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The Elusive French Cafe


Macarons&Mozart
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So I am craving the perfect cafe with an old Parisian feel that you can linger in for hours with coffee or a glass of wine and a newspaper or book and just forget about everything. Does anyone here have suggestion where to go? I live in the South Bay, but recommendations even in SF will be most welcomed.

And old Paris aside, if anyone would like to recommend other great cafes with a nice European (not only French, but Italian, or perhaps the impossible to find Austrian/German?).

In Palo Alto, I can recommend the Caffe del Doge (on University Ave) is a great place- edgy and very Italian, serving great espressos and specialty drinks. (But still no classic French cafe to be found...)

Thank you all very much!

Robert

Edited by Macarons&Mozart (log)
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So I am craving the perfect cafe with an old Parisian feel that you can linger in for hours with coffee or a glass of wine and a newspaper or book and just forget about everything. ... I live in the South Bay

Robert, here is information you may be looking for, specifically for southern part of the Bay Area. It has surfaced in past discussions here but landscape changed with the closing several months ago of another true French neighborhood café, Brigitte’s in Santa Clara.

In passing I should credit also the Left Bank chain, which offers something along these lines, though has shown limitations. Several meals of different sizes at each of following locations produced consistent high results at the San Mateo site in the young instant-village complex there (northern analog of SJ's Santana Row). Good results at the older, Menlo Park location; spectacularly and relentlessly inconsistent results at the Santana Row (SJ) location which however has a beautiful setting with outdoor dining in good weather, arbor with outdoor chess area adjacent. 6-8 meals that location. For a business dinner where we brought in wines, server brought glasses to the table and it fell to me to point out that they were covered with dust and greasy fingerprints. Large meeting and dinner for a well-known international food-wine group, with European dignitaries, was a comedy of service errors. But random visits for a glass of wine, onion soup, delicious apple tart have been fine. Strange tension between the menu cards, pointedly in French, and the servers, who have sometimes not been able to pronounce much of it. (Why not either train them, or translate the menus to the more practical, local, language, English???) And then a highly respected Bay Area chef stopped there, ordered the offered sauce Béarnaise, received a Hollandaise, remarked at the difference, and had server argue to him that it was actually a Béarnaise. (Malaise!)

That leaves the Petit Bistro (Mountain View near Palo Alto, 1405 West El Camino Real, 650 964 3321, dinners appx 5:30-10PM). French cookbooks (in English or French) actually are on some tables, for diners who want to read. Below are some things I wrote recently for another wine-group dinner.

If you'd like to consider a new option, food entirely compatible with our wines but more casual, as well as inexpensive, our region has a (very) few genuine brasseries of the type so good and common in France. I'm thinking of something above the authenticity level of Left Bank, although of the four or so of that chain's sites I've tried multiple times each, the best and most consistent experiences were at the San Mateo site (recently I learned why, SM is something of a flagship site, I'll explain later if interested). But also a very real, independent French-owned brasserie, now in second generation of its French-born owners, is in MV not far from the Palo Alto border -- the Petit Bistro. I know the owners well. French is spoken. It's a neighborhood favorite; courses e.g. coq-au-vin, sweetbreads "poulette" style, and the best and most subtly herbed steamed mussels I've had in California. All pointedly more folksy, "cuisine bourgeoise" rather than new-international or even Guide Culinaire, but very genuine and European in food sensibility. Small open dining room seats about 40.

During tonight's visit [to inquire about group dinner], having eaten no lunch, I got an early à-la-carte dinner of the day's soup (spinach-leek), flat crisp sole with lemon and capers (basically a small meal, with its garnishes), vinaigrette salad with crudités, onion soup gratinée (which I like), and a warm tarte Tatin with coffee. That totaled $54 pre-tip not counting two expensive delicious glasses Alsatian Riesling [which proprietor, Jean-Michel, opened when I asked for something interesting], and it's the sort of cuisine-bourgeoise the Bistro is known for. Apropos, below is location of review a few years ago by an experienced sometimes food-writer friend; the place doesn't change much. Incidentally the bistro was packed this Tues night, walk-ins waiting. (Some tables spoke French.) I was told it's busy most nights now, I'd guess less so in the new year.

http://www.flavornotes.com/revpetitbistro.html

Viennese cooking, a particular study of mine (couple shelves of books, picked up there; writeup 9 years ago on Amazon for Wechsberg's Blue Trout and Black Truffles), I haven't seen, to speak of, in this area but would like to know of any. There've been a couple of decent German restaurants, can't report recently, Germania in downtown SJ, and especially Hardy's Bavaria in downtown Sunnyvale near train station which has featured some light, natural dishes-- wild mushrooms, multi-cheese Spätzle -- polar opposites of the Harry's-Hofbrau steam-table roasts under IR lamps that shape some inaccurate US impressions of German cuisine. But the esteemed owner, Hardy Steiner, former travel agent, sold it a couple of years back and old regulars complained about the service afterwards.

For any further info or regional suggestions, please PM me.

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  • 2 weeks later...
For me, it is Cafe de la Presse. I have been known to linger there with a charcouterie plate and a glass of wine for hours...

Agree completely. Even since the reno, you can hang out undisturbed and do your cryptic crossword or whatever. As with seemingly all other places that serve breakfast in SF, it is super busy on weekend mornings, so the marathon "sobre mesa" might be frowned upon at peak hours...

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In passing I should credit also the Left Bank chain, which offers something along these lines, though has shown limitations.  Several meals of different sizes at each of following locations produced consistent high results at the San Mateo site in the young instant-village complex there (northern analog of SJ's Santana Row).  Good results at the older, Menlo Park location; spectacularly and relentlessly inconsistent results at the Santana Row (SJ) location which however has a beautiful setting with outdoor dining in good weather, arbor with outdoor chess area adjacent.  6-8 meals that location.  For a business dinner where we brought in wines, server brought glasses to the table and it fell to me to point out that they were covered with dust and greasy fingerprints.  Large meeting and dinner for a well-known international food-wine group, with European dignitaries, was a comedy of service errors.  But random visits for a glass of wine, onion soup, delicious apple tart have been fine.  Strange tension between the menu cards, pointedly in French, and the servers, who have sometimes not been able to pronounce much of it.  (Why not either train them, or translate the menus to the more practical, local, language, English???)  And then a highly respected Bay Area chef stopped there, ordered the offered sauce Béarnaise, received a Hollandaise, remarked at the difference, and had server argue to him that it was actually a Béarnaise.  (Malaise!)

I've had only bad experiences with Left Bank, however, I've only been to the one in concord.

Frozen onions in a Coq au vin, burnt goat cheese tart, mild food poisoning.... Mediocre food another time... I'm done with the place.

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