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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lazy Bear's David Barzelay on His New Restaurant, Ticketing System, and Love for Fast Food

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 2:22 PM

click to enlarge Lazy Bear's Menu allows you to write down notes for each course. I'm more of a doodler than a note-taker, though. - OMAR MAMOON
  • Omar Mamoon
  • Lazy Bear's Menu allows you to write down notes for each course. I'm more of a doodler than a note-taker, though.

Lazy Bear was a pop-up that ran for five years, but as of tonight it will be making its debut as a full-fledged brick-and-mortar with the commencement of its first public dinner service. Lazy Bear uses the same ticketing system as Chicago's Next and Alinea, with only two 40-person seatings per night.  We caught up with Lazy Bear’s chef/owner/anagram David Barzelay yesterday afternoon to chat about the transition, the ticketing system, and his unusual path from attorney to underground chef.

SF Weekly: Congrats on the space. It’s very beautiful. Why did you pick this location? And what other places were you scouting?
Barzelay: We were looking for the right place for three full years. There were a couple near misses, places we thought would work out but didn’t. Like we were looking at a place on 16th/Valencia, currently a grocery store. We were looking at the Ti Couz space … that was two-and-a-half years ago. We looked at a lot of spaces.

So you landed on this space, the old Hi-Lo BBQ?
Yeah so what happened was our brokers said that they wanted to sell, and the guys that owned Hi-Lo named a price, and we said okay. We had been looking for a long time and we had seen a lot of stuff that didn’t really work for us, and this was a nice big grand space that we really loved and it seemed we didn’t have to do too much to it, so we jumped on it.

It feels like the vibe is like you’re sort of going "glamping"  in a cabin that’s furnished by DWR. What was the kind of look and feel you were going for?
We wanted it to be sort of, kinda like a mid-century modern version of a lodge. We have it going, but once we get everything on the walls you’ll see it more.

click to enlarge If DWR furnished a cabin. - OMAR MAMOON
  • Omar Mamoon
  • If DWR furnished a cabin.

Tell me about the paintings and acoustics.
Hi-Lo had this enormous beach mural along the wall, and it had acoustic dampening material behind it. The mural was printed on fabric, so the sound would get absorbed by the acoustic material… So we separated it in effect into thirds, and had a local artist draw a ton of little drawings that are going to get patterned on each of the three pieces.

click to enlarge Three fabric prints from a local artist will soon be installed over these sound-dampening boards. - OMAR MAMOON
  • Omar Mamoon
  • Three fabric prints from a local artist will soon be installed over these sound-dampening boards.

Tell me about your coffee program.
We partnered with Ritual to come up with a really amazing coffee program

Why Ritual and not Blue Bottle or Sightglass?
So I love Blue Bottle and Sightglass and Four Barrel, but I think Ritual is a little step above in terms of the quality. Blue Bottle is amazing for things like blends that are more consistent throughout the year, and you could probably do better home-brewed espressos and coffees with Blue Bottle. But when you have the capability to really control things precisely and to have professionals to make it for you, Ritual is just unparalleled probably throughout the country…

Part of the appeal of the program for us was that they offered to do a custom roast for us each season... We got a really badass espresso machine. It’s actually probably the most expensive piece of equipment we purchased.

Now that you have a restaurant, what has changed in terms of food and format?
We’re going for a higher level of refinement, we’re able to control all the variables. The biggest strides are in front of house in terms of service and experience. Now we’re slightly less understaffed. We have the upstairs now and give people a sort of cocktail hour to start with and snacks. We’re still playing with the exact way we operate that.

What’s been the most difficult part of the transition?
Opening a restaurant takes such an incredible amount of time that I’m spending all of my time doing administrative things and making decisions about the space and all of that and I’ve had almost no time to cook. My sous chefs have really stepped up and are leading things

Can you tell me about your sous chefs? Who they are and where did they come from?
We have two sous chefs. Jared Ferguson, the executive sous chef who was previously at Sons & Daughters and Sweet Woodruff, and before that he lived in Austin and was at Uchi. He’s been working w/ me for two years and is just a badass. There’s Matt Cruz, he was at State Bird Provisions and previously lived in LA and was in a lot of LA restaurants.

How much of the menu is you versus them?
I typically come up with the initial concepts on 90 percent of the dishes but we rely very heavily on our sous chefs to flush those out as well as our cook’s feedback... The whole team really contributes.

