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January 29, 2015

What You Should Expect at San Francisco's Newest Restaurant: Liholiho Yacht Club

Walking through the gate at the soon-to-open Liholiho Yacht Club, the first thing one notices is the word Aloha in blue tile on the floor, embedded in the penny tile entrance. It definitely sets the tone for this place, one that has such heart and family at its core. Chef-partner Ravi Kapur is opening this exceedingly personal restaurant, partnering with longtime friends Allyson Jossel and Jeff Hanak of Nopa and Nopalito, who are both San Francisco natives. They are all seasoned pros, deeply entrenched in our restaurant scene and local community. And everything went as planned, finally opening the doors and hosting happy diners for dinner and drinks.

It’s an airy, welcoming and cheerful space, such a long way from the empty room first reported on back in July of last year. The space dates back to 1916 and was a market from the 1930s until its brand-new incarnation as a restaurant.

There are three dining areas, with 80 seats in all. The front room has high ceilings with two skylights over the bar made of cold-rolled blackened steel (by Ferrous), with 10 seats, and four at the lower ADA counter. The floor is laid with blue three-tone Moroccan cement honeycomb hex tile, and the spacious two-top booths of raw sugar pine could actually fit four good friends willing to cozy up together, which is kind of the point here. The front bar area will be no reservations, so there’s room for people to mingle, drink and eat, including a standing ledge. (It’s worth noting a lot of soundproofing and acoustic treatments were installed throughout the space to manage the potential din.)

As you look at the communal table with the modern cord-and-metal chandelier above (by Brendan Ravenhill), the dove gray plaster walls, the three-legged steel stools with contoured wood seats (also by Brendan Ravenhill), you realize how bright and fresh and clean it all feels. Nothing is reclaimed, except for the exposed brick walls, really—otherwise it’s all new and looks crisp and neat. Architect Brett Terpeluk has done an excellent job.

In the center of the space is the bright and open kitchen, outfitted in mustard yellow tile by Fireclay, creating a warm and friendly glow. Just across the kitchen along the wall are larger booths (that seat four to six), also in pine, eventually extending into two-tops toward the back, with vintage school chairs, oak floors, and more pine tables with banquette seating along the left. The pendant lights have a copper trim on them and the mirrored-top bulbs help create a soft light. The windows in the back look out onto a backyard, which will eventually be landscaped, and the tree will be all lit up, but it won’t be a space where guests can mingle. Below, there will eventually be a private dining room and private bar, with room for 18–24.

Ravi will be joined in the kitchen by his longtime right-hand woman, chef de cuisine Nana Guardia, who has been working with him for almost nine years; Penelope Lau (Craftsman + Wolves, Jane) is the pastry chef. Since the crew just got into their kitchen for the first time on Friday, things are definitely in development at the moment, so there’s no menu or dishes to really share right now, but some photographs on the LYC Instagram page should give some hints. When talking about the style of food to expect at Liholiho, Ravi said it’s about being delicious and fun and vibrant, and it will be easy to share, but also fine to just have on your own too.

Anyone who attended the Liholiho Yacht Club pop-ups over the past couple of years will have a sense of Kapur’s freestyle cuisine that defies definition (this was explored in a piece for 7x7), one that is rooted in his Hawaiian heritage, which also integrates migratory elements from India and China (his grandmother, a great cook, was Chinese). And then there’s his love of Northern California produce and ingredients, which was explored deeply in his eight years at Boulevard and then Prospect. There is lots of excitement to crack into this next chapter of Ravi’s cuisine. For now, we’ll just have to sit tight and wait and see what’s in the table of contents.

While Kevin Diedrich was originally slated to be the bar manager, he left the project earlier this year. Overseeing the bar is Nopa and Nopalito’s Yanni Kehagiaras, who will be creating 8–10 original cocktails, but to be clear, these will not be heavily garnished tiki drinks. The bar will have a well-curated selection of spirits, with some special Japanese whiskies.

The word hospitality kept coming up in conversations with the team. Jossel and Hanak will be working with GM Rachele Shafai (A16) to help create a warm service style that will be an extension of the kitchen’s aloha spirit. Also from the Nopa family, Lulu McAllister is overseeing the wine selection, dividing the menu into “Old Friends” and “New Friends.” Old Friends will include some classic varieties and international wines, while New Friends will feature some eccentric or newer winemakers; you could find a chardonnay under New Friends, but it would be from a new producer. There will be 10–12 wines by the glass, with 75–80 bottle selections. There will additionally be a strong focus on sake (all available by the glass), with a strong selection of beer (eight on tap) and by the bottle.

The Lower Nob Hill address feels ideal for this very San Franciscan restaurant, which is located in such a uniquely San Franciscan neighborhood. Excited neighbors keep passing by to peek in, with many giving a thumbs-up and a smile. Dinner will be served nightly until 10-11 p.m.or so. Expect an update with final details right around opening time. 

Liholiho Yacht Club
871 Sutter St. at Leavenworth, 415-440-5446.  

Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column about the SF dining scene, subscribe for free at www.tablehopper.com. Out now is her first book, The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion, a groundbreaking new style of guidebook. And check out her new app, Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats, which highlights 95 SF spots serving food past 11pm!

Photo via Liholiho Yacht Club Facebook Page

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