LihoLiho Yacht Club
"Do you guys want some of this caviar?" Xenia (TNC's graphic designer and my sister) and I offered the couple next to us. We had just ordered the dish along with our island-inspired cocktails at the bar of LihoLiho Yacht Club in San Francisco's Tendernob neighborhood. The super cool pair were sharing one stool next to us when a cancellation opened up a table for them - something that doesn't always happen in this reservations-recommended restaurant. I insisted on quickly prepping a few pieces of perfectly toasted furikake brioche with french onion spread and caviar to take to their table. They looked at us hesitantly. We assured them, "Seriously, you guys should try this."
The portions are generous at LihoLiho, but it's the here-to-chillax vibe that made us want to chat and share with strangers. Gemma and Andrew Ingalls are talented photographers who are married and work together and one just instantly wants to be them or friends with them or at least have their Instagram feed. And LihoLiho is so the perfect spot to meet people like that; and people in general with whom you can share the eclectic food. We also chatted with Claire, the girl writing this book, who took the Ingalls's spot at the bar. She also happily accepted some of our caviar starter. I mean, how could anyone say no?
Earlier that day, we met with Chef Ravi Kapur, owner of LihoLiho, to talk about his cooking style and how Tsar Nicoulai Caviar fits into it. Despite the tiled Aloha greeting at its entrance, LihoLiho should not be branded a Hawaiian restaurant. The dishes are inspired by Kapur's memories and flavors of childhood, of cooking, and of life. As you can read in many glowing articles of the chef and his restaurant, it is a beautiful ode to his uncles' own LihoLiho Yacht Club back home in Hawaii - a neighborhood beach party that was put together to fund a hobby and to have a seriously good time with friends. It's something you always wish you could just do, and when you eat at LihoLiho it kind of feels like you get to. Just like the food on your plate makes you feel part of whatever memory led Chef Ravi to create it.
The furikake brioche served with French onion spread and one of two choices of an entire jar of caviar is a throw back to Kapur's time at the Boulevard, where his boss would treat the staff to caviar on New Year's Eve. They didn't just get a spoonful - it was a thick, satisfying layer on toast. Kapur easily could have served the brioche already slathered with the spread and topped with a bit of caviar but where is the fun in that? The whole point is for the guest to dive in to this memory and re-live it. Nothing less than the jar of caviar could do that. Downstairs in Louie's Gen-Gen Room, a choice of Tsar Nicoulai Trout Roe or Estate Caviar is served in a layered French onion dip with eggs and chives and a heaping pile of potato chips.
It's important to Chef Ravi not to just have a Hawaiian or Asian or Indian version of whatever popular dish everyone is serving right now. That is definitely not something you will find on the menu at LihoLiho. The dishes are original and belong in their own category of awesome. The embrace a vibrant mix of ethnicity, technique and flavor. My sister and I also shared a salad with iceberg wedge, shiso ranch, beets and mind-blowingly good furikake crunch. I am positive that both of us spent the entire evening trying to discreetly eat more than half of "those crunchy things" while the other wasn't looking.
above photo: LihoLiho Yacht Club Instagram
A beautiful, blown up photograph of Kapur's smiling mother welcomes you when you enter the restaurant. Her warmth sets the tone for your entire meal. Relaxing you into an amazing meal fueled by Chef Ravi's memories and inspiring your own.
Make a reservation ASAP! http://liholihoyachtclub.com/reservations
LihoLiho Yacht Club is located at 871 Sutter St in San Francisco (between Jones and Leavenworth). They are open Monday thru Thursday from 5pm to 10:30pm, Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 11pm, and are closed Sundays.