C California Style

A matsutake mushroom dish.
Guests dine at 22-foot-long communal tables. PHOTO: Luke Andrews.
Chef David Barzelay puts the finishing touches on a dish. PHOTO: Luke Andrews.
Dessert is served. PHOTO: Luke Andrews.
Barzelay’s take on rabbit.

Out of the Cave

by C California Style

Underground pop-up dinner sensation Lazy Bear transforms into a full-blown restaurant, and the hottest ticket in town.

David Barzelay wants to blow your mind with scrambled eggs. The chef—who opened his first restaurant, Lazy Bear, last month in San Francisco’s perma-hip Mission District—is all about “nostalgic food experiences packaged in awesome ways,” he says. Despite the facts that Lazy Bear is an anagram of his surname and Barzelay attended Georgetown Law before he got serious about cooking, the food isn’t “esoteric for the sake of [being] esoteric.” Those eggs may be whipped into a cloud and infused with bacon, but they’re firmly grounded in maple syrup and house-made hot sauce.

You could say Barzelay’s 2009 layoff from his first law job was fortuitous. He used his severance package to do the most fun thing he could imagine: apprentice in restaurants. Barzelay grew up in a food-loving family and cooked unusually elaborate dinners for his law school buddies. The work experience provided him with a new layer of insight from highly regarded kitchens like Charleston’s McCrady’s and New York’s Aldea.

Keen on continuing his culinary experiments thereafter, he started his monthly Lazy Bear underground dinners as a lark out of an undisclosed Mission warehouse, where set menus of rabbit scrapple with fava beans, sous vide cookie dough and the like served as conversation kindling for the miscellaneous group of people who would rub elbows on any given night. Barzelay was making just enough money to keep the dinners going and—most importantly—he was having fun. One day, he realized he just couldn’t stop.

Now, five years later, Lazy Bear is a month-old, fully funded restaurant, a polished version of the sophisticated off-the-radar dinner parties of yesteryear. Reservations are sold for two seatings per night, using the same ticketing system Grant Achatz’s Alinea pioneered in Chicago—only Lazy Bear’s newsletter fan base of 23,000 is so avid that it crashed the servers when tickets were first released prior to the opening.

Meals play out in $120-per-person tasting menus of more than 11 courses and snacks—the bulk of them served at two 20-seat, jagged-edged Wyoming elm slabs with an upside-down manzanita tree slung overhead. Food arrives on everything from cut-glass plates to vintage teakwood bowls that Barzelay and his wife brought back from Thailand. To drink, diners can select a $50 wine or cocktail pairing, or a mixture of the two. Booze comes from unbranded glass decanters lining one wall. And the lighting is calibrated just-so, for Instagram. It’s an experience that’s part avant-garde supper club, part fantastical night on the town. Barzelay’s aspirations are much simpler: “We hope it’s the best dinner party you’ve ever attended.” 3416 19th St., S.F., 415-874-9921; lazybearsf.com

By Carolyn Alburger.