Lawyer-turned-chef David Barzelay has had a wild ride. In 2009, he started hosting a series of underground dinners called Lazy Bear (an anagram of his surname), which quickly blew up, becoming the highest-rated restaurant in the city on Yelp and necessitating a lottery system to handle demand for tickets. Earlier this year, Barzelay snagged the former Hi-Lo BBQ space at 19th and Mission, and tonight, Lazy Bear will open as a full-scale restaurant.
Lazy Bear has joined Coi as the second SF restaurant to use the ticketing system from Alinea/Next restaurateur Nick Kokonas; they're sold for two seatings a night (Thursday-Monday, 6:15 and 8:15 pm), and cost $120 per person, with beverage pairings for an extra $60-80. A 20% service fee is added to the bill, and split equally between the front and back of house. There's also an a la carte list of cocktails, wine, and beer, or you can BYOB for $30 (corkage is free with the purchase of a pairing menu). Sommelier Marie-Louise Friedland (Quince, Uchi) is on hand to pour and help with any wine questions.
The festivities begin in the upstairs mezzanine, where the kitchen serves snacks in a living room-style setting, along with a punch made by bar manager Brandon Presbury (Bartlett Hall, Locanda). These will rotate seasonally, but on our visit included a Shigoku oyster in tomato water consommé, plums stuffed with chicken-liver mousse, and whipped "scrambled" eggs with bacon oil and hot sauce.
As the snacks draw to a close, guests are ushered downstairs to two large communal tables, where they're presented with a notebook-like menu (including a golf pencil, for jotting down notes). Each course is given an oral introduction by one of the cooks before it's served; offerings earlier this week included a chilled lettuce soup with summer squash and a fried anchovy; rice grits with crawfish, cucumber, celery, and purslane; and a smoked round of beef striploin with Sungold tomatoes seared in beef fat and tomato "raisins."
Desserts come from former AQ pastry chef (and Eater Hottest Chef winner) Maya Erickson, with dishes like pluot gelee with ginger curd and sourdough cake with pears and Earl Grey caramel. The meal concludes with small "treats" from Erickson like frozen s'mores and caramelized cookie dough, as well as custom coffee blends from Ritual, served by an on-staff barista.
Lazy Bear's no-longer-underground status has not stanched its popularity one bit; the first two weeks of dinners sold out in an hour, and actually crashed Kokonas' ticketing site. Since the tickets are nonrefundable (but transferable), fans may want to keep an eye on Craigslist and the like for last-minute vacancies. Otherwise, follow Lazy Bear on Twitter to get the jump on new ticket releases.