Chef Ravi Kapur, formerly of Boulevard and Prospect, brings his homegrown version of ohana (Hawaiian for 'family') to a pop-up restaurant he is calling Liholiho Yacht Club. The pop-up is happening at Citizen's Band in San Francisco for a total of four Monday nights. I attended the second dinner and there are two more scheduled with a possibility for additional ones in the future. The menu pulls from dishes that Kapur created with his friends in mind: the idea being to bring people together, eat family style, and enjoy each others company—without having to be an 'over-the-top-foodie experience.'
“In Hawaii, everyone seems to cook. It's a function of survival. Cooking isn't intimidating.” Kapur brings the easiness of his native Oahu to his menu, with dishes like tender pulehu beef tongue and smoked tako (octopus) easily shared between friends. Discussing the idea behind the pop-up, Kapur says, “I'm cooking with flavors I grew up with and not having to fit my inspiration into a fine-dining context.”
Though the food intentionally steers away from being 'fine dining,' the decade that Kapur spent as chef de cuisine at Boulevard and then executive chef at Prospect is evident in the dishes' execution: they look simple, but each of them has multiple ingredients that have been lovingly prepared for days before the pop-up: kimchi to accompany the main courses fermenting in the kitchen, three kinds of radishes pickling before being sliced onto appetizers, sugar caramelizing for the short-rib glaze.
Liholiho Yacht Club’s menu is fixed price, with no substitutions, set at $65 per person which includes tax and tip. The price tag might seem hefty, but considering that both the appetizer and the entrée courses include five dishes per person, there are two desserts, and all of the ingredients are high quality, your full belly will thank you after you 'grind'(Hawaiian slang for 'eats').
Sitting down at a cozy table at Citizen's Band, the first noticeable feature is the relaxed atmosphere. Even the servers have warm Hawaiian smiles and Mauna Loa music plays through the speakers. Tables are filled with groups of friends "talking story."
"When I was just on Maui, I was talking story, I mean 'hanging out' (he quickly corrects himself for my Californian ears) with my Uncle George," Kapur said. "He was telling me about how when he was younger, and racing Hobie Cats, he and his friends would throw parties to pay for their supplies. They would go down to the beach and throw a party--fire up the grill, ice down the beer, and get a band to play," reminisces Kapur. "They would charge a modest price--the intention was to make enough money to allow them to do what they loved. They realized they needed a name for their 'organization' and he lived on Liholiho street so decided to name it Liholiho Yacht Club. I loved the name and the idea: to throw a party to allow you to keep doing what you love."
About the future of the pop-up, Kapur says there is "no grand plan, no long term goal," though he expresses admiration for Citizen's Band owner Chris Beerman for "taking care of his neighborhood first," and says one day he hopes to be able to do the same in the neighborhood he's lived in for 15 years: the Mission.
Ravi Kapur hanging with a table of diners at LLYC.
I’d recommend dining at Liholiho with a few friends. Portions are adjusted for smaller parties, but there’s something so inviting about the platters of Asian-influenced Hawaiian soul food. The Korean-style fried quail with a red Fresno chile barbecue sauce is especially noteworthy. The idea of digging into platefuls of soy-date glazed shortribs, fermented-miso sauced Brussels sprouts, and thin, tenderly-grilled beef tongue is even more appealing when you’re with a few friends, washing it all down with several communal bottles of Sapporo or Asahi beer.
The dishes for each course arrived all together, the five dishes took up most of the room on the table. The appetizer course dishes consisted of: small bites of potatoes in a white-miso vinaigrette, finished with steelhead roe and crispy potato skins; cold roasted sunchokes with large, dried nori flakes on a stripe of seaweed "ranch"; spicy clams in a red Thai curry sauce peppered with crispy strips of pig ears and larger chunks of the ear meat floating in the broth; and pungent house-smoked tako, cut nicely by spicy pickled radishes, sesame oil, and plenty of sesame seeds to give the dish a nice crunch that offsets the soft tako.
Don't eat a late lunch before dining at Liholiho Yacht Club, you'll want to save plenty of room for the deep-fried half-quail and the sweetly salty pork ribs. The vegetable sides accompanying the dishes have a fermented tang to them, and everything is self-served over a bed of sticky shiitake rice that's been steamed in a lotus leaf, Chinese-style.
“The food I'm cooking is very personal and influenced strongly by my childhood,” says Kapur on a Sunday afternoon as he brines pig ears that will eventually get thin-sliced and deep-fried to accompany a steaming bowl of clams during the appetizer course. “There's a lot of nostalgia on the menu. Eating smoked tako is one of my earliest food memories. Malasadas...they're everywhere. The ones I looked forward to the most were at the Punahou School carnival... that's the school Obama went to!”