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Revisiting Garçon [San Francisco]

We went tonight for a late-ish dinner (9:00 p.m.) on a whim, and were so much more than pleased. It had been at least 5 years since I'd been, and I'd probably been there 3 times up until that point, but had always found the food hit or miss. (I kept going back because It's literally a block from my home and I so wanted to love it.) Chef Arthur Wall, a New Orleans native, began cooking at Garçon about 2 years ago. He came out and talked to us, a very affable young man, stressing that he'd been trying to bring that New Orleans sensibility to the menu, while still cooking French standards, with a focus on seasonal and local produce. We had no reservation, and the place was full, so we sat at the bar, although we were also given the option of sitting outside on Valencia Street. It was a fairly nice evening but I really wanted the full indoor dining experience, listening to many patrons, as well as the staff, speaking French around us. Sue me, I'm a Gallophile. And I get enough "local Mission color" living here.

Just to give you a flavor of other menu items, specials on the chalkboarded pillar were miyagi oysters on the half-shell, roasted marrow bones with spiced breadcrumbs, watercress and croutons, a fantastic sounding sea urchin/sweet potato soup which i'm kicking myself for not ordering, and "Cote de Boeuf", described to us as 21-day dry-aged bone-in rib-eye offered in different sizes, strictly for 2, starting at $36 per person. With that came caramelized Brussels sprouts, pommes puree, wild mushrooms, and a red wine jus. Sweetbreads tempted on the appetizer menu, as did the merguez lamb crepinette. of the main courses, i could have gone for the scallops (we saw someone else at the bar get them - 5 giant fat ones) as well as a seared duck breast. If i'd been in a pasta mood, the fettucine with ramps and green garlic really called out to me too.

The BF isn't super-adventurous, though, so we each had a deliciously briny oyster to start (served with mignonette and lemon), and shared a salad of baby lettuces, green apple, japanese cukes, goat cheese, and hazelnuts in a lemon vinaigrette. For our mains he had the steak-frites with truffle butter and wine sauce, pommes frites and watercress, and I the petrale sole with fregola pasta (new to me, had a sort of israeli couscous texture), littleneck clams, fennel and a smoked paprika nage.

Not sure where their bread comes from, but it was good and crusty and served with sweet butter sprinkled with a little sea salt.

The salad was great, light, fresh, with the lemon vinaigrette tasting almost like it had been made with a lemon oil.

The BF's hangar steak was perfectly ruby rare with a nice outer crust, napped in a deliciously rich wine sauce that didn't overwhelm the flavor of the meat, and a very (very) subtle truffle flavor in the butter. Fries were good and crispy, served on the side in a cone, with a light garlicky aioli. I know it's "just": steak-frites: It was excellent.

My sole was served in almost bouillabaisse fashion, with the crispy yet very tender sauteed fish resting in a light broth, along with a hunk of braised fennel, kale, 3 or 4 clams, and a slight smokiness from the paprika nage. i loved the fregola, a semolina pasta. My only nitpick was that my dish needed a bit of salt - which i added, and then it was perfect. Also added some more aioli and I was in heaven. The kale gave it all a nice bitter edge.

We each had a glass of red, a Rhone de Nimes, i believe, a 2007 mix of cabernet sauvignon, carignane, and mourvedre. Yummy. Berry forward with a smoky finish. Our fabulous bartender/waiter comped us an extra pour, and THEN comped us each a glass of a delicious port, which name I didn’t get.

Although everything we had tonight had a surprisingly light feel to it, we were too full for dessert. (sorry, didn't grab the dessert menu on my way out.)

Total for the night, before tip, was $100. Lovely time, will go back again, if even to sit at the bar and have a glass of champagne, viognier or a bone-dry rosé, the duck liver pate, or the lovely looking squid ink risotto someone next to us had.

I know I've gone on and on about a place a lot of CHers may have written off, but I really think it's worth a second shot.


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  1. Great report with concise yet very inviting descriptions. I will check Garcon out the next time I am in SF.

    Thanks for the great verbal snapshot of your dinner.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tripeler

      Thanks Tripeler. i tried to upload actual photos last night but could not make it happen.

    2. This is sounding very enticing indeed, and the prices are in the zone. Next trip? Also love love fregola.

      1 Reply
      1. re: grayelf

        it's such a nice spot, grayelf - could be the perfect romantic dinner night for you and mr. grayelf.

      2. here's a pic of the petrale sole. (I tried to upload pics Fri. night, but apparently it's my own computer at home that's not allowing me to upload to CH.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: mariacarmen

          what a delicious looking dish. thanks for posting.

        2. Had dinner here again Sat. night. another winner meal. we split an appetizer of roasted cauliflower with trumpet mushrooms, some type of greens, pancetta, parmiagiano, and a poached/deep fried egg, which oozed wonderfully over everything after you got through the crunch exterior - all with a truffle aioli. just fantastic.

          maybe even better tasting was the lamb crepinette - another appetizer, served with beans and breadcrumbs. the chef grinds the lamb in-house. deep rich flavor in the sauce - totally sop-worthy with their Breads of Paris baguette.

          for my main, i had yet another appetizer, of the veal sweetbreads, with grilled mushrooms, pomme puree, capers, and lemon-brown butter. perfectly cooked, meltingly tender. i don't know if i can go back there and not get this dish.

          others at the table had a molasses-brined pork tenderloin, steak-frites, and the duck leg and confit with kale. all were muchly loved.

          1. oops, here are (rather dark) pics of the egg dish.

