Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Review: Chapeau!

This evening, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Chapeau! (1408 Clement Street; 415-750-9787), a little French bistro tucked away in the sleepy Outer Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. This hidden treasure features a selection of traditional French fare, such as cassoulet, rabbit, roasted poussin, and rack of lamb. While the menu is not innovative along the lines of a French Laundry or a Manresa, it is well executed and very solid. For me, what sets Chapeau apart from many of the other restaurants that I have visited is the extremely high level of service and warm hospitality provided by Philippe and Ellen Gardelle, the restaurant's proprietors, and their staff. Tonight was no exception.

While you can order a la carte from the menu, most people opt for one of the prix fixe menus. Their early-bird special, which rings in at a surprisingly affordable $19, gives you a choice of an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert from a limited set of menu items, but you need to be there before 6:00pm in order to take advantage of this option. For those of us who choose to eat dinner at a non-AARP-endorsed hour, there are two fixed price menus. The first menu, appropriately named 'Menu 1', lets you pick any appetizer, entree, and dessert from their menu for $35. There are a few items, such as the foie gras appetizer and the filet mignon entree, that require you to pay a small additional charge. Menu 2 includes an additional fish course and allows you to add an optional palate cleansing sorbet. Tonight, we both went with Menu 1.

Our meal started with the seared foie gras and crispy sweetbreads appetizers, which came out after our complementary cold melon soup with mint. As I have mentioned in a previous post, my girlfriend and I both love foie gras. Their version had two decent sized slabs, lightly seared and served on top of a brioche with a peach reduction. We shared this tasty dish, accompanied by a nice sauternes paired by Ellen, who was our server tonight. The sweetbreads were served with trumpet and oyster mushrooms in a rich truffle sauce - it was also delicious. For our main courses, we ordered the rabbit and the bouillabaisse. The hind quarter was plated with white beans and surrounded by a rich sauce. As expected, the meat was very flavorful and also very tender. The bouillabaisse, loaded with cod and mussels, was served with slices of bread and a very savory rouille, a spicy aioli traditionally served with this stew. The bread, topped with rouille, was extremely useful in sopping up all of the savory broth. For dessert, we picked the chocolate lava cake (one of my girlfriend's favorites) and the panna cotta with strawberries and a basil coulis. Though we were already full from our main courses, we managed to polish off these delectably sweet morsels.

As it was during our last visit, the food was delicious and filling. Though as tasty as the food was, I was again most impressed with the service. Ellen and the other waitstaff were attentive without hovering over us and made sure that all of our needs were met. Of course, I don't want to forget mentioning Philippe. As is his norm, he greeted us warmly soon after we sat down as he made his rounds across the dining room. Even though we were strangers to him, he made us feel like we were sitting down to dinner in his own home. During the course of the evening, he would duck out of the kitchen periodically to make his rounds, checking on each table as if it were the only one in the restaurant. As we finished our dinner and made our way out, he met up with us just outside the front door to thank us for visiting and to bid us a good evening. During our previous visit, he actually chased us halfway down the block, with a hand full of wine goblets, in order to say goodbye. Luckily for him tonight, we were too full to move very quickly.