The dynamic trio behind Salt House and Town Hall (Doug Washington and Mitchell and Steve Rosenthal) are at it again. Their latest venture, Anchor & Hope, is an oyster and fish house with a San Francisco sensibility—it’s opening April 21 (83 Minna St., 415-501-9100). Here, Doug Washington (the front-of-the-house man) dishes on the new spot.
How did you come up with the name?
Anchor and Hope is the name of an old tavern in London that we absolutely love.
Did you try to evoke that pub in any other way?
Yeah we did. We wanted the feel to be relaxed, comfortable, cozy, warm and cocoon-y, like you get when you go to those places in London—totally unpretentious. But the food sensibilities reflect San Francisco.
Tell me about the menu concept.
It's actually closer to what we were envisioned when we opened Town Hall, but Town Hall took on a life of it's own. This one [Anchor and Hope] is back to what we were originally thinking. I think that Town Hall leans into New Orleans and the South; to me this is very local, very much a San Francisco restaurant.
How does the menu reflect that?
We're mostly serving fish and shellfish; there are a few meat choices like flatiron steak and stuffed guinea hen and [we’ll have] an upscale oyster menu. We're serving things you would expect if you were in Maine; shrimp cocktail, crab salad.
What attracted you to the space? What features are you keeping?
We've been watching this building for a long time. At Town Hall we were constantly walking the neighborhood; [the building has] been on this back alley forever but there was never a for-sale sign. It went up one day and literally the next day we were in the guy's office.
It's so stunning. It was built in 1911 and was an automotive repair garage for a long time. It has an old trestle ceiling with a 100-year-old patina that we left as is. It's kind of an East Coast fish house but reflecting the sensibilities of San Francisco.We left the original brick walls, the roll up garage door and all of the skylights.
What dishes are you excited about?
I'm most excited about the sea scallops with creamy napa cabbage, golden raisins and almonds; the Anchor and Hope lobster roll; cracked szechuan- pepper prawns with broccoli, garlic and lime; the warm sea urchin in the shell with mashed potatoes and Dungeness crab; the cold smoked maple trout with quail egg and anchovy dressing.
I understand that your new General Manager came from the Danny Meyer group. Tell us about him. How is your philosophy in line with Meyer’s?
His name is Brady Johnstone and he came from Eleven Madison.
I will tell you it is always attractive to me to have people coming from that organization [Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group]. Danny is pretty inspirational in what he has been able to achieve in the realm of customer service. He set the bar for bringing 4-star service into the approachable arena. Talking to Brady I knew he brought with him a vision for service that we relate to.
How did you come to hire Sarah Schafer as chef? What about her kitchen experience attracted you to her?
Some one called us to tell us she was leaving Frisson. She also worked in the Danny Meyer group [Schafer was chef at Gramercy Tavern before relocating to SF]. It's rare to find someone as talented as her that has the humility she does—her food is simple but we've never tasted anything better. We feel like she's a little gift from God.
Are you nervous about opening another restaurant in SF in the face of the recent mandates that are hitting restaurants hard, like health insurance for restaurant workers?
Am I nervous about it? There are two questions here—am I nervous about it being successful? No. Am I nervous that we can make money? We have yet to see. I'm not nervous about people loving this; I think it's perfect timing and perfect place for this [concept]; as for whether we're going to make a whole bunch of money, I don't know. But we're going to have a great time finding out.