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Art of the Party

At his San Francisco gallery and design store, Dan Friedlander spotlights cutting-edge work. But in his restaurant and at his parties, he features California's own brand of comfort food.

San Francisco is a city mad for design, yet even there, designer Dan Friedlander stands out for the scope of his vision. Friedlander, 49, also owns Limn, the largest contemporary-design store in the country. Operating out of a remodeled warehouse that sprawls over some 50,000 square feet, Limn carries furniture, decorative items and even full kitchens from more than 1,200 forward-looking companies—B&B Italia, Cappellini and Bulthaup among them. Friedlander founded Limn in 1981; 14 years later he opened Limn Gallery (known for, among other specialties, its roster of avant-garde Chinese artists) next door. More recently he launched a design journal called Limn Almanac, which is now on the Web (at www.limn.com/almanac_index.asp).

As if that weren't enough, two years ago Friedlander took on yet another role: restaurateur. Halfway through the building of Cafe Monk, which he had designed, in a former clothing factory not far from Limn, he learned that the financing for the restaurant had fallen through. And so he and his wife, Kazuyo, bought the place themselves— "Why not?" he says with a shrug—and filled it with Limn furniture and art.

Recently, Dan and Kazuyo gave a dinner party that showed how great design and great food complement each other. The Friedlanders set up tables by Maxalto in the courtyard between the store and the gallery and tucked eye-catching works of art, including a large sculpture of a Mao jacket by the Chinese artist Sui Jianguo, into the corners. The guests were a cross-section of colleagues involved in Limn enterprises.

Randy Windham, who took over the kitchen at Cafe Monk a year ago, prepared the food—a casual buffet of mostly make-ahead dishes. Windham, 33, spent a year on a Sonoma County farm "growing 26 types of lettuce and raising baby lambs" before heading down to San Francisco to work at Zuni Café and other restaurants. The hallmarks of his style are freshness (this is Northern California, after all) and a simplicity that contrasts markedly with some of Friedlander's more unusual designs. He paired sweet-corn kernels, shaved right off the cob, with cherry tomatoes in a winning salad, and peaches with blackberries in an old-fashioned cobbler. He served grilled rib eye with a crunchy bread-crumb salsa to soak up the succulent juices and prepared a rich, lemony chickpea dip spiced with garlic and smoky paprika.

After dinner, the Friedlanders and their guests kicked back for some Bay Area talk. San Francisco's love affair with the Internet having recently faltered, they were soon debating the future of Web publishing. Conversation shifted to the art scene, then to the state of architecture, and from there back to Randy Windham's food. The wide range of topics was hardly surprising. After all, Dan Friedlander's universe is a place where all these worlds come together.

David Hay is a playwright and journalist who writes on art and architecture.

Published September 2001
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