Northside SF  

October '09

The Tablehopper:
Can you feel it in the air? It’s a season for big openers

By Marcia Gagliardi

In a season of high-profile restaurant openings (like Prospect and Wayfare Tavern – more on that one in a second), let’s examine the third heavyweight to enter the ring, Café Des Amis (2000 Union Street, 415-563-7700). This long-awaited project from the Bacchus Management Group (Spruce, Village Pub and more) and Perry Butler opened on July 21 in Cow Hollow. The former Prego space is nostalgic to many (it was one of the “special lunch in the City” locations my parents would occasionally take my sister and me to). It will be fantastic to have a lively restaurant anchor this corner once again.

Designed by Stephen Brady (Spruce) and architect Anthony Fish, the light-filled 7,000-square-foot location seats 200 with sweeping doors opening into the bar area. The 25-foot bar is a solid pour of zinc (the craftsmen, Ateliers Nectoux in Paris, only do a few of this kind a year), and it’s stunning with its curved edges. The bar accommodates about 18–20, and there are also a number of cocktail tables and classic woven brasserie chairs in black. Marble is everywhere, from the floors to the counters – and not just any marble, but Carrara marble (hey, if it’s good enough for Michelangelo …). When the floor-to-ceiling glass French doors are open, there are three rows of sidewalk seating – 17 to-be-coveted tables in all. The flickering gas lamps, both inside and outside, are a one-of-a-kind feature; this is the only place in San Francisco where you’ll see working gas lamps.

In the back is a stairway leading to a 40-seat room open to the dining room below. It’s quite glam with Bordeaux-colored mohair panels and crystal sconces, a massive chandelier by Brady that was originally designed for the Ralph Lauren store in Moscow, and a French limestone fireplace that was reassembled here by a master stonemason.

Quite the team has been painstakingly assembling the brasserie-inspired menu: Bacchus Management Group’s chef-partner Gordon Drysdale, executive chef Ed Carew (Cottage Eatery, Florio), and chef de cuisine Justin Deering (Conduit). While the restaurant will start only with dinner and a late-night menu, it will ramp up and be open all day and night, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A preliminary peek at the menu includes classic dishes that span many French regions, from a salade Lyonnaise to a Niçoise; a brandade de Morue; sardines escabeche over ratatouille and a charred pepper purée; a charcuterie program with rillettes and pâté campagne; seafood like sand dabs meunière with potatoes and crème fraîche; steak frites; and house specials like a côte de boeuf for two with béarnaise, bordelaise, marrow, and frites. Prices range from $9–$11 for starters ($17 for a foie terrine), and $17–$29 for entrées. The raw bar has a fantastic selection, perhaps one of the best in the City, and a late-night menu (starting at 11 p.m.) features incredible-sounding dishes like hay-braised ham croquettes with sweet peas and béchamel or sea urchin with pork butter on brioche. Mon dieu!

Concerning beverages, Bacchus’s wine director, Andrew Green (working closely with lead sommelier Skye La Torre), is offering a 500-bottle list composed almost entirely of French wines, with many from obscure towns and featuring good pricing, as well as a few domestic selections “from friends.” There are also 35 beers, with 10 on tap (look for some small artisanal French and Belgian selections). Cocktails are based on Parisian interpretations of American cocktails, with an 1800s flair – Brandon Clements, the bar manager at Spruce, oversaw the spirits program here. You’ll find cocktails like a Vieux Carré and, of course, a French 75. Hours will (eventually) be breakfast 8 a.m. –11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.–5 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.–11p.m. daily, and a late-night menu 11 p.m.–1 a.m. Thursday–Saturday.
More happenings on Union Street: The new tenants in the former U Street Lounge, Marengo (1980 Union Street, 415-441-2575), are offering a menu of sliders (up to 10 kinds) plus main-dish salads, like a jerk chicken version and a chopped salad. Open 4 p.m.–close daily; lunch and brunch coming soon. There are also burgers at Roam Artisan Burgers (1785 Union Street, 415-440-7626) made from grass-fed beef, bison, turkey, or a vegetable version, along with Organic Straus Family Creamery ice cream or yogurt shakes and artisan sodas, local beers, plus kombucha tea, and wine on tap. Open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily and until midnight Friday–Saturday. The Brick Yard Bar & Restaurant (1787 Union Street, 415-400-4712) in the former Bayside Bar & Grill has a California cuisine menu, plus a 30-foot bar with flat screen HD TVs, a private lounge, and an elevated outside patio facing Union Street. And, there’s Unwind (1875 Union Street, 415-999-7283) in the former Pasta Pomodoro, offering Cal-Med and American dishes in a casual atmosphere, ranging from $8–$14, plus affordable wine by the glass. There’s a back patio under a glass skylight ceiling – and plenty of flat screens. Hours for now are 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily and until 11 p.m. Friday–Saturday, with the bar open until midnight.

Across town, the other big opening is Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern (558 Sacramento Street, 415-772-9060), bringing life into the historic space that once housed beloved Rubicon. The menu of authentic American dishes was inspired by the San Francisco restaurant scene of the late 1800s. You can expect hors d’oeuvres like grass-fed beef carpaccio ($16), grilled Monterey Bay sardines ($14), and, not surprisingly, salt-roasted bone marrow ($14), along with smoked chicken wings ($9) and a selection of country hams ($18). The raw bar features a variety of oysters and clams ($15 for 6, $27 for 12), plus Dungeness cracked crab with Louie dressing ($18), and even Santa Barbara sea urchin ($18). Entrées include poached petrale sole with a chorizo-mussel chowder and green garlic breadcrumbs ($24); organic fried chicken with buttermilk brine, garlic, woody herbs and lemon ($22); a California Cobb salad ($22); a 21-day dry-aged grass-fed sirloin with buttered mushrooms and watercress ($32); and the classic Hangtown fry ($18). There are also daily Blue Plate Specials and homey desserts like strawberry shortcake and banana pudding.

The bar program features boutique distilleries, craft-distilled spirits and seasonal ingredients, such as the house-crafted plum and black tea shrub. The wine list is all about California wineries and vintners, along with a selection of Florence’s own label, plus a large selection of draft beers and an organic draft root beer served in frosty glasses.

The antiquarian look of the restaurant is a cross between a Victorian parlor and an Edwardian men’s club; Florence partnered with interior designer Lori Yeomans of USA Interior Design. Cool facts: the walls are lined by original bricks salvaged from the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and the wood floors were sourced directly from a turn-of-the-century Kentucky barn. The open kitchen has a chef’s counter with seating for eight, and The Parlor room has a billiard table available for private parties and for diners and guests, when not reserved. Lunch Monday–Friday and dinner nightly.

Marcia Gagliardi also writes a popular weekly e-column about the S.F. dining scene; subscribe for free at, where you can also find Marcia’s new book. Got a hot tip? E-mail

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