Part R+D kitchen and part sushi speakeasy, Friends Only is sliding into a space on California Street near Larkin in mid-October, bringing ever-changing menus flooded with high-end ingredients to Lower Nob Hill. It’s a “dream project” for chef Ray Lee, the force behind Akiko’s restaurant, one of the most beloved omakase counters in San Francisco’s crowded field. The project was put on hold due to COVID-19 but with things slowly picking back up (delta variant aside), Lee expressed in an email to Eater his excitement to offer up a place where diners can “celebrate life amongst good company, food, and drinks.”
The idea is relatively simple: Every once in a blue moon at Akiko’s, Lee gets to wow his regulars with off-the-menu experiences. Now he’ll get to do it three to four times a week for a small group of 10 diners. For Akiko’s fans, the high-quality and highly seasonal ingredients on show at Friends Only will feel familiar, though the exact menu will change with every visit. Lee has also spent the last decade honing his skills with aging and dry aging techniques, and they’ll be on full display at Friends Only.
As you might have guessed, an ultra exclusive high-end tasting menu won’t come cheap — even if it is for friends only. Expect to pay about $300 for food and an additional $200 for beverage pairings. On the bright side, the single price includes all the ingredients for which you may be used to paying an upcharge, such as wagyu, live crab, truffle, and caviar. And the beverage pairings aren’t an afterthought; the focus is on vintage champagnes and a selection of reserve sakes.
The news of Friends Only comes on the heels of the announcement that Lee’s family-run restaurant Akiko’s, which has been located at 431 Bush Street for more than 30 years, will move in early 2022. The restaurant’s new home is at Avery Lane, a luxury residential high-rise in the East Cut, and will sit at 2,700 square feet, including a 24-seat Chef’s Stage.
Friends Only is expected to open at 1501 California Street in mid-October. Keep an eye on the Friends Only Instagram (@freindsonlysf) for updates.