When chef-owner Rob Lam closed his Butterfly restaurant on the Embarcadero in 2017 after 15 years, he thought it marked the end of his era in San Francisco.
In fact, his Perle Wine Bar opened to acclaim soon after in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. But when family friends, sisters Lucy and Lily Lieu, asked him to take a look at a building they had just purchased on Clement Street in San Francisco, he fell hard for the first-floor restaurant space.
The result is Lily, which opened in October — yes, smack in the middle of the pandemic. It is the first restaurant for the two sisters, as well as Lam’s first one centered solely on Vietnamese cuisine rather than pan-Asian or French-influenced fare as he’s done in the past. Both he and the Lieu sisters, all of whom hail from Vietnam, want to present the true, bold flavors of their native cuisine without watering them down like they find so many other area restaurants are apt to do.
They invited me to come by recently to try some menu items gratis. While Lam has visions of offering both a la carte and a special family-style dinner once life gets back to normal, right now Lily offers only takeout at lunch and dinner.
The French Dip Pho Bo Banh Mi ($17) is a mash-up of a French Dip sandwich and deconstructed pho — and it is most excellent. A crunchy yet yielding roll is packed with thinly sliced, melt-in-your-mouth, five-spice-scented roast beef, house-made pate, a smear of hoisin for sweetness, pickled daikon and carrots for crunch, and shallot mayo for creaminess. A bowl of pho au jus dipping sauce is definitely made for more than just dunking the sandwich in. You’ll want to take a spoon to this to get every last drop of the broth that’s cooked with beef and chicken bones for 12 hours.
Apologies to Chef Anthony Secviar for my plating skills — or lack thereof — on his sublime takeout food from his Protege restaurant in Palo Alto.
Because, yes, it’s possible to enjoy Michelin-starred food to-go in the comfort of your own home.
And getting takeout does offer an alluring plus: the chance to enjoy one of the restaurant’s “family meal of the week” options. I’ve had the pleasure of dining several times pre-pandemic in the lounge of the restaurant, where an a la carte menu is offered. But before, the only way to indulge in a multi-course progressive meal was to book a table in the intimate dining room for the tasting menu.
The “family meal of the week,” however, is a much less expensive variation with typically about four courses or dishes, including dessert. For instance, the one offered last week, which I got, was $75 per person.
It began with shaved Brussels sprouts salad, the crisp julienned leaves tossed with an almost equal amount of grated cheese, as well as pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and crunchy, salty, porky bits of pancetta for a dish that hit every taste bud.
When shelter-in-place first took hold, I took it to heart, cooking all my meals at home from pantry and freezer ingredients, and from grocery deliveries, so I wouldn’t have to venture out needlessly. But wanting to support my local restaurants, I also bought gift cards and donated to GoFundMe campaigns.
As restrictions have lessened, though, I’ve felt more at ease about getting food to-go. I prefer to pick it up myself rather than going through third-party delivery apps that tack on an extra charge to restaurants. Plus, after listening to a highly informative “The Tim Ferris Show” podcast with guest Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea restaurant in Chicago, I also realized I now needed to use those gift cards pronto. Kokonas, who owned a derivatives trading firm for a decade, explained that while the revenue from gift cards help restaurants in the short-term, they remain a debt on their books. Indeed, the worst-case scenario would be for every well-meaning patron who bought a gift card to descend upon that restaurant the first week it reopened to use them when the establishment had no revenue coming in.
So I’m making a point to use those gift cards I purchased in March for food to-go now, and to even order more beyond the card’s amount to give the establishment an extra boost.
Here’s where I’ve picked-up food in recent weeks, paying my own tab.
If heaven is a warm, eggy custard tart, you’re sure to be in total bliss then when the new Pastelaria Adega opens in downtown San Jose today.
From the team behind the award-winning, fine-dining Portuguese restaurant Adega in the city’s Little Portugal in the Alum Rock district comes a artisanal Portuguese bakery. It is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Last night at a preview party, I had a chance to check out the new spot at at 30 E. Santa Clara St., Suite 130.
As Chef-Owner David Costa, a native of Portugal, says: It’s the type of place you would go to in Lisbon every day for coffee, pastry and bread.