With America’s Cup, New Zealand Cuisine Shines in San Francisco

Staff Writer
Along with one of the world’s most respected sailing competitions, Kiwi cuisine makes a star appearance on the West Coast
Waiheke Island Yacht Club
Waiheke Island Yacht Club

Located on San Francisco’s Pier 29 Embarcadero waterfront, Waiheke Island Yacht Club is in the middle of the action.

Hundreds of Kiwis already have descended on the Bay Area to participate or cheer as the country’s team races in the world’s most important sailing competition — and more are expected. 

With few, if any, serious New Zealand restaurants in the U.S., most Americans have no concept of New Zealand food, much less the cooking approach. So, two fine dining restaurants have taken on the mantle of specializing in New Zealand cuisine over the next months, in an effort to expose it to the world: Waiheke Island Yacht Club, a pop-up restaurant created by one of New Zealand’s most renowned restaurateurs, Tony Stewart, and Waterbar, the venerable San Francisco waterside seafood establishment that has devoted a sizable portion of its menu and wine list to New Zealand’s ingredients, products, and culinary sensibility.

Waiheke Island Yacht Club: After winning "three hats" (roughly equivalent to Michelin stars) for his Auckland restaurant, Stewart followed his instincts and sense of adventure and whipped up the Waiheke Island Yacht Club, located within the locus of the America’s Cup action on San Francisco’s Pier 29 Embarcadero waterfront. Stewart built the restaurant quite literally from scratch in three months from an unoccupied street-facing pier building. He imported resources from home — macrocarpa cypress wood for the tables, molded black sand from the beaches for the countertops, and furniture maker Douglas and Bec to create stylish leather sling chairs. The result is a 6,500-square-foot bar and restaurant with a rugged sophistication. 

The New Zealand menu is, however, fine dining, blending local Bay Area bounty with New Zealand specialty products like Silere Merino lamb, Hawkes Bay venison, Silver Fern Farms beef, Mt. Cook Alpine salmon, as well as cheeses. One of the biggest draws is the bar, serving Moa, a New Zealand craft beer, a Kiwi-inspired creative cocktail menu invented by Kiwi Geeling Ng, and a raw bar that includes the country’s Coromandel Oysters. Waiheke turns the venison into a cervena tartare, the wonderfully tender beef fillet into a dish with dashi and miso, and renders the lamb with olive and feta.

Waiheke Island Yacht Club will remain open through December and, who knows, possibly longer. Stewart is keeping his options open.

"New Zealand cuisine focuses on the main ingredient in a dish and lets it shine through," says Stewart, who personally welcomes guests with New Zealand’s legendary friendliness. "California has a similar approach. They blend well."

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