You may have been hearing about this brand new Embarcadero restaurant (I went opening week: 4/5) from Dissident Chef Russell Jackson, whose underground dinners have amassed a loyal following over the years. His long awaited restaurant is already getting buzz about the lack of an official menu (the chef changes menus and direction each day, not only depending on what is fresh but based on inspiration) and about a live web cam where you can watch Lafitte‘s cooking action.
DECOR: Perched on the Bay with Bay Bridge views, the magical, enclosed patio feels Parisian, while the lofty indoor space has seating front and center of the kitchen. Pirate symbols (in keeping with the Jean Lafitte moniker) are subtle. There’s a French revolution theme inherent in the flags but the overall feel is modern, clean, understated.
PHILOSOPHY: Jackson is (happily) not your typical chef. He’s willing to live with ambiguity, or rather, embrace adventure, and runs his team of cooks as a living organism, one that evolves daily and recreates itself along the way. There is so much freedom in this approach… and thus an even greater need for a strong lead to keep this ship steered in the right direction. This approach certainly will not please everyone – and leaves an obvious amount of room for variance. I can see how one meal here could be superior to another based on the whims of the kitchen that day. There’s a good chance we’ll see mixed reviews for that reason alone.
DRINK: Shannon Tucker heads up the bar. Not only has she chosen to use high quality, small batch spirits (like one of my favorites, Death’s Door), but she, in the same spirit as Jackson, can whip up creative concoctions. On the drink menu (there is one of those), Green-Eyed Monster ($12) is a glowing green, herbaceous mix of Hendrick’s Gin, green chartreuse, jalapeno, lemon and sage. Refreshing ginger and smoke dominate in Zapatista ($12) with La Sombra Mezcal, sweet lime, fresh ginger, Bunderberg ginger beer.
Shannon came up with lovely cocktails on the spot for us: a frothy one with Death’s Door white whiskey, kumquat, lemon, agave, egg white, Fee Bros. aromatic bitters. With a Bangers & Mash dish, she paired a Pub Crawl: Old Speckled Hen beer with Antica Formula vermouth and blood orange juice.
The wine list offers only a handful by the glass, but bottle costs are reasonable ($26-148, hovering mostly in the $30-60 range) and conveniently arranged by profile (“Bright & Floral Reds” or “Crisp & Clean Whites”), representing an international selection as well as California wines.
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As you succumb to the spirit of the kitchen that day, you may experience the extreme comfort of eggs and veggies, albeit a fried duck egg over butter-grilled asparagus. Or maybe it will be a plump pork sausage over a silky mound of mashed potatoes in rich duck jus… a playful take on “Bangers and Mash“. Vegetables show up in soups, anchovies on onion tarts, and dessert can hold a welcome touch of salt.
My initial, first dinner experience is that Chef Jackson and the Lafitte team deliver experimentation in the welcoming folds of comfort and freshness. I’m eager to see what shows up on my plate or in my glass when I return. A joyous way to dine and a unique addition to our city’s dining landscape.