Garrett Benedict wants to make you look.
The chef and owner of the ever-popular, produce-heavy restaurant G-Love opens his new Slabtown bar, the Love Shack, on Friday, February 9. While his restaurant will continue to serve cauliflower a la plancha and caviar-topped avocados next door, Benedict will spend his evenings pushing brass carts he designed himself through the Love Shack, loaded with croissant banh mis and lox-topped brioche waffles. From under the shade of the indoor palapa at the center of the space, visitors can lean around the tambour wood-lined booths to get a better look, grabbing tiny martinis and wonton fish tacos off the cart while Benedict stamps their bingo card-like menus. Someone might order the prime rib, which comes with creamed horseradish, jus, and a lit sparkler sticking directly out of the steak.
“It’s like the fajita sizzle,” he says. “Whenever we sell one of those, we will parade it all through the dining room.”
That’s the vibe Benedict and Love Shack’s team of G-Love veterans want to evoke with the new bar: a lively dinner party and a mid-century steakhouse thrown in a blender. For them, that means tableside service via rolling carts, akin to an old fashioned dessert cart; that also means guests get a little glass of sparkling wine as soon as they arrive and bartenders finish specific cocktails at the table. At times, it means sticking a literal sparkler in a hunk of meat, just to give it a little pizzazz.
The prime rib is a nod to House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. Benedict and chef de cuisine Andrew Lee met working in restaurants living in the Bay Area, and many of the folks on the Love Shack team are California expats. Shade Ruston, the bar’s general manager, spent time working at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, known for its dramatic steakhouse with winding pink booths and chandeliers. It was there that she fell in love with tableside service and over-the-top hospitality. “I love that experience, the theatrics of it,” she says. “It’s immersive.”
Beverage director Quintin Scalfaro is also trying to imbue some drama into the cocktail menu at the Love Shack. When he can’t make drinks tableside, he’ll add a touch of his personality elsewhere — martinis made with Oregon gold flake vodka, a banana-infused tequila cocktail with yuzu and MSG. Infusions and washes lean tropical: The Manhattan uses a coconut-washed rye, and the Negroni relies on a pineapple-infused Campari. And some drinks are straight out of a Caribbean beach bar, including mai tais and nonalcoholic piña coladas. “We’re playing with the whole tropical vibe we have here without straying into the whole tiki sub-genre,” he says.
Escapism does play a role in the Love Shack’s schtick. Lee pulls lots of inspiration from dishes he likes to eat while traveling or experiences he had earlier in his career. The Shanghai dumplings, with Dungeness crab and crab butter, were born out of a memory of his first trip to China; echoes of Southeast Asia appear in the croissant banh mi and little gem lettuce cups filled with larb. Shellfish makes regular appearances throughout the menu, in part a nod to Lee’s first restaurant gig, shucking oysters at San Francisco’s Hog and Rocks; at the Love Shack, oysters on the half shell come with a Greek mignonette and splash of sparkling wine.
But more than evoking nostalgia or escapism, Lee and Benedict wanted the food to feel fun. The crab poppers land somewhere between a crab rangoon and a jalapeño popper, while the cart’s “milk and cookies” are a combination of creme de menthe and classic chocolate chip cookies. “There should be no heavy thought involved,” Lee says. “Just, ‘That looks delicious.’”
Diners can order a few items directly from the kitchen, if they’re looking for something heartier; other than the literally flashy prime rib, guests can order things like flights of fries and meze platters, as well as “the American Dream” — a miniature Chicago dog paired with a picked pepper martini. Quips and jokes are abundant here, on the menu and otherwise; that’s part of the point.
“I’m looking forward to having fun every night.” Ruston says. “One of my favorite things at G-Love would always be when someone would say, ‘Wow, you’re having so much fun.’”
The Love Shack is located at 1645 NW 21st Avenue.