The fanciest dinner party you’ve ever been to

For the second, shortest month of the year, I wanted to try something that didn’t require a daily commitment (unlike my month of veganism). Something that would be memorable, and not require too much advance planning or too much time to execute. Because, frankly: demanding work + three kids (one of whom is still physically dependent on me) = not a ton of time for new things. Later in the year I’ll embark on some challenges that will require more of a time commitment, but for this month, eating out sounded about the right speed.

Also: I promise not all of “my year of 40” will be about food — merely the first two months.

In this month of “landmark Bay Area restaurants,” my hope is that one or more reaches the bar of indelibly memorable. Do you have a mental list of those dining experiences? Those five or ten best meals of all time? For me, they have been not just about the quality of the food (although that’s obviously a requirement), but also about the atmosphere, the sensory experience, the presentation- the complete package.

It’s a high bar, but our first restaurant just may have been up to the task. LazyBear is one of the hottest tickets in town, which normally means I wouldn’t manage to get reservations, not being particularly savvy about these things. But this one sort of fell into my lap: I was at my computer right when tickets went on sale, and I acted quickly.¹

So it was that Graham and I found ourselves last Thursday at an understated venue in the Mission. We were ushered upstairs to enjoy wine, cocktails, or a glass of punch. We were served “snacks” (brought around like hors d’oeuvres, but in presentation, more like a series of amuse-bouches) that hinted at the fanciness and creativity of what was to come. (Below: Shigoku oysters with kiwi and chickweed)IMG_5819After cocktail hour, we were led down the stairs to the main room, a lodge-like space that had two long, communal tables running down the middle, with a busy kitchen at one end. We were instructed where to sit (fourth from the end, on opposite sides of the table). LazyBear really wants you to make friends over dinner.² They call the experience “the modern American dinner party,” and say on their website that they “hope Lazy Bear is the best dinner party you’ve ever attended.” Well, to one side of us was a couple that spoke in Mandarin to each other the whole time. To our other side was a party of four who could barely bring themselves to tell us their names, so wrapped up were they in their own quartet. New friends? Not so much. (Sorry to have failed you, LazyBear.)

The food and the rest of the experience more than made up for our lack of new friends. First, the food. Between the five “snacks” upstairs and the downstairs sit-down meal, we were served a total of 14 courses. All very small plates, all impeccably arranged for visual impact, all representing a harmony of flavors and textures that most humans would never dream up. And they worked, hands down, across the board. IMG_5829

As each course was presented, the chef described it to the whole room. Then we ate it (which, being a small plate, took about 30 seconds).IMG_5821

Between courses you’re encouraged to go watch the chefs in the kitchen and even ask them questions. This was dinner as theater, and it was a ton of fun. IMG_5823

And the food itself: really, extraordinarily good. It was playful, tasty, original, and fresh. Gastronomical whimsy writ large. IMG_5826

The night was an extremely strong start to my month of memorable dining. We walked away with a slew of new taste sensations, visual impressions, and if not any new friends, at least we had each other.

* * * * *

¹+1 for having a #foodies channel on my company’s Slack, and +1 for having a VP Engineering who’s dialed into LazyBear’s ticket release schedule.

²They provide little booklets with descriptions of each dish and room for you to make notes. At the end of the booklet, they write, “Did you sit next to anyone with whom you’d like to keep in touch? Write down their contact info here.” This is plenty cheeky, in the age of ubiquitous smartphones. Also- thanks for rubbing it in, LazyBear, that no, we won’t be keeping in touch with anyone from our table.

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