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SF Chron very lukewarm about Bistro Clovis


wnissen
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I've only been to Bistro Clovis a couple of times, but I love that place! The food, wine, and service are all very, very good, and it's easy walking distance to both Davies and the Orpheum. But the Chronicle reviewer in several places seemed to damn the "classics" with faint praise, which is crazy talk. If it tastes good, it's good, in my opinion. From http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c...DDG347EO0O1.DTL

The food never strays too far from the classics, whether it's a house- made rabbit pate scented with sage ($7.20) or a beet root- and vodka-cured salmon ($8.50)

I don't deny that there is a heavy emphasis on stuff you would see at a real bistro, but it's a really good pâté. He doesn't say whether either of these dishes are any good.

A deeply flavored onion soup ($5.90) spills over the side of the traditional crock, leaving brown streaks from the salty broth. The blue cheese bread pudding ($7.20) is balanced by plump golden raisins. Dressed greens and spiced nuts decorate the perimeter and add a nice contrast to the pungency of the main ingredient.

Haven't had these, so I can't comment. The foie gras appetizer ($18?) is delicious, though.

Main courses also focus on classics, including boeuf bourguignonne ($18. 50) and a particularly weak version of cassoulet ($19.50) where the beans are cooked to a paste.

It may be an old-school dish, but that boeuf bourguignonne is absolutely fantastic. It perfectly combines an intense winey flavor with the savory, perfectly tender beef, and the potatoes are great. The cassoulet I had was not at all a paste, that must have been an off-night. I don't have much experience with cassoulet, but I loved mine, beans, meat, and crispy seasoned bread crumb crust. [Makes satisfied yummy noises]

One of the best dishes is salmon baked in parchment paper ($18.50), with a bright green basil sauce on top and anise-scented carrots and coins of potatoes below. The juices of the various ingredients mingle pleasantly to create a very satisfying dish.

OK, this we agree on. The salmon tastes, smells, and looks great. The anise, basil, everything works.

The duck filet is also very good ($19.50), [snip]

Again, I haven't had this.

The pedigree is sealed at dessert with the tarte Tatin ($8.50). It should be ordered at the beginning of the meal because it takes about 20 minutes, but it's a textbook preparation, with a thin crust and thick wedges of apples glistening in dark caramel, just a shade shy of tasting scorched. The flavors are smoothed out with tangy creme fraiche on top, which also acts to keep things from becoming cloying.

I disagree that this is textbook. When my wife and I were honeymooning in France, we usually ordered dessert. My wife doesn't like the cheese plate or fromage blanc, so tarte tatin was a pretty usual choice for us. We never had one that tasted like this. First, it's an entire tart, maybe ten inches across, and the crust is crispy, almost like a cracker with dark caramel drizzled all over. I'm used to a soft pielike crust with caramel baked in. Nonetheless, it is a delicious interpretation, faithful to the original's flavors. And the crème fraîche is a nice touch; more durable than ice cream, and cutting rather than enhancing the sweetness.

Bread pudding ($6) is also great, rich with butter and a plethora of tart sun-dried cherries. It's topped with a pear sorbet that I could have lived without, surrounded by a thick creme anglaise studded with nuts. For something more refreshing, there's a soup ($6) with loads of grapefruit sections, Muscat wine and a sorbet that echoes the same flavors.

The soup was good if unremarkable, but PEAR SORBET HE COULD HAVE LIVED WITHOUT?!? I don't think so. That pear sorbet was a perfect little jewel, a ripe ball of pure pear essence. It was a foil to the buttery richness of the bread pudding.

I realize that the review has very limited space (it's only 614 words), but there are some major omissions, in my opinion. First, the wine list rocks! Yes, it is nearly impossible for the novice, almost completely French and in French, which is a problem. However, it has excellent selections from good value regions, like Santenay or Gigondas, and I haven't had a bad bottle yet. Temperature control is a weakness; we had to ask for an ice bucket for our Burgundies because they were 70F or so. Plus, they have a by-the-glass theme that rotates. I've seen a Loire flight and a southern Rhone flight, complete with little explanations of the geography and style. Second, they have fine specials, typically a soup and a meat course. We've had really good pea soup, and really good seared halibut in a red-wine sauce.

