I've been on a blogging hiatus for the past month or so, mostly because I'm so swamped with work, social events, and taking care of various things before my trip to New York. But even though I haven't been writing, I definitely haven't stopped trying new restaurants. This post is dedicated to a recent French gem I discovered in the Outer Richmond district - Chapeau (means "hat" in French).
I came upon the restaurant pretty haphazardly. My friend and I were walking to our favorite Japanese restaurant in the city, Minami, and on the way we passed by Chapeau. Something on the menu caught our eye - $25.50 for a three-course prix fixe meal before 6pm on Monday through Thursday (the so-called "early bird special"). After checking to make sure the decimal point wasn't really one place over to the right, I vowed to come back to try this early bird special.
So I made reservations this past Thursday for exactly 5:45pm. From checking Opentable.com, I realized that I had probably booked the last available early bird special spot for the next month or so at the restaurant. Definitely a good sign when the restaurant is continuously booked.
Although the space of the restaurant is pretty small, the owner utilizes it to its full potential. This means the tables are close together, but I never felt like I needed more space. Since I had called ahead to inquire about corkage rates (a very reasonable $18 per bottle), I brought along the bottle of Beringer 2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
that had been sitting in my room for awhile, patiently waiting to be opened and enjoyed. Incidentally, that was one of the best cabs I've had in a long time, especially from Beringer.
And the great wine was a perfect complement to the phenomenal food. For starters:
Warm brie on potato and leek darphin with mizuna (a Japanese salad green), walnuts, and a red wine reduction
This was just a small sample, on the house. A simple melon soup
(cantaloupe and honeydew) with some sort of mint flavor. I wasn't a fan of this, because I thought the mint really overpowered the sweetness of the melon, so that, to borrow my friend's words, I felt like I was "drinking toothpaste."
This was simply amazing. The warm, buttery taste of the brie was the main event, but there were so many other textures to tease the taste buds - velvety salad greens, crunchy walnuts, and slightly sweet red wine reduction. And I loved the plating!
Salmon Duo - Raw salmon slices wrapped around salmon tartar, topped with herbs in lemon dressing
Another excellent first dish, especially if you like salmon. The fish was fresh, and as you can see from the photo, the presentation was beautiful. I especially like how they circled the plate with bits of egg and fried capers.
Then, on to the main entrees:
Glazed duck breast over polenta corn meal, poached peaches, and carrots
This was what I ordered (medium rare, of course), and it was wonderful. The duck was tender, and the juice was delightfully sweetened from the peaches and carrots. Definitely went well with my glass of cab!
Roasted pork tenderloin with fava beans, carrots, pearl onions, and bacon in a parsnip puree
My friend ordered this, so I only had a bite of it, but she seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Like the duck, the pork was very tender, and puree was not too thick.
And finally, the desserts. I had a bite of each of the ones my friends ordered:
Profiteroles are cream puffs with a sweet or savory filling inside. These were filled with ice cream and topped with a bittersweet chocolate and a dash of powdered sugar.
Basil Napoleon - Maui pineapple, Manila mango, banana, kiwi, and strawberries with champagne-citrus pastry cream and feuille de brique
A simple dessert with a mix of diced fruits and very thin wafers (feuille de brique) sprinkled with powdered sugar.
But the best dessert, in my opinion, was the vanilla bean creme brulee that I ordered.
I've heard that the test of a good restaurant is their creme brulee. I'm not sure where that came from, but if it's true, this creme brulee made Chapeau pass with flying colors. It was one of the best creme brulees I've ever had. The sugar layer on top was perfectly burned, resulting in that signature crispy sound when I first broke through it with my spoon. The custard was sinfully rich and creamy with lots of vanilla flavor. And the entire dish was not overwhelmingly sweet, as some other inferior creme brulees can be. Simply put, I would go back for this dessert alone.
And all of this for $25.50 per person - what a steal! Our check was presented to us in an actual hat - a very cute touch, given the name of the restaurant.
As we exited the restaurant, tummies satisfied, we received handshakes and kisses (it's French, after all) from the chef owner Philippe Gardelle, a cheerful fellow who likes to circulate the tables and greet the guests personally during their meal.
Overall, Chapeau is definitely on my list of San Francisco favorites now. Wonderful French food and friendly service in an unpretentious atmosphere? Hats off to that!
1408 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118(415) 750-9787