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Best Underappreciated Fancy French Restaurant San Francisco 2001 - Charles Nob Hill

Forget Masa's, Fleur de Lys, and La Folie. Charles is the French restaurant to attend when you've got a special occasion to celebrate (and a small wheelbarrow of cash to fork over). This tiny, 60-seat eatery -- the stomping ground of Melissa Perello, who trained under current Masa's chef Ron Siegel -- is tucked away in the bowels of a Nob Hill apartment complex. The sign outside is so unobtrusive that it's perfect for a hushed rendezvous -- maybe that's why there was a conservatively dressed older man and what appeared to be a woman of ill repute sharing a table during a recent visit. Of course, the city has plenty of dark corners in which the well-heeled can get lubricated; how is Charles' food? Let's just say we almost lost our jizz at the first course: tomato water. That's right, the staff is so good that it can make the water from a tomato into a sensual experience. Six courses and two hours later, our head and stomach were swimming from the wonderfully rich and perfectly flavored lobster salad, foie gras, pork loin, and chocolate torte. As we popped the petits fours into our mouth and stumbled out into the night, it felt like our entire body was beautifully crammed full of fat, salty goodness.

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