At San Francisco’s Lazy Bear, chef David Barzelay makes every night a dinner party. In two seatings a night, 40 guests start the evening in a cozy living-room-like space with cocktails and appetizers, such as duck-confit hushpuppies. Then they are seated at communal tables for a multi-course tasting menu. It’s the kind of meal that invites people to talk to their neighbors and clink glasses. And Barzelay cooks up dishes like rabbit with snails, stinging nettles, and green garlic; and lamb with dates, mustard, farro, blood orange, olives, and garum (fish sauce). Lazy Bear opened in 2014 and won Eater San Francisco’s best new restaurant of the year. In 2015, Lazy Bear received a Michelin star and was named one of Bon Appétit’s Top 50 Restaurants, and in 2016 Barzelay was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef.
Lazy Bear’s fans may have the economic crisis of 2008 to thank for the innovative restaurant. Barzelay, a Tampa, Florida, native who spent as much time cooking for his friends and blogging about food as he did studying when he was at Georgetown Law School, was a practicing attorney who got laid off in 2009. With no job, he fell back on his love for cooking and began working (and learning) around San Francisco restaurants like Nopa and chef Anthony Myint’s Mission Street Food, New York’s Aldea, and Charleston’s McCrady’s, with chef Sean Brock. Meanwhile, he was also putting together an underground restaurant at his apartment.
Eventually, the apartment tasting-menu dinners were in such demand that Barzelay and his wife moved them to a local warehouse and finally decided it was time to open a permanent spot. And the prepaid dinner tickets sell out in a flash when they go on sale once a month. Maybe it’s in Barzelay’s attitude. “Lazy Bear is a response to the church-like reverential quality that fine dining has to it, where people just worship at the altar of the chef,” he told Open Table. “Here we want you to enjoy the meal and have fun, interact and be social, but still have the highest level of food.”