Cutting to the chase: Russell Jackson tells 7x7
about his new restaurant, Lafitte.
Photograph by John Benson
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Russell Jackson is an intense guy, no shrinking violet. Though he’s got chops from some notable restaurants (including the now-defunct Russell’s in Los Angeles) the last few years he has been flying under the radar, operating a little underground supper club called Subculture Dining, all the while looking for a San Francisco space for a restaurant of his own.
Well, the dissident chef is finally stepping out of the shadows, with a lease on a restaurant space at Pier 5. We called him to chat about the new project.
Tell us about your restaurant-to-be, Lafitte
Well, it’s going to be small and intimate, kind of like you’re dining in my house. I first looked at the space more than a year ago and said I didn’t want it. Then when I returned to take a second look I was like, “um…did I say I didn’t want this?” What a difference a year [of looking for a space] makes. It’s very small, though—a very intimate, tiny and quaint home for the next 25 years.
Is opening a restaurant more challenging here?
Oh my god. It’s unbelievable. I liken the whole experience to a fist-fight, a cage-match. Everyone is out to win. And then because we moved into a historic space there are more challenges—we can’t use tropical wood in the build-out, for example.
No tropical wood? Why?
Who friggin’ knows why! There are no explanations, no rhyme or reason. But, you know, we’re building a restaurant on the big boys street, at least demographically speaking. Three of the top-100 highest grossing restaurants in the country are on this street, within a quarter mile of one another [ed note: Scoma’s, No. 23; Boulevard, No. 59 and The Slanted Door, No, 70]. That’s insane! Vegas doesn’t even have that.
Can we talk about the food at Lafitte?
Well, I want to create a restaurant that the city can really rally behind, a restaurant built with love, like Zuni Café. I am a chef of logic, so I try to do what makes sense. What can I get access to? What do I have at my disposal? I will change the menu every single day—or even midstream. Like a jazz musician, I’m reactive.
Will you have any signature items on the menu?
I’m working on this 18th century chicken dish, but it’ll be an off-the-menu item, so you’ll have to know to ask for it three days in advance. Signature items are great—what a nice position to be in, to not be able to change something because people love it so much. But ask Judy Rodgers [chef/owner of Zuni] how she feels about that burger. I once made a chocolate brownie pie back when I was at Russell’s, and that dish followed me like the plague. I love that dessert, but you won’t see me making it at Lafitte.
Any guiding philosophy?
I try to please every single diner. I want them to leave drunk, fed and fucking happy. If they do, I did my job. I try to get better at what I do every day. My staff tries to get better. And in the end, that’s what this is about: A guy and his crew doing their best to feed you right.
Lafitte is scheduled to open at the end of the year. In the meantime, Jackson will continue to host and cook at his subculture dining events—check them out at subculturedining.com