An inventive French eatery is bringing a new concept to the Bay Area that is decidedly discrete.
If you’ve heard buzz about a new French restaurant coming to Hayes Valley, you might have gone to Google to see what the hype is all about, only to come up with the name—Le Fantastique—and a one-dimensional description of the menu from a few third-party sources. Then, fascinated, you may have stumbled across Le Fantastique’s Instagram profile and seen only one post: an ominous, mute video fixated on a spinning record paired with an empty caption box that provided nothing but more questions as to what Le Fantastique really is. Jump to the restaurant’s website and you’re greeted only by a pixelated, vintage TV screen bearing the eatery’s name and a “no signal found” message, and still, you’ve found close to zero concrete information about this peculiar spot. And that’s exactly how the geniuses behind it intended.
My personal experience of discovering the captivating Le Fantastique, detailed above, left me with a handful of questions, and I’m nothing short of utterly impressed by the highly calculated rollout of the restaurant, which took form in a “less is more” approach, allowing the public to create their own interpretations. Brilliant. Now that I’ve figured out the puzzle, I’ll gladly invite you in on the secret.
Emily Perry Wilson and Robbie Wilson
Le Fantastique is the brainchild of chef Robbie Wilson and Emily Perry Wilson of Palo Alto’s BIRD DOG, and this origin story dates back to 2014.
Of the name Le Fantastique, inspired by Robbie’s fondness for French flavors and Japanese technique, he says, “My mind is a strobe light, so like most thoughts and ideas, it just popped in my head.”
Elegantly plated dishesstar at Le Fantastique, which takes a refined approach.
Robbie’s experience of creating the menu and flushing out the details of what Le Fantastique would be began in partnership with his best friend, who passed away before the opening. “This project was meant to be with him, but now is for him,” he adds. An inventive composition of raw fish dishes, French white wine and Champagne, bread and butter, and other French-inspired selects, some executed with Japanese technique, make up the menu. “The inspiration came from memories of evenings in Santa Barbara with another best friend of ours, listening to records, eating raw fish with great bread and butter, and drinking white Burgundy and Champagne,” Robbie notes. The menu features standouts like the shima aji cured in lemon leaves and an oil made from grilled, dry-aged ribeye bones, as well as the bread and butter with crab fat and the house’s version of Old Bay Seasoning with espelette.
Freshly baked sourdough shokupan and house-cultured butter with optional supplements such as spicy crab fat or seaweed from Marin are on the menu.
Perhaps the most apparent and integral element of the entire venture is a deep-rooted musical influence. “The goal of the music is to create comfort,” Robbie, an audiophile, says. “Vinyl will drive the mood throughout the space and the experience.” A custom-built McIntosh sound system and 1970s turntable act as the focal point of the 44-seat space, designed by the Wilsons and Studio Ren Architecture with acoustics top of mind. As well, a private dining nook and listening lounge aptly dubbed The Record Shop showcases a curation of Robbie’s favorite albums, adding a truly intimate touch.
The extensive wine list highlights sustainably focused producers across eight regions of France.
Le Fantastique isn’t your average French restaurant. It’s a place you must experience to truly figure out, and one that will no-doubt become a beloved staple in the community. 22 Franklin St., San Francisco
Photography by: PHOTOS BY KELLY PULEIO/COURTESY OF LE FANTASTIQUE