With a move to the waterfront, the Exploratorium has been bustling with activity since opening in mid-April. And while the hundreds of exhibits have excited parents and kids alike, the food from Chef Loretta Keller of COCO500 has also been a hit.
SEAGLASS Restaurant is the larger space at the Exploratorium, located within the Fisher Bay Observatory building. The restaurant is open during museum business hours, with late night hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Keller, who also gained acclaim with the launch of the Academy Cafe and Moss Room Restaurant at the California Academy of Sciences, offers a widely varying menu, with influences from across the globe. “But I want to stress, we’re not doing fusion cuisine. Items like our cauliflower salad with miso and sesame dressing is Japanese-oriented. And our Mediterranean green salad is just that, influenced by ingredients and flavors of the Mediterranean,” Keller said. “We offer a wide variety of food with an emphasis on sustainability and using healthy, organic products.”
With the Exploratorium in mind, Keller made the menu kid-friendly, with tacos, quesedillas and pizzas among the items to choose from. There are also different stations set up, so if needed, families can split up into different lines, grabbing sushi, sashimi from one spot while waiting for a salad in another line or turkey sandwich from out of the rotisserie. “It gives groups and families some options,” she said. Keller has also enlisted the help of Sachio Kojima, who previously owned Kabuto Sushi. He is in charge of sushi and sashimi and is also fermenting vegetables and even drinking vinegar.
Keller’s excitement over the space is evident whenever you talk to her – her face lights up at all the different ideas she’s formulating. But one of the main drawing points of developing a pair of restaurants at the Exploratorium was to combine the efforts of the museum with those in the kitchen. That can most readily be seen in her honey station, which was inspired on a trip to Turkey. “Honey is everywhere in Turkey. And I saw some amazing displays showcasing the honeycomb on my trip. So when I got back, I was trying to find a local beekeeper who had a similar type of display. I finally was introduced to Hector Alvarez, who runs Hector’s Honey Farm in Santa Rosa. I’ve learned so much from talking to Hector,” Keller said. “The display and honey is terrific but now, it’s just as important to educate – educate guests about the die off of honey bees and the real peril that population is facing.” So along with the honey display, Keller has posted information about the dire situation for honey bees, some of what she has learned through the process. Eventually, she said she wants the restaurant to be another “learning arm” of the Exploratorium, with information and postings about where products are coming from, the farms and purveyors being used and farming practices. “I love the connection – the water, the tides, what’s growing.”
Previous Coverage: A look at the Exploratorium
The design of SEAGLASS is also meant to tie in to the Exploratorium, from the glass tiles representing different shades of water to the jagged edges of California granite, the Thermal Mixing panels, which show a swirling pattern of what happens when water of two different temperatures mix and the Icy Bodies artwork, which canvasses the glass bar top, featuring a very unique dry ice display.
Along with SEAGLASS, The Exploratorium also has a much smaller cafe, Seismic Joint. Located near the entry to the museum, Keller focuses on seafood, which fills the to-go menu. From clam chowder to fried catfish or even Turkish inspired fish stew, to house made baked goods and salads, the options are quick and easy for visitors. “I think with all of the food options here at the Exploratorium, there’s obviously a focus on the quality of food we’re providing, foods being organic and using sustainable products. But with the volume we are dealing with, I also knew it was important that items could be prepared quickly,” Keller said. “With the size of the building we’re in, I know that many times, our guests are going to want to grab something quick before exploring the rest of the exhibits. So that’s what we’ve set up at opposite ends of the building.”
The Exploratorium is also making use of mobile options served up on its three-wheeled carts or “trikes.” With the ability to move freely to different locations, there will be snacks made available, along with hot and cold beverages. Keller and Operations Manager Clay Reynolds are also focusing on event catering, including the Exploratorium’s popular once-a-month “After Dark” series, which kicks off on Thursday night.
While Keller obviously has a lot on her plate, she loves the location of her newest projects and think it’s just the tip of the iceberg in revitalizing the food scene on The Embarcadero. SEAGLASS and Seismic Joint are located at the Exploratorium at Pier 15 on The Embarcadero.