Adding to the city’s growing "fine casual" scene, Little Gem is hitting Hayes Valley tomorrow with a counter-service menu of food that’s gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free. Brought to the neighborhood by owner Eric Lilavois (former COO at the Thomas Keller Group) and chef Dave Cruz (Ad Hoc), Little Gem aims to feed everyone with any sort of food allergy, which includes Lilavois himself — he came up with the idea for Little Gem while having to pass on much of the food served at a dinner party. That evolved to creating a casual place where many could eat what fits their life. "We intended to raise the bar, the expectation of what it means to dine at a counter service restaurant," Lilavois told Eater. "Our idea is to be able to bring access to quality produce at an accessible price point to people that don't otherwise get that access."
Cruz created all-organic breakfast, lunch, dinner and kids’ menus that give diners the freedom to create meals from eggs, soups, salads, wraps and meats with sides that fit their dietary needs — and Cruz employs creative techniques like substituting pureed caramelized onion for butter to add gloss and velvety mouthfeel to sauces. There’s also a smoothie, coffee and tea bar with Counter Culture Coffee and pour-over Song tea.
The 2,000-square-foot, 75-seat space has floor-to-ceiling windows and thoughtful, local touches like Douglas-Fir wood chairs made by Treasure Island-based Four Quarter, Oregon subway tile in the bathroom and an elm wood bar cut from one tree. Much of the cement walls is left untouched, with contractor marks still visible, which Lilavois said was an intentional choice for the restaurant's organic feel. For now, Little Gem is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., but will expand to breakfast and lunch service soon.