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Food & Drink

Well-loved San Francisco French comfort food restaurant returns after 2-year hiatus

In the seventh episode of our food series PFG, Omar Mamoon checks in on the Michelin-starred Lord Stanley restaurant after a two-year hiatus.

After two long years, the beloved restaurant Lord Stanley is back, and it’s off to a PFG start. Husband-and-wife Rupert and Carrie Blease’s casual fine-dining establishment opened back in 2015 on the corner of Broadway and Polk Street in Russian Hill. It won a Michelin star and garnered critical praise for the Bleases’ modern European-slash-Californian fare that came in both tasting menu and a la carte formats.

Lord Stanley shuttered in 2021 amid the pandemic and transitioned to a rotating concept called Turntable to shake things up. “We always talked about a version of the concept—hosting chefs in our space,” Carrie Blease said. After the shutdown, the couple asked themselves, “‘What do we do? People were looking for a completely different dining experience.”

The Pretty F*cking Good logo is a a hand serving up the title on a plate.

The restaurant hosted chefs from around the world who took over for monthlong residencies. These included the famed Lucho Martinez from Mexico City’s Em Restaurant and Nicolaus Balla, who brought back many of the Eastern European dishes he was known for during his time as chef at Bar Tartine in the Mission.

Another chef-in-residence was Lord Stanley’s longtime chef-de-cuisine, Nathan Matkowsky. He is now leading the kitchen and writing the menus for Lord Stanley 2.0, specializing in California “bistro de luxe”—high-end French comfort fare heavy on technique while using the best ingredients the Bay has to offer.

Rupert Blease says the concept takes after a handful of high-end French bistros with a relaxed vibe.

Lord Stanley owners Rupert and Carrie Bleaset pose for a photo in the modern dining room of Asian-inspired French bistro restaurant Lord Stanley in San Francisco, California.
Lord Stanley co-owners Rupert and Carrie Blease pose for a photo. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The food is less restrained and a bit heavier than at the first Lord Stanley; the dishes involve less tweezerwork while maintaining a familiar sense of finesse. For example, a roasted bone marrow on the a la carte menu sits in a creamy pool of fortified chicken stock speckled with a brunoise (chef-speak for a fine dice) of carrot and celery. You spoon it all onto a side of housemade sourdough. It’s all very rich and delicious.

Roasted bone marrow with jus de poulet and brunoise is available at Lord Stanley. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Or consider the cod au vin, a clever play on the classic French chicken-braised-in-red-wine stew that substitutes local cod for the poultry. It’s roasted on the bone and basted in reduced red wine until cooked through and served with a tableside pour of more of the thick, glossy sauce.

Cod au vin is served on the bone with red wine fumet. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Don’t snooze on the chicory salad, which is a sleeper hit on the a la carte menu. It’s a nice bright foil to the heartier fare and features a sweet, acidic vinaigrette that balances the bitterness of the greens, while apples and red walnuts provide a pleasant, nutty contrast. It sounds simple, but take a few bites, and you’ll realize it’s layered, complex, and surprisingly PFG.

A Lord Stanley employee finishes the chicory salad with pink lady apple, walnuts, anise hyssop and a honey vinaigrette. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

But if you really want to experience chef Matkowsky’s potential, go with the tasting menu. That’s where things get personal.

Matkowsky was born in Korea and raised in New Hampshire, where he was adopted by a Polish Ukrainian dad and a French Canadian mom from Quebec. His unique roots are sprinkled throughout the tasting menu.

The broth course, for example, is a two-day process featuring a consommé of two different chicken stocks—one roasted, one not—that are fortified with roasted alliums and kombu—a type of seaweed—for umami and depth before being strained over katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito flakes) for a subtle oceanic layer. The broth is then clarified.

A broth featuring chicken thigh mandu with radish & turnip is served in a roasted hen consommé. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The beautiful, crystal-clear broth is poured tableside into a bowl containing a few plump handmade dumplings containing a mix of chicken thigh, ginger, garlic, chives, a little light soy sauce and some MSG. At first, this might make you think of tortellini en brodo, but this dish is inspired by Matkowsky’s Asian heritage: “One of my favorite Korean soups is the mandu-guk,” which typically uses beef broth, explains the chef. His version is not only PFG but also soothes the soul.

The bread course consists of a mini Le Creuset cocotte filled with a warm round of pain di mie and a small bowl of gorton, a French Canadian pork-based meat spread Matkowsky’s mom used to make. His version is topped with pickled mustard seeds to provide some pop.

New England-style gorton is served with warm pain de mie. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Then there’s the fish dish, cod topped with slices of king trumpet mushroom coins arranged to resemble scales. It’s steamed then placed over a rich butter sauce emulsified with dashi, a traditional Japanese stock, for umami. This one’s a PFG plate-licker.

Steamed sole is served with matsutake mushroom, emulsified dashi and Bloomsdale spinach. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Matkowsky has added a lot of Asian touches to the new tasting menu “not because I’m Asian—but because I love eating Asian food,” he says. “It’s definitely something I’ll always implement into my cooking.”

Chef Nathan Matkowsky cooks a dish in the kitchen of San Francisco restaurant Lord Stanley.
Chef Nathan Matkowsky works in the kitchen. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

If you’re drinking, a fun bottle of natural wine will go just fine with your meal. Consider something local, like Stagiaire’s Viognier, which is made by local winemaker Brent Mayeaux using grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s a ripe white wine with a good amount of acid to help cut through the richer dishes. Lord Stanley also does carafes, which is a fine way to explore different varietals if you don’t want to commit to one bottle.

For dessert, you get your choice of patisserie from Pastry Chef Harper Zapf. Go with a good ole classic, Paris-Brest. His almond crème-filled pâte à choux might be the best version I’ve had outside of Paris. 

Lord Stanley

🗓️ ️️ Tuesdays-Saturdays | 5:30-10 p.m.
📍 2065 Polk St., San Francisco

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.