t hate me.” I silently committed to conducting myself with greater maturity this time, something that isn’t a straightforward path at a restaurant like Lazy Bear, even when consciously drinking less.

Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s your standard upscale vibe. Like any good dinner party, people are having fun, and everything about the restaurant convivial seating arrangement and walls-free format is designed to facilitate that experience. There’s laughter, there’s swearing, there’s music — lots of George Michael and Michael Jackson played during this visit — and an open kitchen where guests can engage directly with the people making their food.

Of course, the food is incomparably creative in flavor and presentation, decorated with foraged greens and dusty purple salt. From the scrambled egg shooter at the start to the tray of treats at the end, Lazy Bear knows how to make flavors and textures work in perfect harmony. I didn’t know anyone could get me to try almost-raw trout, let alone be craving it the next day, yet here we are. It’s worth noting that the wine pairings are expertly selected, though I won’t waver from my initial claim that they’re best appreciated by seasoned drinkers.

Overall, I’m impressed with the bravery in doing things their own way, while doing them well. It’s easy to let a theme carry the weight of a new restaurant, but that’s what differentiates a mere trend from something more long-lasting. Lazy Bear deserves recognition for reviving the dying art of communal dining, operating under a high concept while delivering an authentic experience.

(Ali Wunderman)

For me, it’s what Lazy Bear is able to provide in its dinner party concept: the spirit of San Francisco. Like the city, the menu is ever-changing with the seasons and with Barzelay’s whims. Food is sourced locally from foragers and humane growers, and humor and wackiness aren’t shelved in favor of the usual formality that exists between server and patron. Everyone’s in it together, creating an old-school S.F. feeling despite the restaurant being the same age as a toddler.

With that said, the service is outstanding, making it more impressive that the staff never stray from genuine friendliness. One good example is when my sister, dismayed, vocalized that she had broken the tip of her golf pencil, without which she could not have taken notes (drunkenly or otherwise). A server who’d been deftly refilling our water glasses all evening swooped in from nowhere and whispered, “Just the tip?” Later, the heavily tattooed pastry chef stole my sister’s faux-fur vest and modeled it for my delighted family — who, by the way, did not help restore my fractured reputation with all their carousing.

Lazy Bear is one of those places where, when you’re bummed about the price, it’s not because it wasn’t worth it, but because the cost makes it prohibitive to show up just to hang out. Even if I can only make it there only once every two years, I’m glad to have this restaurant in San Francisco, where it’s free to be what it wants.

Lazy Bear, 3416 19th St., 415-874-9921 or lazybearsf.com