Opened by Michelin-starred industry veterans Partner and Chef John Wesley and Partner and General Manager Julianna Yang, Kiln is San Francisco’s hottest new fine dining destination. Wesley and Yang previously worked together at Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters in San Francisco; Wesley, as Chef de Cuisine and Yang as General Manager. Wesley, who has experience at two and three Michelin-starred restaurants is joined by Chef de Cuisine Carlos Andrade, the former Sous Chef of Sons & Daughters.
Situated in Hayes Valley, Kiln isn’t tied to any one, specific cuisine or geographical area. Instead, the cuisine specializes in creating inimitable dishes with quality ingredients from around the globe.
“Kiln is not tied to any specific cuisine geographically,” explains Wesley. “We try to source the best ingredients we can, discuss what we love about the item and build around that. With saying that we’re not tied to any specific region. It’s also very important to me that we say that the lens we design the menu through is rooted in certain geographical techniques that I’ve picked up through my career.”
For example, the preserved, fermented, smoked, cured, pickled, etc… are techniques are undoubtedly Scandinavian in approach, that said, don’t expect Kiln to be serving reindeer or sea buckthorn, continues Wesley.
Kiln’s menu features an array of 18-20 courses, each showcasing specific ingredients in their simplicity using a variety of techniques that zero in on unparalleled flavor. Intentionality is a key tenet at Kiln. Diners will be presented with two to three items on a plate, however, what they don’t see is the 15 different components that necessitate two to three days of prep to achieve, explains Wesley.
“Some of the techniques we use can be laborious,” says Wesley. “But not all. Some things can be deceptively simple and some deceptively complex. The approach to the menu is always ingredient driven.”
The menu will feature farmers from near and far, sustainably sourced meats, and wild-caught seasonal, seafood that includes Petrossian Kaluga Caviar, Portuguese Blue Lobster, Half Moon Bay Spot Prawns, Japanese Shima Aji, Modesto Squab, Maui Nui Axis Venison and Wild Boar from Texas. When it comes to technique, guests can expect preservation, fermentation, curing and open-fire cooking.
Taking their experiences working together at Sons and Daughters, Yang and Wesley have created a dining experience centered around flavor, intent, and simplicity in their purest forms.
“What we do is what we think every experience should be like,” says Yang. “Down to every little detail.”
We chatted with the Kiln team, including Partner and Chef John Wesley and Partner and General Manager Julianna Yang, and Beverage Director Vincent Balao. Here’s what they had to say.
Where does the name “Kiln” come from? What is the inspiration for the menu and overall restaurant concept?
Julianna Yang: From my understanding, the name is something that John had had on his mind from years ago, when he first started to conceptualize the restaurant he would one day open. When this opportunity arose and became real for all of us, we opened a discussion on some possibilities for the name, though we collectively landed on John’s first choice.
Choosing ‘Kiln’ made sense for a few different reasons, but for me, it was important for the name to be closely tied to John’s original vision. What the word evokes in my mind is a process that is pure and intense. I think of what happens in a ceramic kiln, that raw materials enter one, and through the exposure to intense heat and with enough time, these materials are elementally transformed while still beholding their original essence.
While I don’t believe this parallel was a part of John’s original intention, this connection for me was a powerful and visceral one, as we can see a similar process in the different elements that make up a restaurant, where the cooking process transforms ingredients into a composed dish, where fermentation and aging turns grape juice into wine and grains into spirits.
On a more intangible level, we have also experienced how a dining experience or a professional experience has the power to change us at the end of a process. These parallels also happen to be closely tied to what one of our goals have been.
Can you take us through that creative and cooking process, and where you draw your inspiration from?
John Wesley: We bring an ingredient we want to work with to the restaurant and discuss what we like about said ingredient, depending on where it is in the menu, if it should lean fattier as an overall dish or more acidic.
Once a full dish has been thought through we try to strip it down to its necessities. To only have things that accentuate and contribute. We try to stay away from garnish. Obviously if it’s something that lifts the dish up that’s great, but definitely not just putting borage flowers and nasturtium leaves to try and make it seem more opulent.
What are your goals with Kiln? How has it been received so far and what can diners expect?
John Wesley: One of our biggest goals with Kiln is to create a space where not only guests but employees can leave better off having spent time here. For guests to feel the time that went into every component of every dish. The experience should feel bespoke. I feel like a lot of tasting menus have become formulaic in approach. We don’t look at our menu as just a collection of dishes. There will always be a through line connecting the next dish from the previous. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
You previously worked together at Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters in San Francisco — how did that experience of collaborating in your prior roles help you now as partners at Kiln?
John Wesley: When I came to Sons and Daughters in February of 2020, I noticed Julianna’s commitment to service on day one. It was a gut feeling that this person was pushing everyday to not only better herself but better everyone else around her. It’s an extremely rare quality and one that I wasn’t going to let go unnoticed. After three weeks, I had told her we should open a restaurant together in the future.
Covid hit and we had the opportunity to transform Sons & Daughters into, what I felt, a more refined experience. More courses, less tables, more attention to detail and focus throughout the whole restaurant. When we reopened, guests had been very receptive. About a year later Teague Moriarty, the owner of Sons and Daughters sat me down to discuss what I wanted in the future. I told him my dream of Kiln that I had had since I was 23 and that I would like Julianna to be my partner there.
He offered to invest in us and we began looking at spaces for about a year and a half. The rapport we had with one another has been monumental in building Kiln. Having unwavering trust in one another in our respective departments and collaborating about design, guest experience, and approach to service was awesome and not something I take for granted.
The beverage program offers two pairings, which include wine and spirit-free options. Vincent, can you share more about your vision for the beverage selections and elaborate on the spirit-free menu?
Vincent Balao: The beverage menu at Kiln is hand-selected by our team to enhance your experience of the tasting menu. Our selections are meant to transport our guests around the world in the spirit of exploring and uncovering small, boutique producers. The spiritfree pairing at Kiln is designed to complement your experience of the tasting menu. We take inspiration from classic alcoholic beverages, our spirit-free creations utilize teas, herbs, syrups, juices and non-alcoholic distillates to compose unique and thoughtful beverages.
Kiln features a 15-foot live olive tree in the center of the dining room of what was originally a 1910-era auto garage, and you work with many international artists that create unique tableware pieces. Can you share more about the aesthetic, design, and decor?
Julianna Yang: When we set out to open this concept, what anchored all our decisions was a very specific aesthetic — industrial, minimalist, concrete, shades of gray and rich dark wood like walnut. We wanted the space and all the presentations to feel at once understated but also luxurious, and felt that the color palette and combination of materials would lend themselves well to convey that.
With the parameters in mind, John took note of pieces and artists he came across throughout his career which fit the aesthetic and reached out to them to discuss ideas for some ready-made but mostly custom pieces. That vetting process also translated to how we selected our flatware and glassware — everything should have a throughline and feel as though it is all from the same world.