Related Articles: Restaurants, All

Twenty Five Lusk

Worth the Wait

After three years of looming rumors, rigorous planning, and crossed fingers, Twenty Five Lusk is finally open and ready to take on the masses.

The 9,800-square-foot restaurant is quietly tucked away on Lusk Street, a dead-end alley in South Beach. Lusk is the neighborhood's newest dining destination.

Star architect Cass Calder Smith beautifully transformed the space (once home to the Ogden Packing and Provision smokehouse) into a sleek two-level restaurant and lounge that boasts wine-friendly cuisine and refreshing house cocktails.

The original brick facades and historic buildings along Lusk Street scream New York City, which is where Chef Matthew Dolan first flirted with the restaurant world.

At just 14-years-old, Dolan got his start by lying about his age to get a prep cook gig in the suburbs of NYC.

Dolan first met Chad R. Bourdon, co-owner and general manager of Twenty Five Lusk, at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, before reconnecting a few yeas ago here in San Francisco.

In 2007, Bourdon was managing Farallon, while Dolan held the reigns at Garibaldi's, and the two decided to go all in on Twenty Five Lusk. So why the three year gap?

“We were off to a good start, and then city planning threw us a curve ball,” Dolan says. “And then the economy crashed... Every journey has its peaks and its valleys. We're just really excited to have made it through.”

Although it took the team three years to open, the vision was steadfast. Dolan and Bourdon wanted to offer approachable fine dining with fresh, local ingredients and, of course, a hefty bar.

The main dining room is upstairs and has a glassed-in kitchen, original timbers and large windows. The lower level houses the lounge, with dimly lit suspended fireplaces and cozy nooks for small groups. The overall feel is warm and certainly hip — you can imagine a lot of beautiful people filling these rooms, but still, it's not a pretentious space.

The menu is simple: seven starters, eight entrees, seven desserts and eight bar bites. The food is quietly elegant.

“When it gets too creative and too out there, it's hard to give the perfect overall experience,” Dolan says.

He says he first learned to “stop making food something it isn't” while cooking at Topper's at the Wauwinet in Nantucket. You have to “focus on the ingredients to get down to the essence of what you're doing with food,” he says.

At Twenty Five Lusk, this theory rings true. Dolan embraces classic technique with modern, fresh ingredients such as with his Cauliflower Crème Brulee ($12). The dish is a shallow cauliflower custard topped with sunchoke escabeche and truffled wild arugula. The crisp brulee finish cracks beautifully and the sweetness of the custard is well balanced with the earthy bitterness of the greens. It's a nice play for fans of the salty-sweet trend.

Another notable starter is the Grilled Quail ($14), served with ginger carrot puree, caramelized onion, and black pepper quail demi-glace. The quail was nicely cooked and not too boney. The ginger carrot puree was subtle, but gave a lovely fall finish to the dish.

For entrees, the Chef's favorite, Grilled Pork Chop ($26), are a must. The pork chop was juicy and savory and everything a good pork chop should be. The dish comes with crispy bacon bits and brussel sprouts that add a nice mix of textures.

If you're partial to seafood, the Verbena Steamed Halibut ($27), which comes with sea beans, tomato, eggplant and lemon-lobster vinaigrette, is both healthy and delicious. The flavors are perfect and the steaming allows the fish to really glow.

Take a peek at the bar menu, as well, as there's no crossover and a lot of tempting delights. The Soft Pretzel with ale gruyere fondue and pink salt and Petite Maine Lobster Roll are no brainers. You can order the whole bar menu and have your own little tasting for under $40.

When it comes to dessert, Dolan has an interesting approach for a restaurant chef.

“The philosophy is simple: get out as much fat, flour and sugar as you can while still being desert,” he says.

Dessert is a delicate thing — it shouldn't overwhelm your palate, but should leave you very happy. If Chef Dolan's rich yet light Coffee Cheesecake ($10) is really low-fat, then we're blown away.

The food and ambiance at Twenty Five Lusk are up to par. “You put three years into something and it becomes a very personal endeavor,” Dolan says.

We say three years and worth the wait.