In June, Little Gem, a new restaurant focusing on food that's dairy-, gluten- and refined sugar-free, announced it would open in Hayes Valley this November. Now Dave Cruz (formerly of Ad Hoc), who is both a partner in the restaurant and the chef, is sharing some more details about what inspired him to join the team and what diners can expect from the 75+ seat counter-service restaurant.
The menu at Little Gem is all about quick, farm-focused California cuisine featuring the region's best seasonal produce, meat and fish. Cruz said the impetus for keeping the food free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar came from founder Eric Lilavois (formerly the chief operating officer of the Thomas Keller Group), who has several intolerances and became "that guy" who had to ask for other options when he went out to eat. Little Gem is his answer to that problem.
Because Ad Hoc has a set menu, Cruz was already creating delicious food that could accommodate almost everyone, which made him a perfect fit for the Little Gem concept. "I'm excited to make food where no one has to feel left out," he said, explaining that his approach is not to try to find substitutions for gluten, dairy and refined sugar, but to create dishes that taste great without them. "It's not about leaving out ingredients or elements; it's about finding something that tastes really good and is worth a story. The sourcing of ingredients is important; great flavors are important. We want to create food that fits in with people's lifestyles and what's important to them," he explained
Little Gem will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and though the menus aren't finalized, Cruz provided a sense of what diners can expect. For breakfast, he's excited about the Braised Hayes, a dish with two poached eggs over braised Swiss chard with an almond bacon crumble over top. Lunch will consist of a selection of "wraps" filled with ingredients like vegetables, slow cooked pork shoulder and pulled chicken, all of which will come in vessels like a "non" flatbread (yeasted dough, but no gluten), tapioca crepe or Ethiopian teff wrap. And as a self-proclaimed "vegetable geek," Cruz will give diners a chance to create their own dish combining a selection of vegetables with things like chickpea lentil stew or quinoa with olives and almonds. Meat eaters will be able to top that with proteins like California-raised beef flatiron or king salmon. Desserts will include options like chocolate pudding with sea salt or a lemon custard topped with sweetened flax crumbles and a seasonal glazed fruit.
Cruz is aiming for an "approachable" space where neighbors can stop in to grab a Song tea or Counter Culture coffee in the morning. There will also be wine and beer, not all of which will necessarily be gluten free. "We're looking for the best options for what the restaurant is about," Cruz says. "If it's a good beverage, we'll serve it."
Stay tuned for updates closer to Little Gem's November opening.