What is Cow Hollow known for? Brunch, Soulcycle, waxing boutiques, and tony old school establishments like Rose’s, and Balboa Cafe. Now, its getting a dose of new medicine with Little Gem, the gluten- and dairy-free restaurant from a duo of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group alums.
It’s the second location of the restaurant, which first opened its doors in Hayes Valley in late 2015. Eric Lilavois (former chief operating officer of TKRG) and chef-partner Dave Cruz (former chef de cuisine of Ad Hoc) are behind the concept, which was always meant to be a scalable operation. (In fact, more are already in the works, says Lilavois.)
The neighborhood was a huge consideration for Cruz and Lilavois, who say that many of the regulars at their Hayes Valley location are already residents there, or in nearby areas like Pacific Heights. It’s a natural choice for a restaurant whose menu is “all inclusive,” meaning even those with restricted diets will find something to eat there, from dairy- and gluten-free to keto to paleo.
“It’s a healthy, lifestyle conscious neighborhood that we felt we could thrive in,” says Lilavois, noting that there is plenty of opportunity for future retail growth and increased foot traffic along the street.
Having taken over Umami Burger’s location was a plus as well, allowing a quicker buildout by the design team at Studio BBA. The 70-seat restaurant is a bit warmer than the industrial-chic, concrete-laden Grove Street location, which is built into the ground floor of a sleek condo building. Union Street boasts a marble bar, skylights, douglas fir tables and shelves made by chef Cruz, and a small outdoor seating area. And though the dining room’s footprint is roughly the same as the original, Union Street’s space comes with a much larger prep area below, giving Cruz more room to expand the menu.
For fans of Little Gem’s elusive fried chicken, that’s a big deal. The extremely popular and much-missed treat became a quick hit at the restaurant before Lilavois and Cruz made the hard choice to sideline it: The result of not enough storage space or hoods for frying. Now though, the brined thighs will be coated in Cruz’s mix of potato and rice flours, seasoned with gochugaru, and fried to a shattering crisp every day.
Another result of the space is the “LG Pantry,” pantry staples like toasted oat crumble, jams and preservers, seasoned nut and seed mixtures, and more items that diners can grab from a display case and take home.
“We’re open to evolution and listening to what our guests tell us, what they hope for,” says Lilavois. “And if it’s something we can produce well and aligns with what we believe in, we definitely consider those things.”
According to Cruz, that means possibly opening up the menu to include some sheep and goats milk cheeses, and possibly even the use of ghee down the line. And, it means that the restaurant will be full-service at all times, versus Hayes Valley’s counter service at lunch.
There’ll also be wine, beer and kombucha on tap (another new feature), and cocktails built around low ABV spirits like vermouth, plus Culture Counter Coffee, Song tea, and more non-alcoholic drinks.
The restaurant is now open for dinner, with lunch, and weekend brunch on the way. To start, hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m.- 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.- 10 p.m.