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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bistro Central Parc Serves Homey Parisian Brunch in NOPA

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge bcp1.jpg

Bistro Central Parc occupies a sunny corner on a largely non-commercial stretch of NOPA, at Central and Grove. So quiet, in fact, that you may

start to doubt your sense of direction -- that is, until you see the

restaurant's bold, vaguely familiar black and white striped awning (it

looks exactly like the ones at every Ambiance boutique in the city). But

here, in this context, it feels a little like Paris. 


click to enlarge bcp2.jpg

The awning covers a smattering of round bistro tables outside, protected

by a thick curtain of plastic. But even with the sun shining San

Francisco isn't suited for outdoor dining this time of year, so only one

woman sits out there, warming up with a mug of coffee and a book.


click to enlarge bcp3.jpg

Inside, the restaurant isn't exactly cozy, but it is warm. A low

humming of chatter fills the air, while casually dressed, smiling wait

staff bus mimosas and Benedicts to unadorned wooden tables. The space is

bright and simple. Light pours in through rectangular windows, and

there's one poster on the wall: a cartoon depiction from an old French

movie very unlike the dramatic, floor-to-ceiling vintage booze posters

popular in other brasseries. The term "unpretentious" gets thrown around

in the dining scene, but Bistro Central Parc keeps fake flowers in the

bathroom.


The effect is homey and endearing and, in a way, so is the food.

It's true bistro fare, from the escargots ($9.50) to the Steak Frites

($19.50), staples of the brunch and dinner menus. The brunch menu is

divided into oeufs (eggs), déjeuner (lunch) and specialtiés de la

maison, all classic preparations with reasonable price tags.


click to enlarge Bistro Central Parc's cappuccino
  • Bistro Central Parc's cappuccino

In typical French fashion, the beverage selection consists of

primarily of wine and coffee. Mimosas, predictably, are popular at

brunch, as is basic black coffee, served in a mug printed with the

restaurant's name but that otherwise looks just like one you'd have in

your cupboard. The cappuccino ($3) is a treat, loaded with thick foam

and dusted on top with sweetened cocoa powder, which is torched to

caramelize it before serving. The house squeezed orange juice ($5) is

another standout.


click to enlarge The Eggs Florentine, served with potatoes and greens
  • The Eggs Florentine, served with potatoes and greens

The egg dishes aren't fancy, but they are well prepared, and the

chefs don't skimp on ingredients. The Eggs Florentine ($12.50) offers a

perfectly poached egg and sautéed spinach over English muffins, all

doused with plenty of Hollandaise.


click to enlarge Omelet with Swiss cheese, spinach and mushrooms
  • Omelet with Swiss cheese, spinach and mushrooms

The Omelet ($9) is a build-your-own style, with a sampling of

fillings to choose from: spinach, swiss cheese, mushrooms, grilled

onions, ham and smoked salmon. And oddly, chorizo -- a house daily

special that's out of its element on this menu. The omelets are

satisfying, loaded with veggies and mild, stringy cheese. Potatoes and greens come alongside all of the egg dishes, served almost

naked -- the potatoes, roasted, and the greens, lightly dressed with a

shallot vinaigrette. It's a far cry from the deep fried hash browns with

heavy, in-your-face seasonings prized at so many other brunches. Leave

it to the French to let a potato just be a potato.


click to enlarge French Onion Soup
  • French Onion Soup

On the lunch menu, it's impossible to go wrong with the onion soup

($9), especially since the restaurant cannot be faulted for us burning

our tongues on the impossibly savory (and hot) broth. Silky onions,

soaked bread and delicate herbs star in this dish -- along with the

thick layer of broiled cheese on top, of course.


click to enlarge The Croque Madame, topped with a sunny-side up egg and served with cornichons
  • The Croque Madame, topped with a sunny-side up egg and served with cornichons

The Croque Madame ($12.50) is made with sweeter pain de mie bread

instead of the crusty type, making for a soft and gentle sandwich. Ham,

béchamel and more Swiss cheese fill the middle, while a sunny-side up

egg sits on top. Naturally it's rich, as Croques usually are, but the

bistro continues its trend of seasoning with a light hand here.


click to enlarge French toast with creme fraiche and fresh fruit
  • French toast with creme fraiche and fresh fruit

The same fluffy bread forms the basis of the French Toast ($12),

flavorful and not too sweet (until drizzled with syrup). The restaurant

offers pure maple syrup for an additional $1.50, and it's worth the

splurge. A dollop of creme fraiche comes on the plate, along with a pile

of fresh fruit, which includes not just boring melon but strawberries,

too.


On a Sunday, the after church crowd steps in to look for a table,

and parties of two and four are seated immediately. The bar is

unoccupied aside from a ponytailed man scribbling on a notepad in

between bites of his Croque Monsieur. Some are in sweatpants, some in

demure dresses and flats, but they all look comfortable -- the true sign

of a neighborhood gem.  


In a sense, Bistro Central Parc is similar to so many cafes in

Paris. It may not be the place you gush to your friends about the next

day,  but it's the one you return to time and time again.



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Olivia Ware

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