If someone told you two 20-something chefs were going to open their own molecular gastronomy-toting restaurant on a weird stretch of the TenderNob, you'd say they were crazy. If that same someone added the fact that the two chefs don't have any shiny culinary schools or Michael Mina restaurants on their resumes, and they're planning to run the restaurant without POS systems at the beginning, and they're asking their friends (who've never been servers before) to wait tables, you'd say these guys are certifiably insane. Well that's precisely what happened when Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarity opened their restaurant Sons & Daughters on Bush St. a little over a year ago. Looking back on the year, the guys have garnered some pretty sweet buzz from rags like Bon Appetit. Here's Eater's One Year In with the gents and sommelier that make this little engine go.
Has Sons & Daughters turned out how you thought it would?
Matt: I don't think we ever actually had a real vision. I think the place just built itself. I mean, literally two weeks before we opened, our menu was drastically different, and we were like, you know, let's just make this four courses, because we just kept putting food together that was way better than what we were going to do.
What was it going to be like?
Teague: More simple, a la carte.
Matt: A lot of head-to-tail. When we started plating it, we were like, you know this can actually be plated better, it doesn't have to be this rustic. We had that garden going and we were getting all these flowers and we had no idea that we could get that type of produce, that that was out there. You know pineapple sage flowers don't really work well on a pig snout.
Teague: Once we opened, we thought, let's just go for it. You know, we've reinvested everything we've ever made back into the restaurant. We've just tried to keep making it better.
Matt: And that's still going on now. I think what's special about this is that it's not just a business, it's us. All of us are green in the business.
What were you guys doing before this?
Teague: We were working in kitchens for five or six years, but we didn't come from The French Laundry.
Matt: We have the internet, I study every day and I read my ass off and I work really hard. I don't get what's so hard about putting this here if you have access to all this stuff and you don't take me seriously unless I work for Michael Mina.
Teague: Not to say anything bad about those places, but when that GQ article said these guys don't have any pedigree...I think now it's come out that were young and we're out of culinary school and [laughing] it's not the truth.
Matt: You know we kept our mouths shut because we had never opened a restaurant before and we didn't want to be like, here look at us. We just sat back and tried to open quietly and luckily people have said more positive things than negative. We opened with kind of an onslaught of other openings, Benu, Plum.
So how did that first month feel?
Matt: Slow and terrifying
What surprised you? What happened.
Matt: It was kind of a blackout.
Teague: That was the point where people were sleeping here a lot and we were working 18 hour days.
Matt: Yeah, my little brother was our dishwasher. You know, we've really come a long way. We opened up and we had seven or eight employees, most of them were friends. Now we have a crew. We have ten plus people. Before it was just like shit I gotta sleep here and then on top of that I gotta put up dinner.
Teague: I mean it was cool. That's how you do it.
Matt: You have Bauer come in month three. Month three is cool for a guy who's opened restaurants before, and he's got his manager here, and his this there, and his that there.
When did he come in?
Teague: Really fast.
Matt: That was when we were having the servers file tickets, we didn't have a POS, we didn't have a bus boy, and my brother was still down stairs washing dishes. I think we did really well with that. I think it's funny you go to other restaurants that opened the same time as us and they haven't changes much, but for us, where we are now is considerably different.
What are the biggest differences?
Matt: Wine menu. You know Carlin also grew in this too. We now have Grand Cru from 1982, I mean that's like beyond my expertise. We started seeing the kind of people coming in are wine savvy. The menu's bigger.
Teague: We have two different house-made breads, two amuses, more things to make the experience better. We opened up with the attitude of how many covers are we going to do. But what we've noticed is every time we extend the dining time, it's better. We just took out three of our tables. It makes more business sense for us. People spend more, and it's more enjoyable.
Matt: Our food gets better every day and we want the dining experience to reflect it. It's fancy plated food, but it's a little cheaper. We're comfortable with that. We have done price changes. Six months from now, the menu will be much better, and it will cost more, the dining room will be smaller, and better all around.
Teague: We're also getting new sound panels, Pacojets.
Matt: The wine menu, 5% every month, it's like, build it. We don't want to be this passing fad. Teague and I never worked together much before. We've now developed a style where he can tell me elements of a dish he's working on and I can kind of see what it's going to be.
How would you describe that style?
Matt: I'd say not good enough.
