Chef and Owner Greg Lutes opened up 3rd Cousin in late 2015 in the charming area of Bernal Heights in San Francisco after a successful Kinfolk pop-up series. Though 3rd Cousin has been in business for six years, it wasn’t until the past few years during the pandemic that it became more widely acclaimed.
Previously, Chef Lutes’ cozy restaurant thrived as one of Bernal Heights’ only fine dining options, however, it wasn’t known throughout the city as a go-to upscale dining spot. That all changed when it was named a New Discovery in the latest Michelin Guide for California.
Chef Greg offers a menu of rustic-yet-elegant dishes inspired by, and made from, the bounty of California. Each week he can be found shopping at the local farmer’s markets for the best of the season to incorporate in to his dishes. The menu reflects modern California sensibilities and focuses on ingredients from local markets, farms and producers. With a hyper seasonal menu, exceptional wine list, and intimate, warmly lit setting, it’s become more than just a local’s favorite for a special night out.
The current tasting menu features his signature dish, the Uni Crème Brûleé, which consists of a creamy custard topped with reserve caviar, trout roe and yuzu tobiko; Porcini & Truffle Ravioli with chicken jus and lemon; Lamb Lion with bacon, cabbage, haircot vert and olive and more. Each dish is beautifully presented and can be paired with an incredible glass of wine upon request.
We chatted with Chef and Owner Greg Lutes on his success, restaurant inspiration and more. Here’s what he had to say.
What was peak pandemic like for 3rd Cousin? Have things changed?
We had it rough, like most of our neighbors in the restaurant community. A lot of pivoting, hustling. We made it through. It was very difficult, but through the support of our community it helped a lot. We partnered with SF New Deal, making meals for the homeless and food insecure. We were putting out weekly food orders that I personally delivered in my car. Things picked up again last summer as dining restrictions eased. The inclusion as a “New Discovery” in the Michelin Guide raised our profile.
What’s the inspiration for the menu? It is seasonal and changing?
The menu has a mix of Italian French and Asian inspiration, specifically Japanese and Thai. It changes frequently, I go to the Farmer’s markets every week, it’s informed by what’s peak and good at market and supporting local farms and fisherman. I also consider our customer’s various dietary restrictions in SF. I make a point to have vegan options, vegetarian, gluten free etc. The menu, and tasting menu especially has a focus on luxury high end ingredients.
I often work with my Taiwanese sous chef to work out the dishes for the menu. For example, we wanted something with parsnips, something soft. After many iterations it became a Parsnip mochi dish that people have loved.
What’s the story behind the incredible signature dish, the Uni Crème Brûleé?
It actually happened by mistake, as some of the best things do. It was 2012, I was trying to impress someone I was dating, they came to my pop-up with some friends. I was trying to make an uni flan but it wouldn’t come out of the mold, so instead I just bruleed it and topped with caviar. The dish evolved into what it is now.
The YOLO wine pairs are epic — who comes up with that list and how?
3rd Cousin is a small restaurant and a small team. I am really not just owner and Chef, but the GM, the wine director, the repair man etc! Last year as things began to improve, I invested in some high-end wines I’ve always loved and things I was just really excited about. We put some on our by the glass list using Coravins. Then I thought, “why not make an epic pairing out of them?” We call it the YOLO (you only live once) pairing and it’s slowly gaining some traction.
Stay up-to-date on my food-filled adventures and travels on my Instagram, @cheycheyfromthebay.