You kind of come from a non-traditional background. You didn’t go to culinary school. Can you tell me about your route and how you got where you are now?
I used to be an attorney and I just got really into cooking during law school. I was holding bigger and bigger dinner parties at my house and I certainly realized I eventually wanted to get into the restaurant industry. But I already had all these law school loans so it seemed prudent to finish out law school and work as a lawyer for a while.

I moved out here in 2008 for eight months, got laid off in April 2009, and got a really great severance package, and since the job market sucked nothing sounded more fun to me than staging at restaurants. I started staging at Nopa and at Mission Street Food … I was a guest chef a couple times, and I started an underground restaurant just for fun, not intending for it to be a career. I started having people over, friends and strangers, and they came over to my apartment. My wife would do all the serving and I’d do all the cooking. We’d put all the dirty dishes in the bedroom because I didn’t have time to do them during dinner.

Eventually it just seemed more and more that it didn’t really matter if it was financially viable, I would make it work. It was just the thing I had to do. And that's what it really came down to, I feel like I never really decided “I’m gonna do this.” I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t not do it.

Let’s talk about ticketing. You had a ticket mishap, those things happen with new technology — I don't want to get into that. But do you see this as the system of the future?
I know that Nick Kokonos [co-owner of Alinea] who owns this system thinks that this kind of ticketing system is great, he has a bit of an agenda to encourage restaurants to use this understandably. And I do think that it's great for a lot of restaurants, but it’s not a great system for lot of other restaurants. It definitely makes sense for us. There are many different reasons for it ... For us it’s an assurance that the dining room will be more-or-less full.

What’re the rates compared to OpenTable?
We pay a lot less compared to OpenTable. It’s probably about one-sixth as much as we’d be paying them.

Which chefs inspire you?
I really love what Grant Achatz does and continues doing. He just really pushes and thinks critically about every aspect of the dining experience. I really love that. … I love what Sean Brock does, just his focus on ingredients and flavors and preserving old flavors. Which is something that means a lot to me because I think a lot of our cuisine has to do with teasing out and presenting in new ways things that are nostalgic and integral to the American experience.

For example?
On our opening menu we have a chilled lettuce soup that is kind of a play on Ceasar salad. What it’s really about is taking Caesar salad and making it about really amazing lettuce instead of about Caesar dressing. We really wanted to highlight the flavor of the lettuce because we’ve all had romaine and little gems a bunch of times but it’s really not a flavor we are paying attention to when we have it in salads. So we make it into a soup, which highlights the flavor and calls to mind something nostalgic, but also enriches our understanding of what that dish is by highlighting an amazing local product like little gem lettuces.

click to enlarge Caesar Salad as a Soup. - OMAR MAMOON
  • Omar Mamoon
  • Caesar Salad as a Soup.

How often will you be changing your menus?
Pretty much every month.

Where do you like to eat in S.F. when you’re not in the restaurant?
There are so many great places. I really love NOPA, Locanda, Koi Palace is amazing. R & G Lounge, Mission Chinese.

If you want something really quick where do you go?
Hmmm… Ler Ros Thai is awesome, Super Duper, 4505, their hot links are incredible. McDonald’s. I fucking love McDonald’s.

Sure, McDonald’s is great. I have one rule: Breakfast at airports. Those are my constraints.
Oh yeah? I love McDonald’s. I love Popeye's. Those kind of American institutions are vastly underrated ... I think those things are delicious.

Favorite comfort food?
Roast chicken with gravy. It’s really more about the gravy than it is about the chicken, though I make a mean roast chicken.

Tacos or burritos?

Which is the best burrito in America?
I don’t know about America. My go-to is Taqueria Cancun, and I’m super-excited to have opened a restaurant 20 steps away from their door.

 You’re opening tomorrow. It’s sold out. Can people still get tickets for upcoming dinners?
There are no tickets available, we sold out the first two weeks. And that’s all we put up. We’ll shortly be releasing a few more and in a week or so, we’ll release another two weeks worth of tickets, and then after that we want to go a month at a time.

Last question: What’s after Lazy Bear?
Well we’re focused on this right now, there are certainly other concepts that I’d love to eventually open…I really want to do is just a San Francisco seafood restaurant… I want to is something that takes into account that Hong Kong style seafood restaurant that is so amazing in San Francisco but do it through a very American sensibility and lens. Having live seafood tanks at the front and utilizing amazing local seafood.

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Omar Mamoon

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