As featured in Bay Area Bites, April 22, 2009.
Tucked away in a hidden alley amongst financial district lunch spots, Café Claude is a delightful breath of fresh air. I half expected my feet to touch cobblestone as I made my way past the charming red trellis and climbing ivy partitioning this Parisian gem from bustling Kearny Street.
Enjoy the sunshine and dine al fresco, or sit inside in the romantic, pleasantly glowing ambiance. Either option will make for a great date. And if you order well, you will definitely ooh la la your way home.
Café Claude’s selection of patés makes it difficult to choose just one. You can opt to be a glutton like me and go with the Paté Plate of three, or you can be kinder to your cholesterol level (although, what’s the fun in that?) and make the hard choice.
Our table’s favorite was the Sauternes Mousse, creamy all-natural goose liver marinated in sauternes wine. Light and silky, the texture was ethereal, and the flavor was full-bodied and rich with a touch of sweetness.
Second favorite was the Truffle Mousse, made with all-natural petaluma chicken liver, truffles and cepes (wild mushrooms) marinated in sherry. This is a great choice for paté virgins, with less funk than the other patés made with goose and duck.
The third paté was the Rillettes du Perigord, shredded all-natural duck meat and pork meat, seasoned with duck fat and cooked confit style. Tasty, but not as luxurious of a mouthfeel as the previous two.
For starters we had the Escargots en Croute and Coquilles Saint Jacques.
One of my first memories of dining out in a fancy restaurant is of my mom ordering escargots (ewww snails are in there?!). I got over the ew factor quickly as I discovered that escargots meant pools of fragrant garlic, butter, and parsley. Added bonus, they’re served in fun dishes with holes perfect for stuffing pieces of crusty French bread in and soaking up all the buttery goodness.
The escargots at Café Claude came in an aromatic sauce, but no flavor could be detected from the snails themselves.
I had high hopes for the Coquilles Saint Jacques. With scallops, shrimp, mussels, parmesan, and béchamel sauce on the bill, I had wild visions of creamy seafood decadence. Sadly, my expectations fell short, this was the weak link of the meal. Next time I’ll opt to start with the legendary French onion soup, or either of phenomenal sounding tartars (tuna or steak).
The standout of the night was the seared Ahi tuna, served on a bed of onion and bacon confit, soy green peppercorn sauce, and plenty of lemon zest. Intriguing, appetizing, perfect. The tuna was cooked just right, pink and rare in the center. The well caramelized onion and smoky bacon infused the dish with a savory sweet bouquet. The green peppercorn gave a little bite and kick, and the shower of lemon zest was the crowning touch. This dish was well-balanced, creative, and executed flawlessly.
I imagine any other entrée would pale in comparison to the phenomenal Ahi, so it may be with prejudice that I judge the Lasagne harshly. In concept it sounded like a lovely spring dish with fresh egg pasta loaded with veggies like roasted eggplant, zucchini, spinach, and tomato. But it was mediocre. Lesson learned, don’t order Italian at a French restaurant?
After I nearly licked my plate of Ahi, I couldn’t help but notice the Paleron Sauce Poivre Vert being served at the table next to mine. Gorgeous flat-iron steak served in a cognac, green peppercorn sauce, with golden potato gratin on the side. Sorry, dining neighbor, if I was staring.
For dessert, another hit and another miss.
The Moelleux au Chocolat, flourless chocolate cake with crÃ¨me anglaise, was a little cloying and nothing spectacular. The Tarte Tatin on the other hand, tres bon. A superb mix of flakiness soaked in burnt caramel, tender apple, and whipped cream. Worth saving room for.
All in all, Café Claude may be like a fickle love affair – hot, cold, hot, cold. But this meal did end on a hot note, and there’s no question that a second date is in order.
7 Claude Lane
(between Bush St & Sutter St)
San Francisco, CA 94108