An early Saturday night in San Francisco and me and the SO just happen to be downtown seeing a movie that let's out in those in between hours between a late lunch and an early dinner. Trying to come up with some place new is always difficult so we decide to try some place we haven't been in a while. It's a relatively not too cold sort of warmish early evening (if you live here you know what it's like) and the idea of eating outside becomes appealing so we hit upon the idea of outdoor dining at one of the places on Belden Lane. It's an alley with restaurants in downtown San Francisco, yes it can be a tourist draw, but for those of us who live here, it's still a fun place to hit up every now and then. Wandering past the choices, it's sort of like Europe where the outdoor cafes are lined up and menus are out front to peruse. It's really early so most of the places are empty. After looking the restaurants over we settle on Cafe Bastille which neither of us have dined at in years.
It's French, in case you didn't catch that from the name. We scan the menu and look at their prix fixe which includes a glass or house wine and can be a bargain depending on what you get. The SO goes with the fixe and I decide on chose from the menu. First up is our appetizer
Thin sliced kobe beef carpaccio with basil pesto, truffle oil, shaved parmesan and pea sprouts. One bite of this and the first thing that comes to mind is the basil in the pesto. There is an awful lot of it and paired with the addition of truffle oil gives it a nice earthy flavor but it also pretty much overpowers any flavor from the the beef. And then when you add in the sharpness of the parmesan, forget about it. I'm going to say we mostly liked this dish and maybe one less ingredient would make it a great dish. All the strong flavors here were just competing with each other too much and the beef, which really should be the star was just lost--but it looked really pretty. For entrees we got moules Normande and the cassoulet.
In English thats mussels in a cream, bacon and mushroom sauce with fries (which are all you can eat by the way) and duck confit with toulouse and garlic sausage and white beans. Normally you get mussels with garlic butter but I wanted something different. The mussels were perfectly steamed and tender. As for the cream sauce, it wasn't like a thick cream, it was more soupy and chock full of mushrooms, bacon and butter--I thought it was great, it was all I could do to not ask for more bread to soak up all the sauce after I finished off the mussels. Though I did eat all the bacon and mushrooms out of it. It was a nice warm meal on a cool outdoor evening. The fries were crispy on the outside and soft inside, a decent job, but I did limit myself to just one serving since I'd eaten all the bread. The cassoulet was like a non-spicy gumbo. The leg of duck had a nice crisp skin and the meat was fall off the bone tender with hints of garlic, salt and thyme. The bowl of white beans and sausage also gave off whiffs of garlic and thyme and was a tasty hearty, thick soup. It was like the fall season in a crock and we both enjoyed it. Not having been to France, I can't really say how these measure up to the traditional dishes, but based on flavors they were both very appetizing dishes. Since the SO got the prix fixe it came with a dessert and he went with the pave chocolate creme brûlée.
Well, this isn't what we expected. I think we were looking for traditional creme brûlée with the torched top that was infused with chocolate. What we got was a spongy cake bottom thing with a layer of chocolate mousse them a layer of more of a creme brûlée mousse, but alas not burnt sugar top. One bite of this and I didn't like it. It was all mush and didn't have much of any flavor to me. Maybe my taste buds had been overwhelmed with bacon and butter but I just didn't find anything appealing about this dessert at all. The SO, while disappointed it wasn't traditional brûlée did say he liked it, it wasn't overly sweet, which was a selling point, so I said let him finish it off.
Dining at places that have been around awhile can be a hit or miss affair, as this particular meal will attest too. But usually there will be something that is worthwhile. I can't say we would make Belden Lane a weekly dining thing but if we just happen to be around Union Square it is worth popping over if you can snag a table and enjoy some alfresco dining on those rare warm evenings in San Francisco. And if Cafe Bastille isn't up your alley there are 5 other places to choose from.