A week before Seth Stowaway was due to open his new restaurant, his very first, the chef was not sleeping. Desperate to finish construction on time, which involved a complete renovation, he had chosen to stay awake all night and til the kitchen himself. When he was finished the next morning, he walked a block and a half through the Mission District of San Francisco to his home, took a shower, and then returned to the restaurant to meet his team.
“You have a chance to do something really, really amazing,” he said of the opening of his inaugural restaurant. “If you want to do something special, specific and unique, you have to build it all. “
“There were times when I was hunched over the dinner table hyperventilating like, why did I do this?” Why didn’t I just reclaim an already built space and paint it? My wife always reminded me that I [have been unsatisfied and] look to do so six months later.
Stowaway’s special, specific and unique project, called Osito, is ambitious. This will be San Francisco’s only 100 percent real-fire restaurant; there are no burners or microwaves in the kitchen, just a wood-burning oven and a fireplace. From this single source of heat, the chef and his team will prepare a tasting menu of 24 plates each evening for a few dozen guests, who will be seated around the same common table. The dishes will change every day.
Osito opens its doors for dinner on Friday December 17th. It offers two chargeable dinners per night, with seating at 5:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., for 26 guests. Tickets are now available on Knock.
Liliana, the restaurant’s sister bar, also opens Friday. Located under the same roof as Osito, Liliana is a 28-seat (non-community) cocktail bar with a more casual menu of snacks also prepared by the fireside.
Even though Osito is Stowaway’s first solo restaurant, it has been a part of Bay Area kitchens for 15 years. He was sous chef to Chief Brandon Jew at Mr. Jiu’s in Chinatown and executive chef of Bar Agricole, winner of the James Beard Award. Osito, or “little bear” in Spanish, comes from the nickname Stowaway’s colleagues gave him. (Think: cheerful cartoon bear, not grizzly.)
“I have cooked with fire my whole life,” Stowaway said. “I’m from South Texas and spent half my time on a ranch cooking outside, and my entire career I’ve just been cooking outside and working in restaurants around. real fire. It’s my favorite way to cook. I love how elegant and delicate fire is and then how out of hand it can get out of hand all of a sudden.
A few years ago, when he got the idea of making a restaurant exclusively on real fire, he started making pop-ups in the Bay Area. In 2020, against all odds, he signed a lease for a permanent location in the Mission district. He assembled his kitchen team and tapped into his vast network of manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, artisans, foragers, suppliers and friends to bring the concept to life.
The Osito dining room is simple but gives the impression of being lived in. Designed by Studio Terpeluk, the walls are clad in light gray Douglas fir. A 29-foot oak table, handcrafted by Yvonne Mouser in Oakland, spans the entire length of the space. The custom chandeliers, made by Kurtis Major, are made from brass tubes and function as an art installation and a source of light, bouncing yellow and orange hues around the room. Reclaimed redwood details accentuate the space. Even the cutlery is made locally.
A few meters from the common table, the chef stands in the open kitchen. It’s dark in there, brooding. Everything is made of iron, wood and soapstone. A large hearth and oven made of steel and brick, custom built by blacksmith Jorgen Harle, is the centerpiece. It is mainly supplied with almond and oak wood.
While fire is the sole source of heat for cooking, Stowaway uses a variety of outdoor equipment and techniques to cook meals. For example, things can be grilled, hung over the coals on an asado cross, oven-roasted, or even sandwiched between two planchas. He likes the challenge.
“I think real creativity is setting parameters for yourself,” he said. “How can I be as creative and conceptual as possible with these limits? This forces a certain intentionality. We have to be very careful with temperature control and fire control. “
The meal will consist of nine rounds of plates and will include snacks, table-sculpted proteins, banchan-style sides, desserts, cocktails and wines. All products are fresh, pickled, fermented or kept in Osito’s pantry.
To give itself even more limits, Stowaway dedicates each menu to a unique inspiration, which will change throughout the year. The meal could revolve around an animal like a whole pig or around a group of things or microclimates, “a specific part of the ecosystem that we think is really great right now.” In February, for example, the dinner will be dedicated to the bounty of the ocean. In spring and at the end of summer, the menu will be all vegetables.
The opening menu, which runs until January, will focus on game birds. He imagines a dish of smoked pheasant breast salumi. The bird will be brined, thinly sliced, marinated in hazelnut oil and garnished with rehydrated fig jam. He also wants to make “poultry silk” the same way he made “pig silk” at Mister Jiu’s. The protein is steamed, cooked in a saucepan with spices and sugar, and paddled until it crumbles into a fluffy, light texture. At Osito, he will use it to garnish a dish with fermented brassicas, candied garlic and anchovies.
“These are how many different ways can we use game birds,” he said. “We use fire, preservation and seasonality as the guiding light. “
Stowaway hopes that for these future menus, he can offer free tickets to the people of the Mission, as he wants to invest in his neighborhood and his supporters as they have invested in him. This includes its staff, guests, farmers, investors, and even its owner, all of whom were intimately involved in the journey. To help float the team on opening night, for example, Stowaway has teamed up with SBMX, a platform that issues small business bonds to the public. Believers could invest in Osito for as little as $ 10. The bonds will be repaid over time, with interest.
“We have been fully funded by our community, by our friends, peers and families, people walking alongside us and helping us get here,” he said. “Everyone participated, helped me lay tiles or sand wood. I don’t see it as negative pressure. It makes you want to do better, to do your best. It is a huge blessing.