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Jun 26, 2006 06:13 AM

Gregoire report: not a full meal, but still....all I can say is 'huh?'...

After all the positive reports on Gregoire, I was really looking forward to trying it, and was even a bit embarrassed I hadn't yet been...So last week, when I needed to bring something to a potluck meeting after work and had no time to cook, I decided to see if it would fit the bill.

Went to the Oakland location (on Piedmont Ave). Parking was easy, in the City (metered) lot right behind Gregoire. First surprise: at about 5:30 the place was empty, and I had it to myself the entire fifteen or so minutes I was in there. That would have made it appealing to sit at the counter for an early dinner: I expected a much busier scene based on the descriptions...

I had promised to bring salad to the potluck. I only needed enough for about four or five persons, and while I knew salad wouldn't be the mainstay of Gregoire's menu, I figured if they didn't have anything appropriate I could always head to Piedmont Grocery across the street. No problem, however, the June Gregoire menu includes what is described as "Epic Root m√Ęche salad with Point Reyes blue cheese dressing & toasted walnuts". I told the counter man (tall, red hair, freckles and definitely French: is this Gregoire himself?) that it was for a group: I still got four seperate packages (annoying, but I guess it is all they have) but he did pack the salad dressing seperately for me to toss.

There have been lots of raves about the potato puffs, so got an order of those as well.

It seemed to take a rather long time to get my order ready given that I was the only customer, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention to try and figure out why; the potato puffs were certainly hot, so perhaps they are made to order after ordering. I'm not complaining, as it could be a good thing that it took awhile. Just an observation. I could see the wait getting to be significant if the place is full.

I tried my first potato puff as I pulled out of the parking lot: the puff was obviously freshly made: I had to let it cool for about four minutes before I could eat it. It looked delicious, but what a disappointment! It was quite unpleasantly chalky on the outside and completely bland on the inside! that really how they are supposed to taste? I took the rest of the order to the potluck, and interestingly, reaction was totally mixed and completely along gender lines: the two guys present both tried them and said 'Yummm!: the two women had the same reaction I did..No idea what that means....

As for the salads: the greens were reasonably fresh, but didn't have a lot of flavor at all, which surprised me. The salad had a few walnuts, a few croutons that tasted no better than those you might get on a McDonalds salad, and the blue cheese dressing was unremarkeable. It was a generous portion however.

Bottom line: I am hoping that mains are better than these two side dish offerings. If not, then all I can say is, 'huh?'I'll give it another shot, I'm sure, but, what do folks see in this place?

ps: before ordering I had walked over to Peet's to stock up, and noticed that Cesar seems to be getting closer to being ready to open. It appears that it will have a quite large patio. I look forward to enjoying a meal there!

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  1. The potato puffs were decent I thought. But it vividly reminded me of an Indonesian dish called "perkedel" also made of potato in similar manner.

    It can be made more flavorful. We made those quite often at home and they were better usually than that of Gregoire's. So, I won't be ordering those again.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Han

      You wrote:

      reaction was totally mixed and completely along gender lines: the two guys present both tried them and said 'Yummm!: the two women had the same reaction I did..No idea what that means....

      It means I need to see a therapist today to resolve sexuality issues as I love the potato puff

      There are things that Gregoire does well and things I never order. The salads are one of the the menu items I never order.

      Comments over the years about the potato puffs are either you love them or hate them. As my profile says my comfort food is mashed potatoes ... well, fried mashed pototatoes ... what could be better.

      They are really French potato croquettes though Gregoire gave them another name. If you really want a bad example of this, go to Nizza La Bella. The coating is thick and crude, some aren't fried long enough and are dead cold in the middle.

      Any of the fried food has to be eaten at Gregoire. Does ANYONE have a good experience driving home from anywhere and eating lukewarm or cold fries?

      Mcdonald's made an empire out of food you must eat immediately for the best taste. This is just the upscale version using real food.

      It is about the play of texture in the potato puff, the crunchy agains the smooth. Some people think it needs the sauce but I like them as is.

      As to the sandwiches, they are mostly hit. However, if someone is looking for the 'value' and heft of A.G. Ferrari, don't buy the sandwiches. It's like going to Chez Panisse and complaining that you don't get the same value as Pasta Pomodoro. Different things.

      And if you don't love the burger at Gregoire, I'd have your tastebuds checked ... ok, now I'm missing there's no smiley face in the new software as that was said as a joke ... but still, that's one great burger.

      I don't eat dinner there that often, but when I do, I go for the different dishes. This month I'd probably go for the paella.

      All that being said, (potato puff excepted), the place is expanding so maybe too many irons in the fire and a downhill alert?

