Kim Alter stunned San Francisco on April 1 when she launched a new apocalypse-inspired menu.
It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. It was more of a riff on a theme. At her place Night Birdafter all, Alter’s menu still follows the same structure: five larger dishes and five smaller interstitial bites, all governed by the principle of sustainability but also built around an ever-evolving theme.
“In March, it was a women-led menu,” she explains, “so everything came from women-run farms. When we first opened after COVID, it was a reverse menu, and it was all about inversion.
Curiously, the apocalyptic theme started out as a joke, albeit born out of a real struggle. The past few months have been some of the toughest since the height of the pandemic — not just for Alter, but for the hotel community as a whole.
“I think it comes with exhaustion and frustration and so many things that have tormented so many people,” she says. “And I feel – I felt – very uncreative.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back, for Alter, was a sense of disconnect between the city and small businesses like his.
“The last few years have been exhausting trying to protect my property and my staff from issues that have arisen with things that the city of San Francisco isn’t fixing fast enough for me,” she explains. “Whether it’s being robbed three times during the pandemic, the amount of needles and condoms. No matter how hard I tried…throughout the whole pandemic, all I did was try to work with the city, and I was in coalitions, and I hit walls every time .
It was from this deep sense of frustration, however, that Alter set about their new theme.
“I was jokingly talking about doing an ‘end of the world’ menu, and then I started thinking about it,” she says. “How could I create a menu that says something about where we are, not just as a city, but as a human race, but do it in such a way that it wouldn’t offend the people above head and wouldn’t make them super upset?”
This key balance permeates his approach. Its menus, after all, must align with the chosen theme without ever becoming kitschy, marrying seasonality, sustainability and, of course, fun.
“I hope people can enjoy their meal and take away from it that we’re still at breaking point, and we all need to be a little kinder and more aware,” she says. “At the end of the day, I just want something delicious.”
While some of the nods to the apocalypse are overt, others (Hey, goth chicken!) are more subtle. Here are nine details you may have missed on the darkest menu to get to the Bay Area.
1. Dark colors are everywhere on the plate
Aesthetics play a major role in evoking Alter’s apocalyptic theme, with seasonal morels accompanying the filet mignon dish depicting clouds of mushrooms, and a preponderance of deep black hues from starter to dessert. . A devilish cake is made with rich dark cocoa from Alter’s friend, Amy Guittard, while the dish dubbed “Gothic Chicken” begins with a black-skinned Silkie roulade, showing off the dark color in all its glory. It comes with salsify painted with black sesame sauce, charred leek powder and dark purple mustard greens.
“Starting off a little light-hearted, joking around and calling it a goth chicken makes people a little intrigued,” Alter says. “And more likely to try something they couldn’t.”
2. She didn’t keep toxicity in mind.
When undercooked, morels are indeed poisonous, but poisons weren’t on Alter’s mind when creating his menu — at least not this time. “I to have made a pre-Valentine’s Day menu called “Love Kills,” she says. “Each dish had foods that, if not cooked properly, would make you sick or kill you.
3. The plates are fingering you
“[The cake] is on these plates made by Lynn Mahon that look like a galaxy, so we call it Fade to Black,” says Alter. “It actually puts little bumps where you can put your finger under it. And that’s actually his middle finger, because he wants to make sure no one can copy him, so he flips every plate.
4. The soundtrack is thematic – but not all songs made it
“I grew up in a punk scene, and hardcore and punk is definitely what I listen to,” Alter says. “But in the hospitality industry, that side of me is definitely not there. We have a record player in our bar, and everyone’s like — do you just listen to your records? And I’m like…my records wouldn’t really fit the vibe.
But listen carefully, and it turns out that this time, his musical tastes sometimes accompany the meal perfectly, with a soundtrack covering “Zombie” and “Fear the Reaper”, but also The Creeps. “I built the soundtrack, and then we all listened to it and talked about it,” she says, noting that while some additions from her personal library were picked up, “most of the suggestions weren’t appropriate. “.
Rejected songs notably included “Last Caress” by the Misfits.
“I mean…it opens up the debate about murdering babies and raping moms, and I was like…’I don’t know if that…'” she laughs. “One of my favorite songs, but probably not the best thing for a good dinner.
5. To get one of his referrals, you need to know one of Quirk’s worst fears
One of the dishes on the menu includes lobsters accompanied by seasonal beans, peas and a pistachio sauce. It’s verdant and vibrant – barely evocative of the end times.
“You would never think anything remotely apocalyptic when you watch it,” she says. “But I have a fear… like, I hate kill lobsters; I still have. It’s a thing. And all once I kill them, I think, ‘I come back to life as a lobster when I die.’ »
6. Some dishes allude to the cyclical nature of death and rebirth
The first course on the menu, Alter explains, is a dish of white asparagus served with an snail and yuzu beurre blanc. The dish, she says, evokes the way white asparagus must be grown underground, as well as the “symbiosis” between snail and asparagus.
“They come from neighboring farms, so the snails feed on these asparagus,” she says. “So it’s a very springtime dish, but the conversation about rebirth and death and the cycle of life.”
He also talks about his passion for regenerative agriculture and the impact of our food system on the climate.
“That was definitely the first thing I wanted to start with, because without topsoil, without helping farms, and without supporting regenerative agriculture, we’re going to be in trouble 60 years from now,” she says. “It’s not the best conversation at dinner, when someone’s celebrating a birthday, but like, it’s a delicious dish that at the same time you can still have conversations.”
7. The theme even pervades the drink pairings.
Alter partner Ron Boyd came up with several wine pairing ideas for the menu, including one of Unti Vineyards, who, according to Alter, “nearly lost his cellar in one of the fires.” The asparagus dish is then paired with a wine that, for Alter, “honestly has a kind of vibe and smoky notes coming out of it,” listening to the devastation that still threatens local wine regions.
But some of the drink pairings are more playful.
“We have skull ice cream in a cocktail with smoke,” she says. “A kitsch little play on things.”
8. Alter thought a bit about his last meal when creating the dishes
“I tried to hit all the notes that would make most people happy, ending with chocolate and caramel and having beef with really rich morels and truffles,” she says of her picks. . “Honestly, almost every item on the menu would be something that would be quite satisfying, if I were to take my last breath.”
9. The menu doesn’t offer Chef Alter’s dream “last meal” option
“I can’t put an In-and-Out burger on the menu, and I think that’s the last meal I want to eat,” she says. “Grilled cheese with lots of raw onions.”
This article was published in the InsideHook SF newsletter. Join now to learn more about the Bay Area.