First time Chapeau! report
Well, after having managed to live in the Richmond for 2 years without trying Chapeau, my husband finally took me there for my birthday last night, and I'm so glad we went -- overall, it was a lovely experience. The service was warm and gracious from start to finish, and the food was fantastic.
I started with a mesclun salad with a slightly sweetish, dijon-based dressing, confited tomatoes, and beets. I loved the dressing -- not as acidic as most dressings for mesclun I've encountered in restaurants, all the better to go with the glass of chardonnay I had to start my meal. (Extra points to the house for allowing you to taste the wine at the table before they pour the full glass, which allowed me to realize I was in the mood for something heavier than the Jurancon sec I had originally chosen.) Only slight (very slight) negative was that the tomatoes were a little overly chewy, and I was hoping for more beets -- they were a garnish rather than an integrated part of the salad. Husband enjoyed his moules and frites, and I also enjoyed his frites! Great aioli with pimenton for dipping them in.
My husband opted for "menu 2", which, in addition to an app, entree, and dessert of his choice, also included a palate cleanser and a fish tasting course. We chose the palate cleanser that was calvados based. While tasty, it was also quite boozy. DH enjoyed the fish tasting course, a single seared scallop over risotto with corn and lobster sauce.
My entree was the petit poussin roasted with honey and lavender, over spaetzle and chicken jus. I don't eat meat very often, so my experience with chicken is fairly limited, but I thought this was absolutely amazing -- the skin had a subtle sweetness that complemented the meat, and the spaetzle, though smaller than I was expecting, were the perfect vehicle for picking up the deeply flavored jus. (I also asked where they sourced the poussin from, and it was from Fulton Farms, FYI.) My husband got the sauteed salmon with corn and tomatoes. While he enjoyed it, I just think it's too late in the season for corn based dishes (although I'm sure someplace in CA still has it, right?), and the salmon was, of course, farmed, which, as I told my husband, is against my food religion.
We also talked at length with Phillipe about choosing a red Burgundy that suited our preferences and the food, and the one that he helped us settle on, a 2003 Denis Carre bottling from Pommard (sorry, can't remember the vineyard name), was perfect.
As we had a fair amount of wine left after the entrees, and I'm not a big sweets person anyway, we opted for the cheese course for dessert (yes, my birthday cake of choice is the cheese plate!). Each of the cheeses -- a St. Augur (blue), crottin, Tomme de Savoie, and cow's milk whose name I didn't quite catch -- was perfectly ripe, and came with a couple slices of walnut baguette and some sliced grapes with, I think, mint. More grapes were cheerfully provided on request.
The only negative about the evening, really, was the space -- I knew before we went that the tables were close together and it was loud, but, well, the tables were close together and it was loud! This, especially at the beginning of the night, made me cranky -- it really is, at the two-tops anyway, like dining with the people at the neighboring tables -- it's impossible not to overhear conversations, especially when you and everyone else has to shout to be heard. But the food and the service was enough to soothe me by the end of the night (we were also eating late, so by the second half of the meal things had quited down). I think next time we go, we'll try a weekday, to see if that's any less crazy. I wouldn't go, at least on a weekend, for a romantic occasion.
Overall, though, it was an excellent meal, one of the best I've had recently in the city, and I loved Phillipe and all of the staff. Also, fairly reasonably priced -- $170 before tip, including a $70 bottle of wine plus the glass of chardonnay. We definitely won't wait another two years to return!
We go to Chapeau! on occasion and really enjoy it. Very Parisian-bistro. Very good food. The portions can be a bit small, but not always, and you always leave full if you get the 5-course meal. Great value, vegetarian friendly. I think it is romantic even when you are packed in like sardines just because the chef/owner is so inviting and warm and you really do feel a bit like you are in France. Also of note, $15/bottle corkage (which has been waived more often than charged to us) and Riedel Vinum stemware.
As a long time repeat-attender, I enjoyed reliving my first encounter with Chapeau! as I read your first-visit report. My comments have already been expressed by pistou, but I'll enlarge on them as several others have also complained about the lack of intimacy, the noise, and close seating (the warm welcome and fine food seem to be universally acknowledged.)
Romantic occasions: Book early enough to engage the window-seat table.
Noise level: typical of lively Parisien restaurants; reserve important talk for the trip home. Contribute your share to the animated din. BTW, hearing both sides of a conversation has got to be more interesting than listening to a cell-phone monologue.
Close seating: if ignoring your neighbor's proximity is impossible, you might recognize his/her existence with a friendly nod, or even by asking, e.g., what they're having. You don't have to exchange cards or engage in conversation to acknowledge a stranger who's in the same situation; just taking the edge off the formality helps.
We've been going to Chapeau! for years--we used to live about a block away (lucky us). Now we go there every year for our anniversary, and we always request the window table for the special occasion. Other times I don't mind being so cozy with other diners; it feels more French that way.