Clattering Platters

Bustling and informal, Le Charm is a true French bistro

Desserts were less than perfect. The profiteroles in chocolate sauce were little pastries stuffed with ice cream; the pastry was a bit tough, but the dish as a whole offered good contrasts and textures. The tarte tatin, on the other hand, was pretty bad. The caramel sauce had good flavor but a mealy texture, as if someone had sifted cornmeal into it. The apples were overcooked to mushiness, while the crust was spongy -- more like brioche than pastry. I like brioche well enough, but a tarte tatin crust ought to be flaky and a little crisp.

Le Charm has a lot going for it; it's already captured the basic genius of the French bistro: well-executed, straightforward food at a good price, with attentive, professional service. The prix fixe is such an attractive option that the desserts ought to be better. And an American flourish here and there (a drop or two of Tabasco in the coq au vin, say) wouldn't hurt, either; a lot of all-American cooking has French roots, even if we no longer recognize them. Le Charm is the sort of place that could explore those common roots without betraying its basic identity.

Le Charm, 315 Fifth St., S.F., 546-6128. Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Tues-Sat 6-10 p.m.

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