Chez What?

A timid kitchen is the drawback at this off-the-beaten-track French restaurant

Actually, it was me having a nervous breakdown as I tried to conceal from my friends that I was dismayed, not wanting to dampen their enjoyment. I preferred the cocktails (especially a rose-flavored martini named for Josephine Baker) to the food. Things perked up a little with the main courses, but only a bit. Again, I found the flavors weak, the textures soft; the simple dishes (sautéed, grilled, or roasted meat or shellfish, with sauces mounted from pan juices) featured best-quality ingredients, carefully cooked, but in the end the results were a little dull.

I liked best the pan-seared venison tenderloin with something called Jabron potato (which turned out to be a rich potato gratin) and a mild juniper berry-peppercorn jus. The sweet scallops with hearts of palm and sauce verte were OK, but I didn't understand why the wood-roasted duck breast came with cool corn crêpes, which didn't seem to combine with its raspberry jus and fat raspberries. The only jolt of real flavor I had all evening came from the sliced morels that came with my wood-grilled flat-iron steak, in a bit of buttery cream sauce, letting me know that the taste buds were still working. (Neither the steak nor the duck captured much smoky flavor.) It seemed to me, thinking back to our starters, that the fact that the garnish on the fish soup had been the milder garlic aioli rather than the spicy, peppery rouille was an indication of the timidity of the kitchen.

The desserts were pretty much a disaster: a coconut pot de crème with the taste and texture of whipped cream, run-of-the-mill warm chocolate pudding cake, warm apple crêpes (it was one crêpe, and it was cold), a hazelnut "parfait" oddly encased in thick pastry.

The cocktail list is long and the dining room is enticing.
James Sanders
The cocktail list is long and the dining room is enticing.

Location Info

Map

Chez Spencer

82 14th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: South of Market

Details

Chez Spencer, 82 14th (at Folsom), 864-2191, www.chezspencer.net. Open for dinner Monday through Wednesday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: street, fairly easy. Muni: 12, 14. Noise level: low to moderate.

Sazerac Old-Fashioned $9

Oysters gratinée $15

Foie gras torchon $18

Seared sea scallops $17

Seared venison tenderloin $29

Grilled flat-iron steak $29

Roasted duck breast $28

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Even though it had taken a couple of tries to get our reservation, my friends were amazed that the room was completely full at an early hour. So was I.

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