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photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

The exterior sign at Kiln.
8.7

Kiln

Experimental

Hayes Valley

$$$$Perfect For:Fine DiningSpecial OccasionsCorporate CardsUnique Dining Experience
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Kiln is a tasting menu restaurant set in a stark, brutalist warehouse in Hayes Valley (a.k.a the old Cala space) with about 10 tables layered with crisp white tablecloths. There’s functionally no decoration on the gray slab walls. And from the second you walk in, there’s a disorienting mix of loud punk rock and rap playing through the speakers.

Scary, right? We know. Kiln can seem intimidating. Luckily, this special-occasion restaurant is well worth the initial nerves. Kiln is an exhilarating journey through contrasts. The music might not match the space, and the minimalist food presentation might not go with the maximalist flavors, but a wild and inventive dining experience is guaranteed nonetheless.

Four tables layered with white tablecloths.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

5 tables and an olive tree at the interior of Kiln.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Three seats at Kiln.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

One long walnut table.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Four tables layered with white tablecloths.
5 tables and an olive tree at the interior of Kiln.
Three seats at Kiln.
One long walnut table.

Kiln’s only option is their $225, 18-20 course tasting menu. It's hard to place Kiln in one category, but we’d say the menu is slightly Scandinavian and focused on curing, preserving, and pickling, resulting in flavor-packed dishes that take days to prepare. For example, there’s a blue lobster that’s simmered in a slightly sour pilsner sauce and a beef tendon that’s dehydrated, fried, and reconstructed into a bite that gives the same crunch as a lightly fried chicharrón. But despite the fact that you’re consuming so many dishes in two hours, the speed at which you receive them makes it feel as if everything is effortless. 

Small bites zoom in with the tempo of a drum and bass set. Servers, many of whom are also cooks, bring out gorgeously plated finger foods like a cornette of smoked kabocha squash accented by a purple flower. The dishes flow in a stream so strong that it begs the question: "Will they ever slow down?" Eventually, even words fall by the wayside, as all there is time to do between courses is raise eyebrows, smile and nod, and give a big thumbs up to everyone at the table before the next plate is served. Soon, it’s time for heftier courses like a tender piece of partridge with an elderberry jus that leaves a thick and slightly sweet wake on the tongue.

Kiln image

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Kiln’s strong suit is that hidden behind their minimalist presentations is a set of complex flavors layered on top of each other like tracks in a concerto. That ceramic plate that seems to just have grilled mackerel sitting on some sauce? It actually packs a fishy punch thanks to a shellfish reduction, and the wood-fired hearth in the back gives it an impressive char that results in an intense crisp. And then there’s the course of fermented potato bread served with a small bowl of mushroom broth: it’s so full of umami flavors that double-checking with the waiter is almost necessary to confirm that there isn't any meat stock in it.

By the time the desserts arrive (including a shockingly boring set of bonbons, which are the only miss of the night), you’ll have completely forgotten you’ve been through a 120-minute wringer. It’s a fast meal, but a damn good one at that—maybe Mac Miller is the appropriate music choice for this gauntlet after all. So no, maybe don’t bring your grandma or anyone who wouldn’t sign up to go for a cold plunge on a whim here, but if you’re ready to handle a whirlwind, fast-paced experience that’s one of the boldest tasting menus that has hit the San Francisco dining scene in years, this is the spot.

An olive tree and some bottles of wine at Kiln.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Two tables with white tablecloths, candles, and glasses of wine.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Food Rundown

The menu items at Kiln change from time to time, but here’s an idea of what to expect.
The potato dish at Kiln.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Potato

This opening bite sets the stage for what’s to come. It’s a wonderful mix of crispiness from the potato, creaminess from the cheese, earthiness from the truffle, and acidity from the malt vinegar.
The Portugese blue lobster at Kiln.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Portuguese Blue Lobster

This version of lobster with a miso and pilsner sauce is crustacean at its best. It’s still bubbling from all the roasted yeast, giving it a hint of sour flavor that we love.
Slow-poached jidori egg yolk with fermented potato bread at Kiln.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Slow-Poached Jidori Egg Yolk With Fermented Potato Bread

This rich brown broth is dripping with flavor that we can only describe as the best form of earthy. The egg is soft and tender and breaks apart at the lightest touch, and while the fermented potato bread can lean on the tougher side, we don't mind because this broth is the perfect dipping vessel.
A piece of mackerel on a shellfish reduction.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Wild Norwegian Mackerel

This super crispy mackerel is gently placed on top of a dried shellfish reduction that amps up the fishiness of this dish.
The ribeye at Kiln.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

Aged Ribeye

A well-cooked piece of ribeye served with cream fat and licorice. It would have been nice to have eaten this earlier in the dinner because it's tough to follow the stunners that came before this piece.
The olive oil sorbet at Kiln.

photo credit: Julia Chen

Olive Oil Sorbet

This is the best of the three desserts served. It’s creamy and rich, with just enough olive oil flavor.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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