Hat Trick

Intelligent, satisfying French food that's also quite a bargain

Yet I was haunted by the memory of that meal; thoughts of it would drift into my mind when I was eating much less good and much more expensive fare. Twice I found myself chewing stolidly, nearby on Clement Street -- once at a considerably more ooh-la-la Frenchy place where the help stabbed us with their accents, another in a wacky small-plates place where we assembled a completely unbalanced meal -- each time wishing I were just a few blocks away, in the warm confines of Chapeau!, which now seemed cozy to me, rather than cramped.

I could stand it no longer, and invited my parents and aunt to dinner. Oddly, on the very day of our reservation I learned that the proprietor, Philippe Gardelle, had temporarily given up on the expansion, due to zoning laws and permit problems. We hesitated over ordering, because although I always say whoever announces what he wants first can have it, truth be told, my father takes precedence, and he had trouble deciding whether he wanted the sweetbreads as either a starter or a main course, leaving the rest of us awaiting his pleasure. Being made aware that all of us were eager to taste them, he went with the larger portion, and started with foie gras. "I see you're not concerned about cholesterol," snorted his older sister, who ordered slightly more sedately: gazpacho and boeuf bourguignon. My mother wanted mussels and roasted duck. I tried the goat cheese pissaladière, and, giving a slightly longing glance at the filet mignon and the rack of lamb, felt obliged to order the odder of the two fish preparations offered. I thought I could taste the roasted king salmon with saffron rice, legumes parisiens (whatever they were), and braised fennel, with a pastis (echoing the licorice flavor of the fennel) and apple cider sauce, in my head, but what to make of the sautéed blue nose bass with spaghetti squash, sweet carrot and ginger purée, English pea cream, cherry tomatoes, and curry oil? It sounded like an avalanche of sweetness perked up with that surprising curry oil. Worth a try.

My father had the best meal -- an extraordinary one, really: perfectly seared liver on onion and apple compote, with an apple cider gastrique, followed by those delicious veal sweetbreads, crusted with porcini, sautéed with chanterelles and trumpet mushrooms, and with a hint of white truffle oil in the sauce. (If it hadn't been a review meal, there would have been several plates of this on the table.) I loved the pale, sweet gazpacho, made with Early Girl tomatoes (though my aunt, a terrific cook, confessed she preferred her own), and the duck breast, served with a creamy gratin dauphinois (sliced potatoes baked in milk), pea sprouts, and a prune sauce. I found the boeuf bourguignon just a trifle dry.

It's Tops: The décor at Chapeau! is 
minimal and the space tight, but the 
fine French food makes it all feel 
warm and cozy.
Anthony Pidgeon
It's Tops: The décor at Chapeau! is minimal and the space tight, but the fine French food makes it all feel warm and cozy.

Location Info

Map

Chapeau!

126 Clement
San Francisco, CA 94118

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Richmond (Inner)

Details

Onion soup $7

Seared foie gras $17

Mussels $9/starter, $17/entree

Sweetbreads $9.50/starter, $19.50/entree

Cassoulet $16.50

Cheese plate $8

Roasted figs $6.50

750-9787

Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10:30 p.m., and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: moderately difficult

Muni: 2, 28

Noise level: moderate to high

1408 Clement (at 15th Avenue)

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But my fish made me sad. It was overcooked for my taste, and its many ingredients made no more sense to me on the plate than they had on the page. They seemed assembled rather than melded.

"Well," I thought, "I'll make up for it with the cheese plate." But my father, never possessed of a sweet tooth, exercised his droit du seigneur and chose it, so I had to content myself with tastes, enjoying especially the blue, triple cream, and goat cheeses. I treated myself to a glass of muscat, which went particularly well with a soup-plate full of roasted black figs spiked with balsamic vinegar and topped with good vanilla ice cream.

When I reflected that what could be called without cavil our lavish repast (with a nice bottle of Sancerre, the muscat, and a double cappuccino) had cost with tax and tip about $50 each -- less than my meals at the disappointing French place and the silly small-plates one -- I felt not only well-fed but lucky.

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