Next to the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39, the gates of Chinatown are one of the most tourist visited (clogged) places in San Francisco. Thus, what better place to open a French themed bistro! No seriously, this placed opened 10 years ago just across the street to offer up "old world charm with modern flair." Of course I'm talking about Cafe de la Presse, a French bistro and bar trying to bring a little Europe to visitors and locals alike.
I'll admit right off the bat, I kind of like this place. With it's outdoor (umbrellas!) seating and small marble tables, metal work chairs and wall of French and European magazines, it really comes close to making you feel like you are eating a cafe in Europe. Though the lack of cigarette smoke and tourists in shorts and fleece tops they bought in Chinatown (because they didn't know it would be cold here!) can remind you exactly where you are. The trick to that is to just keep your sunglasses on and ignore everything else around you--just like a French person!
Anyway, beyond the feel of the place, my favorite reason for going here is brunch and more specifically to have that most unique of not quite breakfast dishes the croque madame.
As a bit of a backstory, there is a croque monsieur--the original grab and go sandwich from French cafes that consists of bake, fried or boiled ham with a variety of cheeses and sometimes a bechamel sauce on two slices of bread that is dipped in egg then baked or fried then covered in more melted cheese. (Mouth watering yet?) And the madame is the same thing topped with a fried egg. I've only been here for lunch/brunch and I always get this because it never varies and is always cheesy goodness.
There's just something about toasted buttered bread, melted cheese and salty ham with the yolk of a fried egg running over it to calm your mornings and ease you into the day--well, my day anyway. Yes, they have other things on their menu and I've been with folks who've gotten quiches or burgers and while they look perfectly fine and people seem to enjoy them, my heart and my stomach crave nothing more than croque madame in all her cheesy, creamy glory.
I will say the service here can be spotty as it can take time to place your order, receive food and get refills. But having traveled a bit I'll just chalk that up to adding more of a European flair to your dining experience. While restaurants in the US are concerned with turning tables and moving people in and out as fast as possible, European places tend to let you laze for a bit without being rushed and if you are having brunch on your day off why would you want to hurry? Thus Cafe de la Presse is one of the few places I'll give sometimes unreliable service a pass on since it does add to the atmosphere.
While they do have tablecloth covered places to sit and down at the back of the restaurant, I recommend trying to snag one of the cafe tables upfront near the window as it's more entertaining and more French like. Or, if it isn't too terribly windy a day, sit outside to get the full "I'm a tourist eating in a cafe" experience. You can also be entertained by the hordes trying to get a shot of themselves with the Chinatown gates without getting hit by the cars that zoom by on this active corner.
What else can I say, I find this place fun and enjoyable enough to recommend and I even take out of town friends here when they come to visit. Or if you are having a staycation and want to eat somewhere that doesn't feel (completely) like San Francisco, this place also works. Either way, if you go, you have to at least once try the croque madame--for the cheesy French lover in us all. Bon appetit monsieurs and madames!