Robin Song, best known for his days as chef de cuisine at Hog & Rocks, is bursting back onto the San Francisco restaurant scene with Gibson, a live fire-fueled restaurant currently under construction inside the Tenderloin’s Hotel Bijou. Gibson targets a late summer opening, while the Art Deco hotel at Mason and Eddy prepares to undergo its own full remodel.
Song has worked at restaurants like the Bay Wolf, Plum, Serpentine, and Central Kitchen. At Hog & Rocks, he was named an SF Chronicle Rising Star Chef in 2013, and he also served, for a time, as chef de cuisine at neighboring sister restaurant Hi-Lo BBQ, located in the space that now belongs to Lazy Bear.
When song departed Hog & Rocks in 2015, it was with plans to pursue a brick-and-mortar location for Junju, his late-night Korean pop-up project, which has made appearances at restaurants like Mister Jiu’s. But the chef’s efforts to fund a full restaurant, partially through Kickstarter, were unsuccessful.
“Junju is still there, in the back of my mind,” Song admits. “But Gibson was an opportunity to provide something to San Francisco right now.” And, call him a pyro, but he’s always been interested in the “elemental” power of live-fire cooking. That will anchor the restaurant, from a “display kitchen with beautiful tile work” that’s “practically in the dining room.” The Oakland-based firm Mister Important designed the space.
“The rawness of understanding fire and manipulating it as an ingredient, and turning simple vegetables into something more, it’s really never ending,” says Song. “I could play with a small fire and carrots a million different ways, and that exploration is something that’s really exciting for me.” He’ll be playing around with just that, for example, at Cochon555’s Heritage Fire event in Napa later this month.
Song hopes fire will also fuel some excitement for diners. “I don’t want [to provide] a long, drawn-out dining experience — I want someone to get a dozen amazing dishes at a fast cadence.”
Song also says he wants to emphasize affordability and minimize pretense, something that’s clear just from the way he discusses his project. “As this industry continually tries to clarify the idea of California cuisine, of the region, and all that bullshit, we think about what’s quintessentially San Francisco,” a question that led Song to an idea for a sourdough bread course with the bread grilled on the open fire. “When you taste something as simple as sourdough, and you add something as complex as fire to it, that’s really refreshing.” Plus, it’s fun. “You have to eat with your hands,” he adds.
With Gibson, the Hotel Bijou is one of several new and remodeled hotels in the area adding serious culinary firepower. The forthcoming Proper Hotel, for example, has chef Jason Franey attached, and Daniel Patterson is opening an Alta in the new Yotel that’s bound for Market Street.
Stay tuned for more as Gibson approaches its late summer target.