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10 Gorgeous Food Shots From New Kiwi Pop-Up, Waiheke Island Yacht Club

Carolyn Alburger | July 9, 2013 | Story Restaurants

On Sunday, I returned from an East Coast beach trip, and we cruised right into a relaxed pace dinner on Pier 29 at Waiheke Island Yacht Club (WIYC), the newest pop-up restaurant in town. The owner here is Tony Stewart of the award-winning Clooney and The Hamptons in Aukland, New Zealand.

Thanks to the America’s Cup backing, Stewart bypassed all of the usual San Francisco barricades, building out and opening this 100-seat wood-and-sheepskin-clad beauty in just three weeks—and that’s including the full liquor license. Stewart has transferred most of his servers and his head chef Hayden McMillan from New Zealand. Their kiwi charm bolsters the menu's indigenous ingredients like New Zealand lamb, “Leigh fish” and feijoa. The cumulative effect feels like a mini vacation across the globe.

America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay brought in Stewart to lend an international air to the event. Since all of the other food and drink spots (Napa Wine Lounge, Pier 27 Sports bar, 4505 Meats all over the place) are Californian, WIYC will bring global flavor for America’s Cup racers and attendees hailing from other countries. Stewart added that his target audience is very small in Aukland, New Zealand (population 1.4 million), and he feels that his food will appeal to the San Francisco sensibility. He wants to branch out.

I know what you’re asking. What the heck is New Zealand cuisine? Chef McMillan explained that seasonal ingredients drive their cooking just as they do in San Francisco. Since the produce and proteins are so vibrant, his kitchen team strives for clean flavors. Much like American chefs in the past five years, they’ve increasingly gravitated towards Asian techniques to amplify flavor. The result is a menu that’s very much in tune with Bay Area ethos, but woven with New Zealand ingredients, giving it the Waiheke Island touch. Prices range from $14 to $34, and there is a four-course set price option. Check out the latest menu here on Facebook or here via PDF. (Sidenote: New Zealand lamb is known for its mild, less-gamey flavor, and the WIYC dish is no exception. If you don’t think you like lamb, it is still worth a try.) An a la carte menu will be served at the bar.

Speaking of the bar, sadly, there are no New Zealand grapes in the house, because WIYC is under contract with the America’s Cup to serve only Napa wines. If you’d like to try something new, order from the overwhelmingly wide array of beers available from New Zealand’s Moa. The breakfast beer (with its strong cherry notes), champagne beer, and pilsner-style beer that we tried were all worth sipping again.

The d├ęcor was created by New Zealand’s Fearon Hay and San Francisco’s Sutro. There’s a proliferation of American oak and macrocarpa wood, which Stewart informed us is native to New Zealand and the Bay Area. Additional kiwi flavor comes from sheepskin-covered bar stools, chairs slung with cowhide, and New Zealand-bred sailors and super-yachters filling most every seat in the dining room. But this will probably change once the San Franciscans catch on.

For now, WIYC is serving lunch and dinner. Brunch will be added in August, and the plan right now is to pack up and go home after a final day of service on New Year’s Eve of this year. “But what if it’s wildly successful and you want to stay?” I asked McMillian. “Well, I’ll have to get my girlfriend over here somehow,” he responded. I’m not the only one hoping this thing takes off.

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