Opening this Friday November 11th is a very special project, ONSEN, a combination bathhouse and restaurant in the Tenderloin. Owners and husband and wife Sunny Simmons and Caroline Smith took over a former auto shop and transformed it into quite the peaceful destination. Meet your new oasis. It has a Japanese and highly handcrafted aesthetic, with many artistic touches: Sunny is a carpenter/craft builder and Caroline is an artist and acupuncturist. I loved all the personal and crafty touches, and it’s quite apparent how much work and thought went into the space.
The 3,200-square-foot location opens in the restaurant area, which has 20 seats, a beautiful wood bar area, exposed brick, and tables made from old chalkboards. Chef George Meza—previously Oro, Ame, and Urchin Bistrot—will initially be offering dinner service, and his menu has a NorCal seasonal sensibility with Japanese influences and many housemade touches.
I recommend showing up before your bath for a small bite, such as rice porridge with miso kimchi hiding in the bottom of the bowl and a bright pink pickled quail egg ($7), or something light, like daily sashimi with cucumbers and preserved sweet pepper dashi with shiso. Enjoy your bath or treatment, get dressed, and then come back into the restaurant for some skewers off the binchotan grill, like charred artichoke hearts, miso, and seaweed ($7) or the tender braised kakuni lamb ($8) with mustard sauce, which will pair well with the housemade pickle plate ($6).
Additional plates include maitake dumplings soup ($12), with cabbage, bonito, and dill, or warm udon noodles ($12), Brussels sprouts, and egg yolk with trout roe and furikake, both perfect for a cool SF night. The food is as beautiful as it is flavorful—it really adds a unique element to the entire experience. The menu is easy to share, or you can come by for a solo meal—you don’t have to come to the bath, you can just come by for dinner. There are also some creative low-ABV drinks, local and imported sake, and beers. And tea, of course.
As for the rest of the space, there are six rooms where you can schedule healing treatments, from massage to acupuncture to reiki, and the highlight is the eight-person hot soaking pool under a skylight in the former mechanic’s pit (bring your friends!) surrounded by plants and a fun soundtrack in the background. Plus, there’s a redwood dry sauna (wait until you see the embedded Himalayan salt), groovy tiled steam room, and steampunky cold plunge shower.
Something that really struck me during my visit is how well Sunny and Caroline have gotten to know their neighbors. They really care; they aren’t just some callous gentrifiers opening a posh spa in the TL. Quite the opposite. In fact, they will be closed on Tuesdays so they can offer community services, including free acupuncture for veterans and sliding-scale services for neighbors who can’t afford alternative health treatments. They really want people who work in the area, like bartenders, to be able to come in and take care of themselves. This couple really walks the walk, and it’s a pleasure to witness.
Another cool thing: Onsen is going to be open until 1am on Saturdays, woot. Check the site for details on the different days for soaking. Open Wed-Mon 10am-10pm and until 1am on Sat. Dinner (to start) begins service at 5pm, and lunch will launch later. 466 Eddy St. at Hyde, 415-780-4987.
The soaking room at Onsen, with the cold plunge shower to the left. Photo: Raquel Venancio Photography.