Some years ago, I visited the rather up and coming “Chapeau” with my friend AR — and found the food to be really delicious! I had the lamb cassoulet on that trip, amongst other things, but most memorable for me was the bottle of Macallan 18 that he had bought for me at the duty-free shop on his way home that day from Europe, that Chapeau had let us open inside their restaurant after our bottle of wine, even supplying us with glasses and “rocks”.
Chapeau Moves to a New Location
Since that day, Chapeau had bought out what used to be “Clementine” and then had eventually merged it all into one “Chapeau” at the new location. That’s a good thing, considering patrons were crammed into one small area at their old restaurant.
Fast forward a few years, and Mr. K made reservations for Chapeau for a special dinner for us. I was truly excited to revisit; I had last visited when Chapeau was only in its relative infancy (though I’m told the restaurant has been there since 1996) and I was curious to see how they had matured.
As soon as I entered, I was impressed with the new location. Those of you who had visited Clementine may not be as impressed as much of it remains similar, if not identical — but it was my first-time, and I liked the vibe of the place. It had the same casual formality that Chapeau originally offered but something about it had loosened up a bit — or maybe we were just in a larger space and could “let loose” a bit.
They said it would be a few minutes’ wait, and we took a seat at the nice bar — stocked with several of the good scotches I’d want while waiting. It’s a good thing they had this scotch because we had arrived at 8:28 PM for our 8:30 PM reservation, and we would not be seated until 9:15 PM on this evening, which makes me wonder what the purpose of a reservation was.
But alas, with the scotches in hand, I was quieted and amused while we patiently awaited our turn, though our bartender, an Asian female, was a bit inattentive and ditzy. Chef Philippe Gardelle, who looked much like he did the first time I saw him, came by several times to apologize — and frankly, after the food I ate on this evening — this is hardly a ding. It was one of those moments you mutter to yourself, “This meal better be worth this wait!” — and indeed, as you will see, it was.
We finally secured a nice table in the middle of the restaurant— and the menu was just as it had been when I first dined there with three, four or five-course options, or a la carte options as well; it’s all up to you. Vegetarian options were also available.
Parsley soup was the amuse bouche of the evening. I rather liked this “chilled” soup, served a bit over room temperature. The flavors of parsley, which can easily be a hit or miss, were really accentuated by the heavy dose of salt in this soup. While on its own, it could be said that it was too salty (Mr. K’s take on it), it did do what it was supposed to do: awaken your taste buds for the meal that was about to start.
Our server was ideal from start to finish, taking accurate orders, fully explaining everything on the menu when asked, and just attentive enough to leave us wanting for nothing. I am one of those people that absolutely hate being bothered during the meal. Afterall, I came to dine at the restaurant with my chosen company — not my server.
Mr. K opted for the five course option, which included a palate-cleansing sorbet of sorts — and I opted for the four course.
First up — our appetizers.
My dinner date opted for the additional cost of ordering foie gras — and based on how cleanly he licked the plate clean, it was safe to assume that it was good foie gras. I did try it, and I agree — it was good, but it paled in comparison to how good my order was! It’s very rare for me to say that foie gras paled in comparison to anything, but….
I took the first bite of my appetizer and nearly fainted.
“Oh my goodness, you have to try this,” I told Mr. K, and immediately offered a bite. He, in his usual manner, proceeded to open his mouth and took a chunk of my appetizer. As his eyes rolled to the back of his head in delight, I did what I always say should not be done.
I am big believer in providing information in a timely manner; in other words, good timing is vital in determining the value of information. On this evening, I totally mistimed the information and said, while he chewed and neared euphoria, “See? I knew you would love animal pancreas!”
Epic fail. Or in Twitterese, #FAIL!
He stopped chewing for a few seconds, and his eyes sort of glazed over and his guttural moaning immediately calmed down and his expression changed to something resembling horror and nausea. For the purpose of this food review, though, focus on his original reaction to the TASTE.(And this goes to show that people would get over their preconceived notions if they just went by taste and not looks, or what it actually is!)
The wine reduction sauce that accompanied this dish was exhilarating! It goes down as perhaps the best wine sauce I’ve ever had — and combined with the perfectly cooked morsels of pancreas, glands or whatever you want to define sweetbreads as, this dish fell off of God’s table into my mouth.
Both of us opted for the special “fish course” of the day as our second course: a fresh scallop atop a delicious risotto. This course will change daily, and this will most likely not be the fish course on the day you visit, but if this is how Chef Philippe cooks seafood — I’d never miss out on this course. The scallop was seared perfectly on the outside and the middle was basically ideal with only the innermost area of the scallop being slightly undercooked. The scallop melted like butter, and combined with the fantastic risotto, it took every bit of discipline on my part to not throw my head into this dish and lick it clean.
