Monday, December 7, 2009

CAFE CLAUDE - Mais Oui ...please have another drink?

Black Friday. Shopping day from hell. But such great sales, right? So how does one get the hubby to come with? Ahhh-hah. Offer him lunch at Cafe Claude. So my grad student and I did, as part of our evil plan to get him (and thus, his wallet) into the City with us.

Seriously, the Grad Student and I both love Cafe Claude so we thought it would be a fun family outing. I must admit that the Better Half loves it there too, so it was the perfect place to top off our day-after-Turkey festivities. Food was definitely going to be the highlight of the day, particularly given the fairly obnoxious crowds slugging about the city streets making walking around enjoyably near to impossible. (But the sales!) People are sooo rude these days. We made reservations for 1pm ish and arrived at the restaurant right on time, and starving.

The restaurant itself seems worth a note here. It is a charming, intimate, very authentic European-style little bistro in an alley in San Francisco that transports its clientele, in spirit at least, right to the heart of Paris. The bar is rich wood, the interior long and dark and intimate. It's tiny, but with such an abundance of genuine charm that one doesn't feel packed in like a sardine. I love the place.

Started with a cheeseboard featuring (from what I can remember) a Chevre goat, a soft brie and a lovely French cow's milk. They change out their cheeses constantly and I didn't write much of the cheese course down what with the cocktail in one hand. I remember only that they were delicious and we enjoyed them with cocktails. There's a story about the cocktails, but more about that later. I ordered the Mousse D'Amerique, a lilting combination of rum, lime juice, pineapple and sugar cane. Foamy on top. Yum! The BH had the French 75, a fruity mix of gin and sparkling wine, Double Yum! Our grad student had one as well.

It was about this time that we noticed the bartender was tall, dark and French. As an aside, I should mention that the wait staff at Cafe Claude is often French and almost always pretty. Male & female alike. Young, attractive people abound here. I think I notice because I used to sit on a casting panel for theatrical productions and I can't help but evaluate people a little bit for their stage-worthiness. I think my 24-year-old daughter notices because she is 24 and single. So anyway, the Grad Student and I both commented to one another that our bartender could give Gilles Marini a run for his money, and there might be flirting. Fun Times!

Back at the meal, the BH and Grad Student both love a good French Onion Soup and Cafe Claude's is one of the best. At least as good as Absinthe over in Hayes Valley. A lovely hot mess of golden-kissed cheese over an oniony puddle of perfect broth. Nothing heartier to warm the bones from an outdoor chill.

While I continued to consume my own drink with more cheese, I let the soup divert the attention of both my dining companions. The family was enjoying our environment and the food at Claude quite a bit, so we lingered over these prefatory courses.
When our mains arrived, we ordered a second round of cocktails. My lunch was a lovely special, described as a Veal Stew but which arrived in the form of a rich and creamy (ivory colored,
almost stroganoff-looking) dish. I had anticipated something more traditional --- perhaps a thick brown sauce with a wine reduction --- but this was a nice twist. It had mushrooms and garlic and veal, all tumbled together beneath this aromatic but delicate blanket of cream, au jus and herbs.
My better half and our daughter had their steak and fries. The steak arrived perfectly cooked, rare, as requested. The fries, are well, Cafe Claude's. They are among the best fries ever, anywhere. I have a few places I go just for the fries and this is one of them. The others are Cesar's on Piedmont Avenue (Cesar's may still be absolute number one, but it's close) and Luka's on Grand Avenue. When they are done to perfection, fries can be a real treat. Here they are light, thin and well-seasoned. Hints of garlic. Salted well. Ahhhh. yes!

By now the grad student and I are getting a little liquored up. We've noticed that the very smokin' bartender has taken to deliver her drinks (oh, to be young again) and it's amusing. So she has another. He brings it, but refuses a tip. Politely. Hmm.

We decide that the meal won't be complete without dessert. GS thinks the Tarte Tatin sounds appetizing, so we go for it. What's not to love about upside down apple tart with caramel sauce and whipped cream? I know, right? As we gently drape our bites of hot gooey caramel and apple with fluffy tongues of whipped cream we continue to ogle the hot bartender. My daughter decides she needs him to come back, so she orders, yes, another drink. By the time we leave there is chatting, marginal flirting. He tells her it is his birthday. She says "Happy Birthday" instead of what she is thinking, which is, bien sur, way more Sex & the City. Quel dommage, it was time for us to leave.

It was a lovely afternoon, and as we step out into the brisk post-Thanksgiving crowds once again, we are full, slightly drunk and alive. It's a beautiful world.

I cannot recommend Cafe Claude enough for this sort of an afternoon, or any sort at all. Check it out, and Bon Appetit!

Cafe Claude
7 Claude Lane
San Francisco, CA 94108

Dining Time: leisurely
Table size: small, cramped, European-style
Noise level: It's noisy but intimate enough that I don't have trouble hearing.
Price: moderately expensive

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