            1. i had a nice dinner here the other night with a couple friends. one had the duck confit leg with seared breast and dirty rice. had a bite of the duck, thought it was nice. i had the streak frites, and agree the truffle butter was a lighter touch than i expected, nice frites. french friend picked a nice wine, couldn't tell you what it was.

              then dessert. my friend remembered a pot de creme that was very tasty last time we were here. but there was none on the dessert menu, which was just weird. we asked if it were possible to still get the pot de creme off menu, but out very french waiter said no. he also said, with visible impatience (not towards us) that they have a new pastry chef and all the old desserts are gone. he also said that in spite of that, that particular pot de creme is the single most requested dessert by people who have dined there before. we were among the many who asked the same question. so we had a back up dessert: profiterloes with dark rum anglaise, fleur de sel, and chocolate sauce. the one catch though was that it also came with passion fruit gelato. not one of us though that sounded like a good match. but we also did not want anything else on that menu. my friend pointed at the description under the creme brulee and asked me, "what does that MEAN?" the creme brulee comes with strawberry soup and salad. just seemed like a lot of pointless gilding the lily.

              so THEN my friend asks if we can substitute the passion fruit gelato for.... "vanilla?" the waiter interuppted. "no. the new pastry chef will not allow vanilla ice cream in the kitchen." we were apparently among the many who had previously posed the exact same question. he went to the kitchen and said they could sub a honey gelato, which we agreed to. the other flavor on the menu was green apple, and we didn't want that, either.

              so the dessert was good, if the honey gelato was a bit too sweet, but the fleur de sel countered that.

              so, LONG story short, we had a lovely dinner and for the duration of the current pastry chef's tenure, i think i will just skip dessert.

              4 Replies
              1. re: augustiner

                oh! i'm sorry you had a semi-bad experience, but you just reminded me that one of our group had the warm dark chocolate fondant with caramel-peanut clusters and peanut butter mousse, which was listed as a dish that would take 12 minutes - it didn't - and it was absolutely wonderful, with such great sweet/salty notes - it was divine. and i don't care about dessert. sorry again for that "sour" note to your evening...

                1. re: augustiner

                  Well that's interesting about the new pastry chef. The last time we were there (a month or two ago), we ordered two desserts. Everything was delicious, but we didn't quite get the combination of items. Can't remember the details, but it was like the creme brulee dessert description: items that didn't seem to go together and some that didn't seem necessary.

                  We decided to just think of each dessert as two smaller desserts, rather than trying to combine the different items on each plate into a unified dessert. We left happy, but wondered what was going on in the kitchen.

                  1. re: bluex

                    oh i just remembered about the strawberry soup! (i really must have blocked out dessert, even though i loved the fondant) two of our group got the creme brulee, which was pretty ordinary (and i love that stuff), but it came with a strawberry juice and a little shortbread baton - NO salad - i don't think we even saw that line! (this was after a cocktail and 2 bottles of wine.) the juice was the very essence of strawberries - fragrant and lovely. in fact, my friend's kid didn't want his so i drank his. very nice.

                  2. re: augustiner

                    I can see why the pastry chef would be insulted by requests for vanilla, though. One of those ketchup-on-the-steak things. But on the other hand, creativity for its own sake can often fall flat, and it sounds like it did there.

                  3. While in line at a nearby grocer I had a brief conversation with the chef who was picking up some produce. When I asked about what may have changed there that would explain the apparent improvements, he said it was mostly a matter of the staff being more experienced and them hitting their stride. Sounds like there has been a healthy continuity in the kitchen - maybe aside from the pastry chef? In any case, I thought it was kind of interesting that they are benefiting, not from something new or innovative, but from continuity and experience. We consumers of good food are forever looking for the Next New Thing, but when it comes to delivering good food consistently, newness and change can be a problem not a virtue.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: BernalKC

                      i'm sure that's true to a very large extent, but Chef Wall himself is a "new" addition to the restaurant - it will be about 3 years since he started. The quality of the food is markedly different from what it was 5 years ago. to his credit, he didn't say, "Me!"!

                    2. another wonderful meal at Garcon last night. 9:45, post-show, place was still packed, but we got seated at the bar fairly quickly. 3 of us split: A bottle of Chinon and 5 appetizers.... an octopus and braised cauli dish, a rabbit "pot pie", heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozz, which came with a slice of breaded and fried eggplant and a basil puree, an escargot dish that was unfortunately a bit overwrought - gnocchi, snails out of their shells, buttered bread crumbs, pancetta, and artichoke - just a little too salty, too much going on. the only dish we didn't love. and of course, the requisite fantastic truffle oil frites with parm regg and aioli on the side.

                      the octopus was our absolute favorite dish of the night. perfectly cooked, with the braised cauliflower and potatoes bringing so much additional flavor - they were caramelized, almost. the rabbit wasn't our original choice; at that hour they had run out of the sweetbreads. our server/barkeep highly recommended it, and it was meltingly tender and savory comfort food. the biscuit atop was light and airy and soaked up the delicious flavors of the rabbit gravy.

                      Chef Wall came out to chat, and ended up personally serving us (on the house) an amazing honey panna cotta with melon, over which he poured chilled melon soup. the panna cotta was creamy perfection, subtly but richly tasting of a wildflower honey - perhaps the best panna cotta i've ever had.

                      One of my friends said (his first time there), "it feels so nice to be respected, by the preparation and care taken with the food." so true, though i never thought of it quite that way.