Millicent | Aug 12, 200202:23 PM     1

Last week four of us had dinner at Grand Cafe (SF, corner of Geary and Taylor) -- loved it. It's a big, belle-epoqueish room with several different areas, so it doesn't feel cavernous but warm and interesting.

My mother and I started with the heirloom tomato salad, which was a nice version of a can't-miss-this-time-of-year dish. Parmesan crisps added a nice textural contrast and slight saltiness. Clara had the green salad with warm goat cheese -- also very good -- and Scott started with the soup du jour, a creamy lobster bisque with what the server described as a strong brandy flavor. Scott could taste the brandy but didn't think it dominated. The soup had a nice, full flavor that was a good precurser to his duck entree.

The duck, prepared medium rare as requested, was wonderful. Fanned in large slices over the basmatti rice, the breast was flavored with cardamom and sour cherries. The skin was slightly crunchy and the meat full of smokey richness. Scott enjoyed every bite.

For their entrees, Mom and Clara had the chef's (Paul Arenstam, formerly of the late, lamented Belon) signature skate wing with cabbage, brown butter and bacon. It's a delicious combination, done very well, and won my mother over to skate. I had grilled salmon with summer beans (cranberry, green and wax) that I loved and piggishly refused to share with anyone else.

We shared two desserts, the strawberry shortcake, the biscuit of which had a nice orange-almond accent, and the chocolate torte, which was enjoyed by Mom and Scott.

The wine list includes a fairly large collection of french wines. Not knowing French wines well, we should have asked for a suggestion given the mix of entrees at our table. Instead, Scott played it safe and chose the
Valley of the Moon 1997 Cuvee de la Luna -- a meritage wine with a medium body that wouldn't overpower the skate, but could hold up to the duck. Zins are what Valley of the Moon are known for best but this wine is fine -- not extraordinary but a solid good value wine. On most nights out, we would be more adventurous.

Our server, Melissa, was just the right balance of professional and friendly, as were the other dining room staff we encountered. The room was pretty much full for an early, weeknight seating, but did not empty by 8:00 when the theater-goers departed. In short, we had a really nice meal and evening -- I definitely recommend it.

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