Teague: No, we don't try to describe it. We're this new restaurant, we've been eclipsed by the Commonwealths, etc. in the press. We think we have a year to be the best we can be and if we can't do it, then we'll just open a pizza place. If we can't do what we're passionate about, then we'll do something else. So for this next year, it's about making this as great as we can make it. We don't have a PR company anymore because we got in Bon Ap and GQ not from a PR company, and all the press we got was from people approaching us.
What are your goals in the media and the eye of the public?
Matt: What's important to me is for the public to know that this is a restaurant that six months from now we'll have another course in our tasting menu. In one word: evolving. That's something we'll need to convey.
Do you think you've improved as chefs?
Matt: Without a doubt. The managing part of it too. Having that group that come hard and work for you every day. We've attracted so many skilled people, and they've liked our style. We're not authoritative.
What inspires you?
Teague: We're constantly going through food blogs and seeing what all the guys in Europe are doing. There's so much information out there it's crazy: Tokyo, Norway, America, more and more. We know more about these European guys, because that's what trendy in the food blog world. People in LA and South Carolina, that's what I'm hearing about now.
Did the reviews change things here? Kauffman gave you a really nice one.
Matt: There was an immediate bump with all of them. Bon Apppetit, GQ, all of them gave us a little bump.
Teague: Like that night. And then you look at your reservations for Fridays two weeks out and you're like holy shit.
So how long do the bumps last?
Matt: There was the restaurant before the reviews, and the restaurant after the reviews. The bumps spike things, but then you come back to a higher plateau.
That's what I would hope.
Matt: We see a lot of the same faces. One day we realized, we have regulars! That was really cool.
How does the clientele break down?
Carlin: It's almost entirely reservations. 70% local, 30% tourists. A lot of hotel referrals.
Teague: A lot of Swedish.
Matt: A lot of Nordic people.
Carlin: They're really big foodies.
Matt: Yeah some of them are like, we're gonna go to Benu after this. We're like, right on.
Teague: We get a lot of foodie tourists. We always ask them where else they ate. The company that we've been in has surprised us and made us really happy.
Carlin: A lot of chefs come in.
Matt: It's a real honor.
Teague: I'm so stoked all the restaurants that opened a year ago are doing so well, and we're a part of that group. All of these restaurants opened and it was kind of risky and San Francisco could have said no, but San Francisco sort of said yes.
San Francisco was ready. Looking back, what would you do differently?
Teague: I would have tried to hire people faster. We were stubborn for a long time.
Matt: Changes happened much slower. Now the second we see something, we have a support team, so we can move on it very fast. A simple change would've taken a week or a month before. Now it just happens immediately.
Any immediate changes in the works people should know about?
Matt: We have a full-time pastry chef coming.
Teague: His name's Alex Gravito, he just moved here from Boston. He was the pastry chef at...I don't even know. We hired him based on the tasting.
What did he make?
Matt: Chartreuse sorbet, aerated chocolate mousse, raspberries stuffed with olive oil fluid gel
Teague: [Laughing] He's right up our alley.
Matt: totally out there.
Teague: He's got a lot of strengths that we don't have. A lot of classic French things.
Matt: A lot of techniques, molecular gastronomy. It'll be nice to have another person to throw ideas around with.
On another note, how's the wine program coming along?
Carlin: I'm being mentored by a Master Sommelier, Jesse Becker. I'm learning so much. The food and wine pairings have gotten a lot better over the course of the year. My vision is to have a very focused list of classics plus interesting new stuff—things that work well with the food. We have a new storage space so now I can house twice as much wine. It's given us a lot of room to grow. Every month we get five to ten new bottles.
Would you guys ever open another restaurant?
Teague: I think it's probably a few years down the road. We have our eyes out, you know what I'm saying. This place got built up around the space. Whatever we do next won't be a repeat. It'll be unique to whatever space we find.
Last question. What do you eat when you're not working?
Matt: Sushi. I love Ryoko. And the sushi place down the street on Bush.
Carlin: [Laughing] That's trashy sushi.
Teague: I like bad burritos. The Tenderloin is an odd spot for food. There's this one Chinese restaurant that does seven courses of beef that's pretty good. It's on Geary and Leavenworth. I mean, it's seven courses of beef.
Kind of gross, but good?
· All Previous Sons & Daughters Coverage [~ ESF ~]