As San Francisco slowly returns to its normal self — a place where splashy new restaurants tend to pop open at this time of year and book up fast — we have one new opening to report on in the ground floor of a brand new building at the edge of Hayes Valley. Le Fantastique (22 Franklin Street) is a restaurant and wine bar with a specific and personal point of view, courtesy of Peninsula restaurateurs Robbie and Emily Wilson — and Hoodline reported on its approaching opening back in May.
Bird Dog is known for its elegantly plated seafood crudos, Japanese aesthetic, and fine-dining presentations, and Le Fantastique is a restaurant cut from the same cloth.
Robbie Wilson, who serves as chef, trained with Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller, and Nobu Matsuihisa before taking over the posh Mattei's Tavern near Santa Barbara, where he won numerous accolades. Bird Dog followed in 2016, and while a global pandemic might have held up the San Francisco expansion, Le Fantastique softly opened last week and is already booking up.
Wilson previously explained to the Chronicle that the new spot was inspired by Wilson's friendship with the late sommelier Chris Robles, formerly of the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara. Eating fish with bread, drinking great wine, and listening to records late into the night — these were things they did together, and what informs the concept at Le Fantastique.
Well sourced, interesting white wines — mostly from France — as well as an array of elegant reds are at the heart of the new menu (glasses range from $14 to $20). You'll also find a half-dozen sashimi/crudo dishes — each essentially just a bite per person if there are two of you — and options to order Japanese-style milk bread freshly baked and warmed to order, along with special butters. To start, the options are regular cultured butter, kelp butter, and a terrific aerated butter dip flavored with mussels and tomato jam.
There are several mid-sized warm plates that also tend to the small side — including some tempura prawns and a pate-like dish made with celeriac. And, at the moment, just two entrees — a delicious but spare poached chicken breast that comes essentially a la carte, with a braised leek and chicken-skin "cracklin," and a $59 Wagyu ribeye.
The front area of the restaurant has been kept largely open, with an extended wooden bar for standing that could accommodate at least a dozen or more people for wine and bites. The design incorporates sound baffling in the ceiling that's disguised as part of a gridded lighting scheme, and the soundtrack in the space is all being played on vinyl — though there were no whole albums being played when I was there and I didn't see anyone frantically changing discs between songs, so I'm not clear how the playlist was really working.
There are also a couple of McIntosh stereo components that are on display, and in use.
Vinyl serves as part of the front decor as well, with a small space cordoned off by record shelves with a couple of couches, facing the windows to the street — and creating a cozy lounge space meant more for drinking than eating. It's a unique space, though, especially for a high-ceilinged, new-build space, and with warm-lighting and mellow vibes from a mostly 80s alt-pop soundtrack, it evokes an urbane and decidedly cool mood.
All told, the concept at the moment feels geared more toward casual snacking and sipping than a full meal, even though most people there on Saturday seemed to be there for a full dinner. Putting together a filling meal for two probably requires three to four of the crudos ($10-$12 each), bread, and several other plates including one of the entrees — so the price per person could get steep, also, unless you're just snacking.
That said, the menu is likely to evolve over time. And the bread and wine are especially fantastique.
Le Fantastique - 22 Franklin Street, SF - Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. - Reserve here
Photos by Jay Barmann/SFist