There is no question San Francisco's a restaurant town, with each new opening all the buzz and reservations nearly impossible to come by just to get a slice of a most-talked-about pizza (ahem, Che Fico).
But there are those among us who want something a little more: a great meal, yes, but also a memorable experience—the chance to meet new people, share some stories, and learn new things. And now, there are plenty more creative ways than jockeying for a table to enjoy the art of dining—and we mean the art part literally.
Culinary experiences aren't really new—platforms like EatWith and Feastly have been gathering people around communal tables in private homes for themed meals for years now, essentially creating performance art projects centered around food.
And arts organizations have followed suit: Back in 2015, the Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD) launched a Chef in Residence program with the notable Bryant Terry, author of the book Afro-Vegan, who has crafted a series of dinners connecting and celebrating black culture with food; the museum's lineup of food stars has included culinary historian Michael W. Twitty and popular Oakland chef Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen). Meanwhile in Sausalito, the Headlands Center for the Arts hosted a Sunday Supper back in 2016, inviting visitors in for a family-style meal where they could meet the artists in residence.
But what would happen if the artists themselves were hosting—or even cooking!—these special meals? Well, today the art world seems to be seeking even more intimacy with people who desire deeper interactions with art, and food is a no-brainer point of entry. A new trend of artist-hosted suppers is allowing creative talent to spend time with their patrons and curious fans, and to promote their work, during the age old act of breaking bread. What is fuel for the body, it seems, can also ignite the mind and fire up the soul.
Here's how you can have dinner with fascinating local artists.
Painter Heather Day needs no introduction among young SF art lovers—her splashy, sometimes-cheery-sometimes-moody works can be seen everywhere from Craftsman and Wolves in Bayview to the walls of Facebook HQ. But if you feel compelled to get up close and personal with the artist, you could join her for dinner, thanks to the monthly series Studio Table put on by Day, Michelle Wei (a marketing manager at Adobe), and chef Ben Roche. (If you're not familiar with Roche, the guy is legit: He beat Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef back in 2006; made the pastries at Chicago's Michelin-starred restaurant Moto for years; and earned Fast Company's Most Creative People title for his role as R&D chef at the innovative food company Just, née Hampton Creek—you know, the one responsible for that vegan mayo.)
Hosted inside Day's San Francisco live/work space, which she shares with musician Chase McBride, and surrounded by colorful abstract canvases small and large, the parties bring strangers together for a common experience in a bright and convivial ambiance. Wei ensures that everyone feels welcome and comfy; Roche prepares playful meals around themes, whether plant-based or wine-inspired; and Day designs a limited-edition print for each dinner that doubles as a menu on the back. It's a chance to mingle with beautiful minds and also to take a precious artwork home.
The Midway Gallery
You can still get tickets ($5) to the July 26th dinner and send-off for The Midway's Halation, a fantastic journey into light and shadow with exhibitions by technologist Marpi, Oakland-based burner artist Christopher Schardt, and projection artist Ecco Screen. casual dinner for only one night at the Midway. You'll order your dinner—think Greek salad carpaccio and chargrilled wild salmon—at the in-house cafe, and then you can feel free to walk and eat or take a seat at one of the tables placed near the installations and chat up any of the artists.
For a proper seated dinner, make a reservation at the seasonal event NightFishing, which aims to take you deep inside the work of local painter Isis Hockenos, who will transform the dining area into a three-dimensional gallery. The food will be take its cue from the farmers, cheesemakers, and ranchers of the artist's native West Marin.
// For tickets ($5) to the 'Halation' closing night dinner party, 7-10pm on July 26, visit ticketfly.com. For more information on NightFishing ($125/person; Sept. 12, 7-10pm), go to themidwaysf.com. The Midway is located at 900 Marin St. (Bayview).
Think Make Tank
If you want an artist to actually make you dinner, Think Make Tank is the place to be. Six times a year, the collective welcomes about 25 guests into its Potrero Avenue workspace where the four resident artists—Alex Nichols, Mushi Wooesong James, Magali Charmot and Jorge Bachmann—cook a feast to celebrate new exhibitions.
On August 16th, the evening will begin with a walk down an art path where hanging eggs, delicately made of pulsing lights, will match the movement and vibration of a heartbeat. The dark space mimics a womb—a place of unknown—before opening up to a stage full of light, marking a moment of first awareness. This is Origins, the tank's new show opening Sept. 13th (through Oct. 30). At this performance-dinner, the guests will be the actors. It will explore narratives of our origins—the stories we tell ourselves, and those we find reflected back to us. The sculptural itinerary ends at the second-floor communal dining table; the menu will be announced onsite.
// Think Make Tank' 'Origins' dinners take place 7-11:30pm, Aug. 16 and Sept. 27; donations are suggested on a sliding scale ($40-$75/person); for more information, go to thinkmaketank.org.