      1. re: rworange

        Well, I ate the one I ate as soon as it was cool enough to avoid major burns in my mouth, so it wasn't that I had left the store (I was still in the parking lot). My major problem was not the blandness, and the thought of fried mashed potatoes is conceptually a great one, imo. My major problem was the chalkiness!!! I have no idea what made it taste chalky, but it was an extremely unpleasant texture and truly distracted from whatever comfort food potential and texture contrast the puff otherwise had.

        1. re: susancinsf

          I've been wondering if there were going to start to be downhill reports with the expanding of the empire.

          Since that was your first try so you have no comparison, sounds like a research assignment for me ... heh. Chalkiness never came up before. Bland, yes, but not chalky.

          1. re: rworange

            At this point, I can confidently say that Gregoire has not gone downhill. Sebastien is heading Piedmont and he is a fantastic cook, a great head chef, and just an all around good guy, loads of fun to chat with. Berkeley was shaky for a couple of months but now that Gregoire has Socca Oven running on its own he's been spending more time at the Berkeley location and the consistency has improved noticably. There was a time when I was going to Piedmont exclusively, but now I frequent both.

            1. re: rworange

              NESTING LEVEL LIMIT ????

              Morton I'm replying here because there was no reply link to the next post. I am guessing the is a limit.

              Anyway, Sebasiani was a wondeful choice. It gave me a whole new respect for Gregoire since he recognized the top person there.

      2. I'm almost always underwhelmed by Gregoire. Food ends up bland and heavy. By the time you get home fries are soggy and food is cool and limp. Best to eat it there, so IMO it's not really takeout. Salads are usually too salty.

        2 Replies
        1. re: andrewt

          actually, I would have welcomed a bit of salt in the salad (dressing). It was just sort of bland and unexciting. The greens tasted like something I could have gotten in a 'designer bag' at Safeway...

          1. re: susancinsf

            Trust me I've had salads there that tasted like they were dressed with seawater! But my point and your point show how inconsistent they can be.

        2. I was also disappointed by the potato puffs when I visited shortly after Gregoire opened on Piedmont Ave -- contrary to some reports I found them pasty and very bland. The sandwiches I tried were just okay. I had intended to try them again after they settled in but I haven't made it back... I think sandwiches from AG Ferrari next door are a better value and hold up better as takeout.

          1. I had the same experience. Have only been to the original. The food wasn't bad, just expensive. Service was disinterested as best. If I'd loved anything, I might have felt differently. We tried about four different items including the burger and the potato puffs.

            1. Gregoire is all about meat. High quality meat prepared well at a good price is what brings people back day after day. The salads are fine, this month's isn't my favorite, but you can definitely get a better salad elsewhere. I am a bit surprised you didn't like the puffs, but they aren't for everybody. But you wont find better meat at a better price anywhere.

              To answer some of your other questions:

              The Piedmont location is new and thus not nearly as bustling as Berkeley. Add to that that half of the city of Piedmont is in Europe right now and you get a sense for why it was so slow.

              Everything at Gregoire is made to order. If you're in a rush, best to call your order in ahead.

              The man who helped you was Sebastien, the head of the Piedmont location.

              I agree with another poster that it is best to eat everything there. I look at it less as a take out place than a counter service place. But hot food is very important to me.

              If you do give it another chance, try a sandwich for lunch or the steak or lamb for dinner.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                Thanks for the additional info, I am sure I will try it again. One comment, however, on the concept: it has the potential to be uncomfortable as a counter service place, and for those prices I am not sure I'd want to sit on those small, backless stools for too long, although, as I mentioned in my original post, it was a lot quieter and calmer than I anticipated...thus, like Oakjoan, I think I will stick to items that travel well next time I try it, and not a salad...will go with your meat suggestion to see what I think.

                But I must reiterate: I couldn't have eaten the potato puff any sooner than I did without doing myself bodily harm (they were HOT), so the fact that I got take-out had nothing to do with my reaction...I could see timing being an issue with fries if I took them all the way home to SF, however.

                For oakjoan: I've never been a fan of the AGF sandwhiches either, though I sometimes used to stop in there for cheeses and meats when I lived relatively close by..

                1. re: susancinsf

                  Yeah, it's definitely no frills dining. I like the concept because no frills = lower overhead = smaller markup on dishes. I'm one of those hounds who ranks atmosphere dead last in terms of dining priorities. But I completely understand how the uber-bistro feel just doesn't do it for some people.

                  You aren't the first person I've met who thinks the potato puffs are over rated. These days, I usually opt for gratin or a soup.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Just to clarify for the sake of other readers that may be considering trying the Piedmont Ave location: the lack of frills and atmosphere isn't the issue for me. It is that the stools would not be comfortable to sit on for more than a few minutes. Indeed, I sat down to wait for my order and decided it was more comfortable to stand. Plastic lawn chairs would be more comfortable.

                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                      I'd have had no problem with the atmosphere if we'd been able to get seats at one of the tables. What I didn't like was sitting on the curb and spilling aioli on my pants.

                      Definitely nothing chalky about the potato puffs I had.