Classical mythology and modern evolutionary theory both gazed into the flames of the cook fire and found there the same thing: the origins of our humanity.” So says Michael Pollan in his latest book, Cooked, a quarter of which is dedicated to the primal ritual of cooking with fire. Per Pollan, and anyone who’s been out to dinner lately, live-fire cooking has exploded in recent years. A development that began with a now-requisite wood oven has found its destiny, manifest in full-blown grill-cum-hearths at the center of the dining experience. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the wood-eating beasts at Saison, Fog City, and Oakland’s Penrose. But no restaurant brings you as close to the action as TBD, where diners get front-row seats for the show.
Little sister to nearby AQ, TBD is campy, as in outdoorsy themed. And charming, not cheesy. There are red Dietz lanterns and plentiful taxidermy, and a collection of cast-iron pans for cooking everything on TBD’s menu (save for the raw stuff)—from pillowy arepas to umami-soaked cabbage and clams, and the best sole I’ve had (all of which will rotate with the seasons). Even the Josey Baker bread gets torched; then it’s topped with a thick smear of butter and briny seaweed jewels. The cooks manning the grill are cavemen-gladiators, giving live performances at ridiculously high temperatures—up to 1,000 degrees, according to the heat sensor gun they keep close at hand. The mammoth 8-by-4-foot grill, custom-made by Grillworks, should have a nickname—“It’s gotta be a woman’s name,” says sous chef Alex Phaneuf, “because she’s so hot.”
Pyromaniacs should request seats 10 and 11 at the bar, where executive chef Mark Lieberman is likely to be finishing plates and serving them to you himself. If you can’t stand the heat, get off the barstool. But this is a surefire way to keep warm on a winter’s night.
This article was published in 7x7's February issue. Click here to subscribe!