on a friend's bday, we decided to brave the cold, windy, rainy sf night to tuck into this old richmond favorite. it was a tuesday at around 845, but the place was still full and lively. we were able to get a last minute res for 4, and were warmly greeted and seated immediately. the noise level was boisterous, but upon our initial glance over the menu, a mild wave of euphoria swelled up amongst us and the noise felt fine.
i was happy to see cassoulet, as i knew i needed to spend no more time on the menu and could just think about wine. i brought a 94 pontet canet (which has been showing very nicely lately), but again i kept it pocketed so that we could enjoy one of philippe's selections. i selfishly followed a recommendation to pick a 2000 languedoc to go with my cassoulet, but it didn't really open up til quite late in the evening.
the birthday girl had a craving for foie gras, so we started with that. a smallish lobe seared a bit dark (which i prefer) it was still it's usual otherworldly richness. served with crostini and thin sliced bosc pear.
mussels and fries. a generous mound of both, wading in a pool of buttery, briny, herbaceous sauce. i found the mussels a bit dry but still tender and tasty. when they were gone, we dipped our baguettes into the broth and all was good with the world.
cured fish medley. my swedish friend wanted gravlax, and this was good quality fish. but somehow too mild for my mood and/or overshadowed by the more powerful apps, i enjoyed the ikura and toasted caper garnish the most. served with cross cut crisps.
we were good sharers that night, and in my opinion we hit 4 for 4.
cassoulet could not go wrong on a night like last night, and i was not disappointed. all those lovely bits of different meats were tucked in there amongst the warm beans, my favorites being the fragrant tender sausage, the fleshy bit of lamb, and of course the crisp-skinned crumb-crusted leg of duck. if anything, i might prefer the beans a touch softer, as i feel the creamier texture better expresses the essense of the dish, and opens them to better absorb the flavors of the meats.
bday girl had champignon vol au vent, which was an even more triumphant expression of the wild mushroom phylo we had at aziza last week. the profound aroma seduced me from across the table, even as i basked in the warmth rising off my cassoulet. it isn't quite a fair comparison perhaps, as they infused the mushrooms with truffle oil to push it over the top.
the only real downer was that the filet came out medium or even medium well when it was ordered medium rare. my friend did not send it back, because i believe he was too delighted that the kitchen accommodated his request to include the yellow chantarelles from another menu item into the mushroom medley that topped his filet. after sampling it, i declared that i could quite happily be a vegetarian in mushroom season. a statement in itself, the medley also enjoyed a generous dose of truffle oil, which seeped all the way down over the steak and into the cubed potato underlying it all.
the rabbit dish included a stuffed leg and thigh quarter and an entire loin. i've never had rabbit loin served whole, nor so deftly marinated and roasted. my taste was tantalizing, and i'd like to go back to confirm my impression that this is an exceptional presentation of a white meat. served with a firm brown rice 'risotto' shaped into a cup and baby carrots.
the apple custard tart enjoyed lovely flavor harmony between the fruity spicy apple and the eggy custard. nice potential for texture contrasts too between the chewy dried apple on top, the creamy custard, and the (unfortunately by that point in the evening) not so crisp crust.
the profiteroles were filled with good if mild vanilla glace, while the pastry held on against impending late night flatness. these were swimming in a dark pool of chocolate sauce.
grand total, $200 for 4.
in my world, love is better than perfection, and at chapeau! i feel the care of the proprietors and staff in every expression of food and service. an enduring favorite.