All photos by Blair Sneddon Photography.
This section is written by Erin Archuleta, half of the talent behind local outfit ICHI Catering, the newly opened ICHI Sushi, and ICHI Lucky Cat Deli (at 331 Cortland in Bernal Heights). For updates, follow @ICHISUSHI on Twitter. Outside of the foodie world, Erin works full-time championing kid literacy at 826 National. Keep up with her @erinarchuleta.
Burnished, scorched bricks create the backdrop for San Francisco’s new fine dining destination, ~TWENTY FIVE LUSK~. Taking over the former Ogden Packing and Provision smokehouse, culinary school best buddies Matthew Dolan (executive chef) and Chad Bourdon (general manager) have come together as managing partners of this tucked-away South Park/China Basin find: a building abundant with character, oodles of space (9,800 square feet!), and a rich story. Peeking in from Townsend—between 3rd and 4th Streets—is an alley with old (by San Francisco standards) architecture and huge windows with light filtering through antique glass to tell you that you’re already on a path to another time, 1917 to be exact.
The two friends had been on a location hunt for quite some time before settling on this antique industrial gem. They had toured 22 properties before it, from the seedy and sad to buildings that were nice first dates but weren’t ready for marriage. When they walked into the old Ogden space the day after it went on the market, they knew that they had found their restaurant. Chad used to live in the neighborhood, and sensed the location’s possibility. They liked its “hidden gem” mentality.
To elevate the space, and diners’ experiences, Matthew and Chad brought in acclaimed architect, and San Francisco Arts Commissioner, Cass Calder Smith and his firm, CCS Architecture. (You might know his work from other restaurants like LuLu, Perbacco, DELICA, or Terzo.) His elegant and organic style combines the warm elements of smoked brick and large Douglas fir timbers with cool, sleek black glass and white Venetian plaster, creating tucked away pockets of space and continual moments of discovery within the building. Since both friends knew they wanted to emphasize fine and private dining, Twenty Five Lusk’s raw space instantly drew them in with its potential for creating intimate dining and lounge areas.
There will be two levels in Twenty Five Lusk. The upper level will be reserved for à la carte dining, showcasing a seasonal contemporary American menu, with a whopping 120 seats! The lower level has been carved out for a variety of private dining opportunities, a 17-seat bar (offering selections from the menu upstairs), along with cozy lounge spaces surrounding two suspended Fireorb fireplace fixtures that will burn clean alcohol-gel. (Think: The Jetsons fireplace you soooo dreamed of having when you were seven, albeit much classier. And, now: with cocktail options!) Plus CCS crafted incredible options for two stories of temperature-controlled wine storage by taking advantage of an old service elevator shaft.
The various private dining configurations available here are the new premieres on the San Francisco dining scene. Nooks from the original smoke rooms make for 15 to 35 seats in the private dining area, and 15 to 60 seats in the semi-private dining area (with sliding fabric partitions), all carved out in Cass Calder Smith’s slick vision that integrates the upstairs with the lower level and plays with angles and vertical space. This custom-created ambiance is a deft opportunity for these guys to show off their polished service skills in a warm space.
Cool tones do get the chance to play up a sense of balance against all of the warmth already existing in the space. For instance, on my visit, there was a team laying 4’ x 24” slate floor tiles, and we discussed how the tabletops will all be ebony. No linens. No, ma’am, no sir. This is San Francisco’s comfortable take on the high life in a congenial atmosphere.
Working with Cass and his team, Matthew and Chad were able to craft a space that fulfilled their fine dining vision: two kitchens (one upstairs and one for the private diners below), and two bars (one for service up top and one for lounging below).
Matthew’s cooked in a number of noted kitchens: New York’s Café des Artistes, Emeril’s flagship restaurant in New Orleans, and he then went on to become chef de cuisine at Ravintola Demo, where he and his crew took a Michelin Star. Most recently, he entered the San Francisco food scene at Garibaldis as executive chef. Now, in carving out his own kitchen, Matthew collaborated with Cass to create a European suite with a U-shaped line where the cooks face each other. One side has a flattop cook surface and the other, a mixed, exposed burner offering up more flexibility in creating the menu. This set-up also ensures that the chef is the last one to touch a dish—insurance that each plate is a match for the original menu’s vision. He also insisted on putting in some of his own dream equipment, like a 40-quart Swiss braiser.
Chad’s career started at the Cranwell Resort in Lennox, Massachusetts, where he led the private dining program and managed the fine dining room. Prior to launching Twenty Five Lusk, he presided as general manager at Farallon. In talking about kitchen and dining room design, both Chad and Matthew agreed that they would have bread warmers, and serve room-softened butter. A large piece of stunning millwork will provide a roomy wait station, and smoked black glass will block the view (and the noise) of the kitchen and the dish room. Furniture will be custom-built for comfort. Pullman-style booths are carved out into the main space, and a “Bruno” chair is featured as homage to Mies van der Rohe’s classic modern original. Overall, the design team is seeking to create a look that’s new and unexpected for San Francisco diners.
Also on the team is wine director Cezar Kusik (well known from his Rubicon days), who will oversee Twenty Five Lusk’s initial wine list of 220 selections; the bar and cocktail concept will be created by bar consultant Michael Musil.
Twenty Five Lusk will make its fine dining mark with a strong friendship based in food and service, showcased in a space that allows us to discover a different dining experience with each visit. The guys’ project, which started back in September of 2007, is slated for completion and will be opening to the public on October 16th. Something tells me that there will be a serious bottle of bubbly popped to mark the start of this new South Park/China Basin destination.