San Francisco’s Hayes Valley is filled with little nooks and crannies that offer some of the city’s finest low-key drinking and snacking options, from natural wine bars Fig & Thistle and Birba to the Linden Room’s craft cocktails. A new option is on the horizon, as the veteran restaurateur couple behind Palo Alto’s Bird Dog bring their own vision of the ideal hangout focusing on seafood and wine to the neighborhood. Le Fantastique is a longtime dream of owners Emily and Robbie Wilson, and it’s opening at the end of August (see update, below) with a very distinct vibe.
White wine from France, raw fish, and serious dedication to vinyl is at the heart of Le Fantastique, inspired by the duo’s friendship with fellow wine professional Chris Robles. Before Robles passed away from cancer, the friends dreamt up a restaurant concept to match their specific interests, drinking Champagne and chablis together, listening to records, and wondering why there wasn’t a restaurant that was as fun as their get-togethers. The result is a tribute to that friendship and an extension of the Wilsons’ hospitality.
The core of the menu is raw fish, seasoned and cured in various ways, the Wilsons say. “We’re aging and curing fish, most of it’s still raw, but the things we’re flavoring it with, like grilled ribeye bones, are going to be really exciting,” Robbie says. “Our fabrication room is designed to age the fish, and we’ll be hanging and drying for seven days, and it creates an incredible tasting fish. It’s a lot of hits from the sushi bar, but it is not a sushi bar.”
There will be grilled and fried items as well, like delicately battered and fried shishito peppers and aged wagyu. And, of course, there will be caviar. One of Le Fantastique’s signature items is a miniature eclair topped with smoked onion creme fraiche, banana maple glaze, and topped with caviar.
Bread is also a mainstay, featuring a very specific loaf that Robbie describes as the “marriage of sourdough and shokupan,” the perfect San Francisco mashup, served alongside cultured butter whipped with spicy crab fat and espelette pepper, and seaweed from Marin. Joe Hou (Angler) is leading that charge, as well as the pastry program, which will include fluffy mountains of kakigori for dessert.
As for the wine: There will be lots of it, all of it white, and much of it French. An aggressive by-the-glass selection will be available, allowing multiple pairings and exploration. “There are so many talented winemakers throughout California and the states, but we’re staying true to the origin story,” Robbie says. But also, “It wasn’t about drinking expensive Burgundy.” Expect Champagne and beers from the Savoie, says Wilson, from a clean, aromatic, and not overly expensive list.
Inside, there’s a decidedly midcentury-inspired look, starting with diners’ first sight when they walk in: a 1970s turntable and hand-built McIntosh sound system with oversize speakers and tube amps. “We invested a lot in how we designed the sound in the space,” Robbie says. “And we are focused on music that is made for vinyl and sounds like vinyl. We take inspiration from the listening bars of Tokyo to old, classic music. We wanted diners to be able to hear that crackle of the needle to give that little detail.”
Designed by Studio Ren, the restaurant is a mix of classics and urban artwork, from the leather banquets and marble-topped tables to a graffiti mural that lines the bar. “It’s really simple and clean and comfortable,” says Robbie. “I always refer to it like a nice restaurant in the 11th arrondissement in Paris and a recording studio from the 70s in Los Angeles.” A private listening lounge has been dubbed “the Record Shop,” where guests can have drinks and plates of raw fish while enjoying Robbie’s featured records.
Most of all, the chef and team are ready to see people again, though there’s no such thing as good timing in these uncertain times. “I’m ready to see the energy of the dining room,” Robbie says. “The thing we keep coming back to is that [Le Fantastique] is really is about enjoying life. I can’t wait to have a glass of wine in hand, raw fish, and bread and butter, listening to some amazing tunes.”
Le Fantastique will open in late August. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.
UPDATE: October 14th, 2021, 1:00 p.m.: The owners of Le Fantastique originally told Eater SF they were opening before the end of August, but after many pandemic delays, the restaurant is finally opening on Friday, October 22.