The amazing wine reduction sauce (Cabernet, I think?) emerged again with the filet mignon that Mr. K had ordered. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and evidenced by the fact that I was offered only one bite — it was clear that he liked what he chose. The tiny bits of potato in this dish were fantastic, and I freely reached over and dragged several pieces through the sauce, helping myself without invitation.
I love duck meat so I opted for the duck leg and breast combination being offered on this evening. The leg was cooked to a nice crisp on the inside, and all that fatty goodness of duck meat was retained on the inside. Given how amazing the food was prior to this, how good the duck breast was isn’t surprising at all, accompanied by a nice sauce.
But let’s get to the important part: check out the second photograph!
This was so good that I asked a busser what this was, and he went to ask the kitchen. Immediately, Chef Philippe came out and informed me that this was his little (divine) creation of potato slices, cooked in butter, eventually sandwiching Gruyere cheese in between the potato layers. While this may sound simple to you, I have cooked potatoes, and I have cooked with Gruyere cheese; none of my dishes ever came out tasting this heavenly! Macaroni and cheese, step down, please — I’ll take this any day of the week!
Our fixed course options included a choice of desserts so we both opted for one choice each. When I read “French toast with ice cream” — I immediately knew what I was going to get. Mr. K crinkled his nose at my choice and opted for the chocolate cake with rum raisin ice cream, saying, “Yeah, I’m just not a fan of french toast.”
The desserts arrive, and my order got placed in front of him and his in front of me. That’s not a problem as we can move it ourselves, but my date took a bite out of my dessert since he knew I’d make him anyway.
Then he took another.
Let’s just put it this way: that dish never did come back to my side of the table, and I ate the chocolate cake that was more like a souffle, and rich as can be.
Warm chocolate oozed out of a fluffy chocolate cake, and the rum raisin ice cream was flavorful.
But this dish could not compare to what my lovely date was eating at a pace I had seen so rarely… Lucky for him, it makes me happy to see him enjoy his food, so I merely took a bite and let him finish it off.
When our server came by to ask us how we liked our desserts, I told him the little story about how the “guy who doesn’t like french toast or hazelnut ice cream” finished it all off — and how I had merely gotten one bite of the hazelnut ice cream (which was simply delightful, might I add). He laughed, went back to the kitchen and brought me an additional scoop of the ice cream, which I ate merrily, gratefully and utterly shamelessly. Oink oink, be damned.
The meal came to $230, including the three glasses of scotch we had originally consumed at the bar area. Bear in mind, also, that we had opted for some extras, like the foie gras and sorbet; the bottle of Ridge Zinfandel we ordered was also about $50 and worth every single penny. Having been seated later, we were also the second to last people to exit the restaurant, late into the night. Our bellies were full, and our spirits high from great scotch, great wine, and amazing food!
As is always the case for all patrons here, the night ends with Chef Philippe saying goodbye to you as he walks you out, and gives ladies a kiss on each cheek. There is something so charming about this, even if you know it happens to everyone who comes to the restaurant; it’s so European, and so heartwarming to know that this is one chef who understands and continues to appreciate the fact that his customers and their satisfaction is what keeps his restaurant in business. Many chefs of restaurants just as great have clearly forgotten who got them there — but not Chef Philippe. You can sense that he values his customers even to this day…which, combined with his exquisite cooking, is what he keeps him at the top of many, many lists.
Chapeau is a true staple of San Francisco dining. While we have an inordinate amount of good restaurants in the city, I daresay we do not have a lot of impressive French cooking in this city, at least not compared to Asian cooking or even Italian cuisine. Chapeau truly redefines French cuisine, and is paving the way in the San Franciscan dining scene with amazing tastes, and a true introduction to how fabulous French cooking can be. With a crisp and modern decor, this location is ideal for dates, first or otherwise, and a dinner here is comparable to that at any fine dining establishment in the city. I’d opt to eat here over Michael Mina, or Fleur de Lys any day!
Chapeau is located at 126 Clement Street, between 2nd and 3rd Street in the Richmond district of San Francisco. They are opened 7 days a week for dinner, beginning at 5:00 PM, offering “early bird” dinner specials if you’re inclined to eat before 6:00 PM, and serving until 10 PM, or later on the weekends. Visit their website (a rather primitive site for such a great restaurant) for more details; you can make your reservations for Chapeau via Opentable.
Much thanks to the very best man in the world, my awesome Mr. K, for another spectacular dinner!
Addictive Factor: 8.5/10
Overall Rating: 8.6/10
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.