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Wandering Restaurateur: Jay Thomson in France, San Francisco, and New York

Jay Thomson, the owner of Mason Pacific, shares the restaurants that inspired his new San Francisco restaurant.


Mason Pacific

L’Avant Comptoir
“L’Avant Comptoir near the Odeon in Paris was the place that most inspired me to commit to a restaurant project. We were in Paris getting ready for a trip through Burgundy and it was a bitterly cold February day. We squeezed into L’Avant Comptoir mid-afternoon. It has a standing bar with room for about a dozen people to cram in and nibble on hors d’oeuvres.  On that day, the sun was streaming in through the windows and there was something about just hanging in there and drinking champagne and ordering a constant stream of bites—everything from charcuterie to vegetables to fried pork croquettes—that just made for an amazing experience of sharing and eating. We walked back out into the cold happily fortified.  I immediately began thinking about opening a place that promoted that kind of sharing experience and sampling wines by the glass. We ended up doing something a bit more traditional, quite frankly because I was too chicken to open a standing only hors d’oeuvres bar for a first restaurant. Maybe down the road.” 3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, Paris, 33,1-44-27-07-97

Bistro L’Ami Jean
“One of the more traditional bistros that inspired me was Bistro L’Ami Jean. This is a place that you walk in and it’s not super inspiring visually, and crowded with kind of cranky people. You’re literally squeezed into your booth next to strangers, but then you look at the wine list and you see some gems on there—I think we had a 1996 Barthod Chambolle Musingy in 2012 for 35 euros, for example—and you start to relax a little and get excited.  And then the food comes out and it is so much better than you’re expecting that it stops the conversation and everyone’s attitude completely changes. And then you keep finding more gems on the wine list, and well, it just goes from good to better. So it was that element of serendipity that really stuck with me from that place.” 27 Rue Malar, Paris, 33/1-47-05-86-89, lamijean.fr

Chez Bruno Dijon
“Bruno’s in Dijon was another place that made an impression. What I liked was the 2013July29WanderingChefMasonPacific2_updatedeccentric but completely charming wine experience.  It’s a wine bar and the driving force is a deep but eccentric wine collection. The wine program is not at all about grand, award-style organization. Only some of the collection is listed on the boards, but after we befriended, cajoled, and pestered Bruno enough he let us literally dig around in boxes and racks in the storage area and pull out wines like a 20-year-old Dujac. We just talked and tried a bunch of different wines and ate platters of salumi, and it was all about exploration and camaraderie, not a fussy experience at all.” 80 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, Dijon, 33/3-80-66-12-33, divine-comedie.com/chez-bruno

Those French influences were key, but the other element of the inspiration was from a number of American places that to me stand for reliability, comfort, and being good for all seasons. These are places that bridge solid neighborhood service with destination quality or charm. With Mason Pacific I wanted to balance the experience and humility of a quirky, serendipitous neighborhood place, with the passion and ambition that exist in restaurants like these that stand the test of time:

Zuni Café  
1658 Market St., San Francisco, (415) 552-2522, zunicafe.com

Gramercy Tavern
42 E 20th St., New York, (212) 477-0777, gramercytavern.com

Gotham Bar and Grill
12 E 12th St., New York, (212) 620-4020, gothambarandgrill.com

Photos courtesy of Nick Vasilopoulos