On the eve of opening the permanent location of his long-running fine dining pop-up Anomaly SF, chef Mike Lanham recalls some of the crazier moments of those earlier years with a laugh. By Lanham’s account, the wildest thing he ever had to do while running Anomaly SF as a pop-up was cooking a multi-course dinner for 20 people — using only a Breville toaster oven that arrived in the kitchen 90 minutes before service.
Still, the team managed to receive two five-star Yelp reviews from that dinner, Lanham says. “Maybe we have to bring back that toaster,” he jokes. But it is a gift to look back on nearly five years of pop-ups with fondness now that Lanham and his team are finally on the precipice of opening a permanent location in Lower Pac Heights.
It’s been a long trek to this point, including a nearly yearlong buildout of the space at 2600 Sutter Street, not to mention a debilitating accident that started Lanham on this journey in the first place. Before launching his solo project, Lanham was cooking in various kitchens including Spruce and Palo Alto’s Bird Dog. Then he got into an accident that caused a compression fracture in one of his vertebrae. Doctors told him he might not walk again in an attempt to prepare him for the worst, Lanham says, although he ultimately recovered from his injuries. “I made the decision at that point that that was not going to be how my life was going to play out, and that this accident was going to be the start of something more positive than negative,” he says. “So I formed the LLC for Anomaly that day and the rest has been history.”
At Anomaly SF, Lanham and his team make what they call “post-modern American cuisine.” As an English major with a fondness for philosophy and postmodernism, Lanham likes employing modern food techniques such as gels and whipped purees in his cooking — but only when it makes sense. Diners won’t see foams or dry ice on the menu unless it enhances the dish. “We do things because we feel like they’re impactful and meaningful, but at the same time, we try really hard to cook things that you could never even begin to think about cooking at home,” he says. “We want to honor the fact that the guest has taken time out of their life to eat here.”
For the restaurant’s opening, Anomaly SF is serving an 11-course tasting menu, with optional fish or caviar supplements. All of it will incorporate the playfulness and experimentation for which the Anomaly SF team is known, such as a delicata squash egg custard with Asian pear topped with a Champagne sabayon. A crisp tuile covers the cup and the ingredients inside and is then topped with sea urchin, with the tuile meant to be cracked and eaten with the custard. A filet mignon course, dubbed a “throwback” since filet mignon isn’t seen as much anymore, is cooked under pressure with garlic and thyme, and accompanied by a beet millefeuille and roasted celery root puree. Favorites like the dish “An Egg … sort of,” which is Lanham’s play on an egg but made with smoky seaweed dashi potato foam and an egg yolk jam, will also make an appearance on the first menu, titled “Home For the First Time.”
For drinks, Anomaly SF will have a selection of mostly California wines, with most bottles costing under $200, he says. There will also be a substantial selection of nonalcoholic options in the name of inclusion. Lanham also says Anomaly SF will take “basically any dietary restriction under the sun,” another way for the restaurant to be hospitable to guests. “If you and seven of your friends are gonna go out, but one of your friends is vegan, or one of your friends doesn’t eat gluten, who am I to stand in the way of a good time?” he asks.
Lanham takes his role in providing a good night out for customers seriously. After spending nearly five years refining his food through the pop-up, Lanham’s ready to settle into his new restaurant home. Looking back at the dishes he served at the first pop-up versus what he does now, he says those same dishes look different and are better than in their first iterations, thanks to having the time and space to evolve. The way Lanham sees it, Anomaly SF showcases the same ethos as the first pop-up, but more polished and refined and with the benefit of additional talent — and he feels just as strongly now about making a night out at Anomaly SF special as he always has.
“We’re surrounded by a lot of people that are very, very good at this thing,” Lanham says, referencing other San Francisco restaurants. “So we want to cook in such a way that we honor the fact that they’ve chosen to eat here because that’s incredibly meaningful to us. We’re quite flattered.”
Anomaly SF (2600 Sutter Street) debuts Thursday, January 19 and will be open Tuesday through Saturday, with one seating on Tuesdays and two seatings available the rest of the week. Reservations are available via Tock for $121 per person.