Did you eat yet? The words, a neon scrawl across Good Good Culture Club’s back wall, aren’t a question. To anyone who’s ever had a mother or a father or a grandparent who’s struggled to say “I love you,” they are an expression of love.
So, too, is this sophomore effort from chef Ravi Kapur, whose lauded culinary gymnastics at Liholiho Yacht Club continues to hold San Francisco in its grip.
Good Culture Club partners Jeff Hanak (left) and chef Ravi Kapur.(Marc Fiorito, Gamma Nine Photography)
Good Good Culture Club is the culmination of a herculean, pandemic-defying effort from Kapur, his wife April Storm, and their partner Jeff Hanak, as well as a diverse family of dedicated chefs, servers, and managers. It’s not just food inspired by the heritage of South Asia and the Pacific and cocktails laced with guava and passionfruit, Good Good is a genuine effort to redefine restaurant culture.
There is an overwhelming sense of joy radiating from the restaurant’s open front door when I arrive for dinner. The dining room, painted in bright blues and pinks, hung with a shapely bamboo chandelier that’s six feet long if it’s an inch, is humming with staff and diners and playful music. On the roof, a warm tropical oasis blooms in the cold San Francisco sky.
We are seated against a wall of windows through which natural light will pour as the days stretch from winter to summer. Our server glows as she explains what makes Good Good so good (good). The first is the restaurant’s equity fee. At nearly every other restaurant in the country, servers and bartenders live and die by the tips they earn while chefs and line cooks and bussers are left with no monetary reward for their labor, a two-tiered caste system that has left those behind the scenes struggling to survive. Good Good Culture Club has done away with it all. Instead, they automatically charge every visitor a 20 percent equity fee which is then distributed among the entire staff.
The second is their use of a QR code and web-based ordering system. Instead of ordering through our server, we request our food and drinks directly via phone. This frees the staff up to show genuine hospitality to their guests, explaining the details of the dishes and checking in regularly, instead of laboriously writing down our orders and ferrying our food and drinks back and forth. Given the times we’re living in (I’m looking at you, Covid) this is not the first I’ve seen of this system and I absolutely love it. If I never have to wait for a server to order my next drink again, it’ll be too soon.
Even before she’s done welcoming us, our first cocktails arrive, a Home by the Sea for me, a gin drink made with bright shiso leaf and gently soured preserved lemons, an As You Wish with cocoa nib-infused bourbon and black sesame syrup for my dining companion. I suggest a celebratory cheekie—mixed shots in combos like cacao, honey, and fernet or cardamaro and tequila—but am roundly rebuked by my partner who reminds me that some of us have to work in the morning.
So, it’s on to dinner. I struggle to choose a starter, waffling between the shaved Brussels sprouts with Monterey squid and crispy tripe, and the local cured halibut with kombu cure, salsa macha, and ponzu. The latter wins and I don’t regret it. The halibut is tender and fresh, savory and spicy.
There are a whole host of interesting larger dishes—Mom’s Lao sausage; cross-cut short ribs marinated in chili misoyaki with a sesame-date glaze; pork belly marinated in aromatic oyster sauce with achiote pineapple, coriander, and fermented mustard seeds—but to me, the most eye-catching is the whole fried petrale sole with a turmeric-coconut brine. It arrives with a delicately spiced breading and a blissful cilantro ginger sauce that makes an ideal companion to the palapa-herb salad on the side. The next morning I’ll wonder why my fingertips are yellow before remembering how I devoured my meal, pulling flakes of tender flesh from bone in ecstatic indulgence.
It’s dessert though, specifically the pandan bibingka, something I’ve read about but never tasted, that I’ve most been looking forward to. The semi-spongy coconut rice cake, which Good Good serves with a rich miso Anglaise, is sweetly savory, melt-in-your-mouth fantastic.
When we’re fully satiated, once again there’s no need to wait for our server, who’s bopping around checking in on her other guests. The bill, including the equity fee that’s automatically added to our total for distribution to every member of the Good Good family who played a role in our meal, is paid before she even has the chance to notice.
// Good Good Culture Club is open 5pm to 9pm Tuesday through Saturday; 3560 18th St (Mission), goodgoodcultureclub.com.
Good Good Culture Club's rooftop patio in the Mission.(Marc Fiorito, Gamma Nine Photography)