So, that's my opinion. I really like Bistro Clovis. It's not cheap, but I've had two wonderful meals there, and would go back again. So, anyone else have an experience to share?

Walt

Edit to remove unnecessary blank lines.

Edited by wnissen (log)
Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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Walt, I'm another big fan of Bistro Clovis, even though I've only had lunch there a few times, and that was several years ago. I even recommended it recently when tana butler was looking for a good lunch spot.

Personally, I love the fact that it is a classic bistro. The room is charming yet inviting, and I still remember both the boeuf bourguignon and the cassoulet (a perfect interpretation when I had it) fondly. And the tarte Tatin is brilliant!

And what does he mean by "could have lived without", anyway? He didn't like the sorbet itself? didn't think it complimented the bread pudding? Grrrrr... but don't get me started on Michael Bauer... I'm with you on Bistro Clovis, and am only sorry my recently scheduled birthday dinner there had to be cancelled due to (my) illness. I will report back when the rescheduled event takes place in the near future.

Cheers,

Squeat

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I read the review and I don't understand your interpretation. It seemed like quite a positive review to me, from beginning to end.

By the time you've scooped up the last of the fruit or scraped up the remaining trace of caramel, you're replete and feel like you've won over the intuitive waiter, who miraculously adjusts the pace so opera-goers can get in and out in a hurry while those with no agenda are able to lounge and catch up with their companions.

That's a pretty nice wrap-up, in my mind. They didn't say the restaurant was perfect, but overally it was certainly a glowing review.

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I agree that it's a nice wrap-up (I can think of no higher honor than calling service "intuitive") but in general I didn't get a sense of enthusiasm. It was more, "good 'ol Clovis, if you want to have dishes that have been done a million times before, you could do worse than come here". Whereas I feel that Clovis sets its sights on being a really excellent bistro, and delivers. Do you have a sense of what a two-star rating means? I don't read the Chronicle restuarant reviews religiously (we live an hour east), so I can't say I've been to a range of one, two, and three star places.

Squeat, sorry about the sickness; having your birthday dinner postponed sucks. Actually, I had my birthday dinner there the most recent time I went. Hope you enjoy yourself, and let us know what you think.

Walt

Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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Walt,

To be frank, I'm pretty lukewarm about Bistro Clovis.

My office for 3 years was about 1/2 block away. I had several opportunites to go there.

The wine list is pretty good, but I found the food uninspiring. The menu seldom changed despite being quite short. What I ate there was good but not excellent. And the couple of times I did ask for help with the wine list, the server was not much use (mostly I did the wine flights, which I did very much like). Admittedly, my diet does restrict what I can order somewhat -- possibly Clovis' red meat dishes are their only real strength. I wouldn't know.

But overall, I'd far rather go to Chapeau!, Cafe Bastille or that one on Geary with the funny name than Bistro Clovis. Sorry not to share your indignation!

The Fuzzy Chef

www.fuzzychef.org

Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

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2 stars means good.

"RATINGS KEY

FOUR STARS: Extraordinary

THREE STARS: Excellent

TWO STARS: Good

ONE STAR: Fair

(box): Poor

"

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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jschyun,

I'm wondering more what it means on an absolute scale. For instance, the NYTimes rates restaurants four stars if they are in the top .1%, and so two stars is still a pretty darn good restaurant. I have a lot less experience with the SFChronicle's stars, so I was wondering if someone could point me to some more detailed explanation.

Thanks, Walt

Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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hell if i know. i can't figure out the sf chron's rating system, except in the most general way (most of the restaurants I want to visit get about 1-2.5 stars). i don't even look at the stars anymore, i try to divine how good it was from the enthusiasm of the reviewer, but that has failed me before.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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I agree with others that Bauer gave it a good review. I also think that he would never give a plain ol' bistro, meaning one that concentrated on only classic dishes, and didn't put a jazzy SF kinda spin on it or do some other "creative" (feh) stuff, more than two stars not matter how superlative it was, and the review makes it sould pretty superlative, which I think sucks. Not enough places pay homage to the old ways as far as I'm concerned. Grumble grumble...

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