For Claude Le Tohic, lacing up his blue running shoes has become as de rigueur as buttoning his crisp white jacket. That’s because for nearly four years, the Joël Robuchon-trained, James Beard Award-winning, Michelin-starred chef has been on a relentless marathon of a project. Not only is it the largest one he’s ever attempted, but it also features the first restaurant to carry his name.
In June, Le Tohic triumphantly crossed the finish line when the $20 million, six-story culinary tour de force, ONE65, opened in San Francisco’s Union Square. Created with the Alexander’s Steakhouse restaurant group, ONE65 (named for its O’Farrell Street address) spotlights modern French cuisine in four concepts all under one roof: a patisserie, bistro, bar and fine-dining restaurant.
It’s an endeavor the French-born Le Tohic has lived and breathed since being lured away in 2016 from his position as executive chef of Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he earned the restaurant three Michelin stars. Initially, he was hired to do a fine-dining restaurant. But when he expressed interest in doing more, the Alexander’s team showed him the historic 1906 Beaux Arts building.
“I walked through it, and it just came to me — the first floor patisserie, the bistro above, etc. I wanted to bring this building back to life,” he says. “You have to think about it in stages because if you put it all on the table at once, it’s too much, it’s too crazy, and you think you can’t do this. You have to think about how to operate it. It’s so complex. How many freezers do you need? How many electrical plugs? It was stressful, wondering if I had thought of everything that’s needed.”
Le Tohic realized the necessity of building two dumbwaiters to ferry cocktails and food to any floor. He decided to install only induction cooking for greater precision and safety, with the exception of two charcoal ovens imported from Spain to cook food quickly and impart smokiness. He also had to hire 150 employees — no easy feat in this tight job market.
The end result is a place where patrons can literally spend every waking hour. It starts at street level with ONE65 Patisserie & Boutique, which tempts with croissants, tarts, baguettes, chocolates, grab-and-go sandwich-es, plats du jour, ice cream and macarons in 18 flavors — including Earl Grey, lychee, cotton candy and birthday cake with sprinkles. The second floor features a chocolate-production room with a window that encourages ogling. The third-floor ONE65 Bistro & Grill, done up in milk-chocolate-hued leather banquettes, entices at lunch with soju-cured salmon and a porchetta sandwich slathered with serrano salsa verde; and at dinner with frog legs and escargot finished in parsley-garlic butter, and charcoal oven-cooked beef cheek garnished with nettle puree and pickled ramps.
The moodier, sexier fourth-floor bar-lounge, ELEMENTS, serves high tea by day and craft cocktails by night, among them an invigorating Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board (gin, citrus, pandan, cream and frothy egg whites) and a party-sized Bird in the Hand (tequila, Campari, grapefruit, honey and potent absinthe) dispensed from a four-spigot absinthe glass fountain. There’s even a wall of private whiskey lockers rentable by the year with patrons’ names embossed on them.
The sophisticated fifth-floor O’ by Claude Le Tohic offers two tasting menus, and will eventually add optional à la carte service, too. The restaurant’s name was inspired by the “O” in O’Farrell and by the French word “eau” for water. The decor and menu thus reflect the elements of fire, earth and water, as do tableside carts that flambé spirit-infused coffee. “For four years, I have been thinking about this every day,” Le Tohic says. “Now, there is just a feeling of great completion.”
Toque Talk: Chef Claude Le Tohic
First thing you ever cooked: “Fraise (strawberry cake). I was 14. I was looking through cookbooks, and picked that because I like desserts. It was tasty.”
Best advice Joël Robuchon gave you: “To respect the product. If you take a piece of meat or a vegetable, you have to treat it well, you don’t waste it, and you must put passion into cooking it.”
What would you be if you weren’t a chef: “A dentist. I don’t know why. Maybe because I like the precision. I am a very good patient, too.”