Apart from food trucks, pop-up restaurants were all the rage earlier this decade. Full service eateries temporarily operate within the confines of another restaurant, typically during hours the establishment is closed. Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco might be the original restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept, but there have been several more since they first opened in the summer of 2010, including the now closed Kronner Burger and Liho Liho Yacht Club.
The latest semi-permanent pop-up is offered by Kinfolk, a brasserie that takes over 903 Cortland Ave’s American-Japanese lunch spot. This Bernal Heights restaurant is owned by Mutsumi Takehara, who also owns Sandbox Bakery nearby. In late October, after 903 became lunch-only, Kinfolk took over Thursday-Saturday evenings with Chef Greg Lutes and his staff serving modern American fare in a “comfortable, relaxed setting.” Chef Lutes originally moved to the Bay Area about three years ago after serving as an Executive Chef at well reviewed restaurants in Yosemite and Chicago. With extensive experience working under master French chefs like Daniel Bouloud, Chef Lutes has held top toque stints at Waterfront, Skates on the Bay and most recently Lot 7 in the Mission, where we were big fans of his seafood-oriented small plates menu. After a year of serving as a private chef following the closure of Lot 7 about a year ago, Chef Lutes has resurfaced and found a home for his vision with Kinfolk.
With intimate seating for about 25 people, the interior is Japanese influenced with light-colored wooden furniture and a small counter space. We had made reservations, but our table wasn’t quite ready, so we opted to sit at the wall-facing counter, directly across from the very functional kitchen where we could watch the food come out as prepared by Chef Lutes and his assistants:
The wine list is short, but many of the bottles are available by the glass. They offer a wine for just about every taste, with a mostly domestic list that includes some high-end Napa Cabernet Sauvignons such as Silver Oak, Caymus and Opus One. We started with a couple of glasses of Los Alamos’ 2012 Martian Ranch & Vineyard UFOric Albariño which exhibited a fruity aroma with enough minerality on the palate to be very food friendly:
We were really happy to see Chef Lutes bring the Uni Creme Brûlée dish with him from Lot 7. The rich sea urchin flavored custard was decadently topped with more uni, caviar and tobiko fish eggs, adding a great brininess and crunch to each bite:
We had to order the Organic Fried Chicken Thighs served with a Romesco, autumn royal grape agrodolce (an Italian sweet and sour sauce) and micro-greens. We were pleasantly surprised by the spiciness of the perfectly fried crispy and delicious chicken:
We decided to go with the 2010 Bodegas Volver La Mancha Tempranillo from Spain, just one of the three imports available on their wine list, to pair with the rest of our meal. It had a strong berry aroma and palate, but did exhibit a bit of spiciness on the finish:
We are currently in Dungeness crab season, so we almost always order any dish that contains some of the sweet crustacean meat — and the Grilled Yellowtail served with a crab-bean cassoulet did not disappoint. Outside of the collar (Hamachi Kama), this might have been one of the rare occasions that we have eaten the amberjack fish cooked (instead of as sashimi or sushi). Still raw in the center, the perfectly grilled fish was lightly flavored with pistou (garlic, basil, olive oil) and a Buddhas hand-Castelveltrano olive remoulade. It was a very good Provençal-inspired dish that felt light, yet comforting with the bean cassoulet:
We also ordered the Berkshire Pork 4 Ways, represented by a grilled tenderloin, bratwurst sausage, crispy pork belly and rib. We definitely appreciated all of the preparation that went into this excellent winter-comfort dish, which is served with a sweet and slightly sour braised red cabbage and pumpkin gnocchi. The roasted organic hazelnut salsa verde added the right amount of nuttiness, and the fig balsamic drizzle served as great sauce to dip some of the pork in:
As a side dish to go with the pork, we also ordered the lightly charred Brussels Sprouts that were cooked with Hazelnuts and white balsamic vinegar:
We noticed that the very personable Chef Lutes is very much a hands-on chef, cooking and touching every dish, even coming out of the kitchen to spend some time chatting with the diners. The food definitely reflects his extensive background cooking with French and Modernist techniques. The menu changes on a weekly basis, but thankfully the Uni Brûlée and the Fried Chicken seems to be mainstays. He did mention to us that he is looking for a more permanent brick-and-mortar home; but for now, Kinfolk is like a Post-It note, temporarily permanent at 903.
Authentic Chinese-American at Mission Chinese Food (Dec 12, 2012)
Double the Patty, Double the Pleasure at KronnerBurger (Feb 28, 2013)
Get Yourself on the Wait List for Liholiho Yacht Club Now (Jul 27, 2013)