San Francisco is on the bleeding edge of technology, a city where modern advancements are being developed by here, then deployed back into our lives, where an appliance repair is needed every now and then. It’s an industry largely responsible for an economic boom that has flooded our city with capital investment, and where dilution and liquidity form a sea swelling with entrepreneurial activity. Outside of tech, the food industry has clearly been one of the many beneficiaries of this recent wave of prosperity.
Aldous Huxley was once quoted saying, “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means of going backwards.” Though the name of Kris Esqueda’s (Saison, Makris Wine Group, Sons and Daughters) newly opened Huxley restaurant wasn’t inspired by the author, it does share an unwitting link to this idea.
For Esqueda, he’s decided that rather than offer yet another modern, esoteric take on culinary mash-ups, he’d present an approachable take on an older style of American food, exemplified by a menu conscious of small production and site-specific wines with an Old World focus.
Not that Esqueda is at all opposed to technology. In fact, it may be largely responsible for the opportunity to open his handsome 25-seat Tenderloin restaurant (designed by Bon Vivants Design+Build). It’s an area that, outside of deeply rooted Southeast Asian cuisine, has not been a coveted locale for new establishments due to its historically precarious nature. Recently, however, the surging economy and its subsequent impact on the housing market has injected a different type of substance into this part of town, one that Huxley hopes to help define with comfort food in classic forms.
The conceptual vision for the food has been a collective effort that began with Brett Michael Cooper (Rubicon, Outerlands, Aster) who was enlisted to assist with its initial direction. Due to its modest dimensions, he thought to employ basic techniques applied to a condensed version of American cuisine, to be functional while retaining good form. With a restaurant of his own in the works (Aster) in collaboration with Daniel Patterson, Cooper was in no position to shoulder this load by himself.
From the start, Cooper’s interest in Huxley was drawn by the people involved. He believes in the promise that individuals working excitedly together could find success with simple and delicious food that has come to define his cooking.
To help realize this idea, he teamed up with Sara Hauman (Bar Agricole) who he’d been excited to work with, and importantly, as someone he was confident could help execute a shared vision. “She has all the attributes to create a great menu and execute it. She’s a really well rounded chef. She’s got pastry and savory experience, a great palette, and a smart head on her shoulders,” said Cooper.
Hauman, who will run the kitchen, is someone who impressed me from the very get go. Adorned with a beautiful and bold arrangement of ink, her character beyond these guardians reveal a modesty that I’ve joked with her is at times a delusional shyness given her wealth of talent. When first presented with the opportunity Hauman recalls her excitement that evolved quickly into fear. “That sounds kind of scary,” she said with laughter. “I’m shy and not so outgoing. I never really wanted to run my own restaurant. I like my job and I love what I do.”
However, the circumstances of this particular opportunity intrigued her. She’d recently had a resonating experience cooking at a small family-run restaurant in Spain. Invigorated by the connective communal tissue of this establishment and others alike, she wanted a “mom and pop” place of her own someday. “I want to be a part of everything and that can only happen in a smaller environment.” She’d never imagined that it would actually materialize, but once it had, she decided it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass on.
Her instincts in the kitchen are deliciously dialed, and her consistency across dishes is noticeable immediately. She’s someone who simply knows what good tastes like and displays an impressive amount of restraint in her cooking. Her interpretations of classic American fare in a New American form (that she refers to as “Grandma Style”) succeed in their simplicity while possessing plenty of depth to explore and enjoy.
Below, some highlights from a modest and tasteful menu
- House smoked lardo on Jane bread
- Pork meatballs: fantastically rich and rustically constructed.
- Butter beans & leeks: arranged around fried egg, accented by pickled mustard seed, and finished with bottarga – the most decorative and adventurous offering on the menu. Absolutely delicious.
- Warm chicories: salad whose forward bitterness is a nice play with the warm undertones of the garlic confit, anchovy butter, and walnut.
- Slow cooked farro: saturated with earthy mushroom aromatics, accompanied by sweet Medjool dates and textured with hazelnuts.
- Short rib pot pie: A generously portioned pie fit to warm the soul of two or a soulful one. To me, this dish is the best representation of Huxley and what those responsible for its direction hope to convey.
- In addition to the aforementioned cuisine, the wine list will consist of 40-50 selections at any given time, with a predominantly French, Old World style.
According to Aldous Huxley, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” What I know for a fact is that this spot is a legit and welcome new addition to our city. What I don’t know is whether you’re aware of this yourself just yet. If not, I recommend you consider opening that door and perceiving it for yourself soon.
– Franklin James Clary