Lazy Bear: Fine Dining, Pop-Up Style
By Sam Lee
When I saw the confirmation e-mail in my inbox from Lazy Bear, my heart felt like I just won the Yerba Buena Dream House raffle! I couldn’t believe that I got a pair of coveted seats on my first attempt through their convoluted reservation system. Most people try for at least 3 months before scoring a spot. I'm thinking that perhaps the alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon during April's blood moon eclipse might have had something to do with my good fortune.
Lazy Bear is an acclaimed underground pop-up restaurant in the Mission and an anagram of Chef David Barzelay's last name. It is the fanciest and most expensive meal I have had in San Francisco, but considering the value of the experience I think it’s something worth checking out even on a student budget! I only had to live off of instant ramen for about two weeks to help pay for my meal.
So how did I find this place you ask? Well, Lazy Bear got on my radar when I did a Yelp search for restaurants in the Mission and the solid 5-star rating with around 100 reviews caught my eye. Curious, I decided to see what the hype was all about and began my adventure through their reservation system.
Here’s the process:
(1) You sign up for the Lazy Bear email list by going to the website: http://www.lazybearsf.com/
(2) Within a month you will get an email when/where their next "pop-up" dinner is going to be and you need to quickly go online and fill out a questionnaire with your party size, any dietary restrictions, and preferred choice of dates. You can also find out about cancelled reservations and other opportunities if you follow their Twitter: @lazybearsf
(3) Now you need to patiently wait for a confirmation email telling you that you've been selected from the lottery to dine at Lazy Bear. If you don't get an email, you go hungry and wait until the next Lazy Bear pop-up.
(4) If you are one of the lucky few that receives a confirmation, you go to Eventbrite to purchase a non-refundable deposit ticket (1 per party) for $95 plus the Eventbrite fee.
(5) Finally, you show up for your appointed date and time and enjoy an evening of culinary delight!
Lazy Bear regularly holds its venue at the SF Institute of Possibility on Cesar Chavez and Mission. The meal takes about 4 hours and seating is done in a communal fashion for 40 diners across 2 rows of tables. It really feels like you’re eating like a family, which can perhaps evoke positive or negative emotions depending on your own family dynamics. The seating arrangement mostly helps the staff serve food at the same time.
Part of the value of Lazy Bear is the fact that they don’t yet have a liquor license so they have a BYOB policy and they offer free wine and champagne glasses and plenty of wine bottle openers to pour your own drinks. They charge no corkage fees so my date and I brought 2 bottles of wine to maximize our value. We also had no problem storing our dessert wine in their fridge so we didn’t have to drink tepid wine towards the end of the night.
The menu here changes on a regular basis and they just recently started moving towards a new tradition of monthly menus. Although our menu only listed 9 courses we got a total of 13 courses of artfully created snacks, dishes and desserts. The first of several snacks and the one consistent item that is served on every occasion was the whipped scrambled egg with bacon layered with hot sauce and maple syrup at the bottom of a shot glass. Delicious!
The other highlights of the night were: spot prawns grilled with spring ramps with a Louisiana dipping sauce, Marin farms lamb in a roasted lamb bone sauce with toasted farro and sheep’s milk yogurt with rosemary, and their Earl Grey ice cream dish.
The service was excellent and most of the servers and staff are volunteers who do this for the experience. Chef David came out to describe most of the dishes and I really loved the seasoning of humor and the relaxed vibe that truly added to the overall experience. Diners were encouraged to go into the kitchen to take pictures and ask questions.
Now that you’re probably salivating and ready to join the mailing list, there are some major changes coming soon. In June, their operations will transition over to a new brick and mortar location at the shuttered Hi-Lo BBQ on 19th and Mission. Chef David bought out the location and will gain their liquor license in the process. He also mentioned that he plans to adopt the same reservation system that Chef Achatz of Alinea uses so goodbye five-step reservation process.
Overall, I enjoyed the idea of “fine dining” in a relaxed, communal, and interactive setting. And if you happen to check out Lazy Bear while it’s still a pop-up, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Sam Lee is a first-year student in the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing.