25 Lusk Chef Matthew Dolan Talks About Life With Emeril, and Cooking in Finland

A rendering of the lounge area by architects Cass Calder Smith. Photos coming soon.
A rendering of the lounge area by architects Cass Calder Smith. Photos coming soon. Photo: Cass Calder Smith

The newest SoMa restaurant to hit the scene is 25 Lusk, opening Saturday in a previously industrial space on an alley between 3rd and 4th Streets (off of Townsend). We first heard about the project in June, but as chef-partner Matthew Dolan tells us today, this dream has been three years in the making, and is yet another story of a large restaurant that got waylaid by the Great Recession, only to open in this jam-packed year that has been 2010. They’re aiming for “approachable fine dining” in the massive, 120-seater, and they’re hoping that both their price point and the new residential neighborhood they’re in will be a recipe for success.

Grub Street grabbed a few minutes with Chef Dolan, as he prepared for a big opening event tomorrow, and the public opening this weekend.

First off, what was it like working for Emeril?
Matthew Dolan: I only got a taste of Emeril toward the beginning of his fame, working at his flagship in New Orleans. He’s a tough guy in the kitchen. He won the James Beard award and he won it for a reason. He’s a consummate professional, even though he kind of let loose a little on television. I saw less and less of him as time went on. He takes care of his people, and he’s a chef deep down, even though he’s a celebrity for the most part now.

And what’s this about you working in Finland?

Randomly I knew a guy opening a restaurant in Finland. They opened, and realized they needed some help, and they called me, so I went for a bit. And then I came back, but they called back a while later to have me take over the place after it became so successful that they were opening a second restaurant. I really liked it over there. It was really a test - can you really adapt anywhere? Apart from some cultural idiosyncrasies it was a great place for me - and I love the local products too, the berries, these fish names I still can’t even pronounce. But the best way to improve is to go somewhere outside of your comfort zone, and that’s what Finland was for me.

Where are you from originally?
Originally from Connecticut, close to New York. I started my career at Café Des Artistes and I staged at L’Espinasse - that’s where I got my first taste of the serious chef world.

Where did the idea for 25 Lusk start?
I can’t actually believe we’re finally opening, this weekend… Three years ago we started looking for a space and the economy did what it did - but then we finally found the space, and once you see it you’ll understand. All the differences in the materials, the brick, these massive Douglas fir timbers – and the architects, Cass Calder Smith really got the space right away. And it’s becoming a really great neighborhood over here with a lot of stuff coming up in the future. It just felt like the perfect spot for a new restaurant.

What’s the overall concept?
Approachable fine dining - we’re taking all the steps of fine service and making it more affordable and approachable, but still keeping up the beauty and class of a fine dining experience. The concept of the food is seasonal-driven New American with classical French roots.

Tell us about a few menu items.
In the category of first courses: There’s a braised pork cheek terrine, served warm with a roasted apple compote and spiced cider reduction. That’s a fun one. We also have a lobster ravioli with saffron-lobster nage - it’s a classical preparation that’s kind of like a very dynamic broth - and it’s finished with shaved Thai basil. We’re also pretty excited about the grilled top sirloin of lamb with cumin-scented baby carrots and apple-mint demi-glace.

What about the cocktail and wine programs?
The cocktail program is being driven by Michael Musil who opened the bars at Farallon and Boulevard. The program is expertly made classic cocktails and seasonally driven signature cocktails. And the wine director Cezar Kusik is creating an international wine list that should appeal to everyone, and it touches on every major wine-making region of the world.

What do you like best about being back in San Francisco?
Everything… San Francisco’s the perfect balance of everything I look for. The environment is positive, being close to wine country and all this produce. You get spoiled here easily, but after living in Northern climates, in New York and in Finland, you really come to appreciate the quality of everything here even more. The tomatoes alone…

25 Lusk - 25 Lusk, between 3rd and 4th Streets, near Townsend - 415.495.LUSK - Opening Saturday, October 16, for dinner. Reservations here.

Earlier: Coming Soon to South Beach: 25 Lusk [Grub Street]
Rendered: Cass Calder Smith’s new project, 25 Lusk [Scoop]

25 Lusk Chef Matthew Dolan Talks About Life With Emeril, and Cooking in Finland