If you haven’t come across a 100 percent live fire restaurant, you’re not alone. They’re not very common and quite difficult to do well. That said, San Francisco-based Chef Seth Stowaway has managed to open one up successfully and amidst a pandemic. Osito is the city’s only 100 percent live fire and fine dining experience, located in the heart of the Mission District.
The food at Osito is inspired by his time growing up in Texas and living in the Mission District. Chef Stowaway’s menus at Osito draw inspiration from the flavors around him, as well as his childhood in Texas, what he experiences in San Francisco’s Mission District, and the bounty of Northern California.
The restaurant is a warm, welcoming space decked out in sustainably harvested, unfinished sugar pine, wood tones and brass accents. Communal seating at one, large handmade wooden table by Yvonne Mouser makes dining here intimate and cozy, giving guests the opportunity to connect and chat throughout the 15-course dining experience.
Osito is Chef Stowaway’s inaugural restaurant, however, he has an esteemed 15-year culinary background based in the Bay Area. He has worked as Chef Brandon Jew’s sous chef and also as executive chef of Bay Agricole Group. The name “Osito” means “little bear,” a nickname of the chef from his colleagues.
Every single item is cooked over a live fire and ingredients are sourced thoughtfully and meticulously from local purveyors and farmers. The open kitchen allows guests to watch in awe as their food is carefully prepared over the open flame.
The menu at Osito changes seasonally, focusing on one inspiration and the best produce of the day. Nightly, guests are greeted with a seasonal cocktail from Osito’s beverage director Jon Prange or wine hand chosen by Osito’s Wine Director, Maz Naba. The evening begins with fresh vegetables from local farmers and purveyors and continues with a protein that is presented and carved counter-side, served with bonchon and other accouterments. A dessert and cheese course with coffee, tea, brandy and schnapps concludes the meal, and guests are sent home with housemade candies crafted by Osito’s pastry chef Diana Ortega.
We chatted with Chef Seth Stowaway on the inspiration behind Osito, the menu and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Are 100% live fire restaurants common? Where did this concept come from and why did you choose to bring it to SF?
They are not. Lots of people use fire, but no one really commits to only fire. It’s too difficult. You have to think about everything you do with more precision, keeping the temperatures consistent. I wanted to do it in San Francisco because this is my home, it’s where we are raising our family and where our community is.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for the menu? How about the beverage menu?
I draw inspiration from memory, the terroir of Northern California and time spent with mentors such as Brandon Jew.
Is there a reason you chose communal fine dining? Most fine dining spots don’t do that, what do you think it brings to the experience?
We chose communal dining because we want to encourage community, meeting people. Having a shared experience. There are plenty of places you can go for an evening that is private and lends to everyone staying in their small groups, but we want to invite guests to make new friends.
How much more difficult does having to cook everything over an open fire make running your restaurant?
I don’t know if it’s more difficult, but you definitely have to be more precise and aware.
How has the pandemic affected your plans and what was the process like to finally get Osito up and running?
It took a long time to get open. So many supply chain delays and shut downs. It was also crazy raising money for a restaurant while the world and our industry was on hold.
Talk about the upcoming menus. What are the stand-outs and what are you most excited about creating?
The menu we are in now is called “ocean and orchard.” I love this menu because winter in California has the most amazing citrus and sub-tropicals and the bounty of the Pacific Ocean is vast! One of my favorite dishes from this menu is a simple geoduck skewer, sent to the table smoking over pine, marinated in a black garlic mole and beef fat. Our next menu is a collaboration with Teluma Farms!
Your debut menu focused on game birds, why?
Many of the preparations and style of dishes were so unique! We wanted to start with something surprising, show people preparations they may have never seen and using only the fire.