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Restaurants & Bars 6

Le Petit Robert, Polk Street, SF (long)

Limster | Mar 8, 200212:51 AM

I think I have been forever tainted by my trip to France. This evening, I strolled into Le Petit Robert (yet another outpost of the Bay Breads empire) and had a good meal. Delicious even. Everything was well prepared, and cooked at a level beyond competence. But somehow the culinary experience (charming as it was) wasn't the same. I think I'm missing game, organ meats and other interesting spare parts. (The wildest stuff on the menu were duck gizzards in a salad, all the more conspicuous in the absence of its more savage brethern.)

Looking away from the menu, one finds the spacious room is every bit as welcoming and cheery as any of Rigo's ventures. But the dark polished wood centered at the bar lend a bit more gravity to Le Petit Robert, as if signalling that the food is going to be more serious. The place still smiles, but above those curved lips is a pair of deep eyes that is more Juliette Binoche than Audrey Tautou.

The pair of whole grilled sardines, lightly seasoned with lemon and oil, is a great thing. For some reason, they conjure up pleasing pictures of beach and harbor. It's rustic and delicious and I enjoyed them with a quiet and happy satisfaction. I get the waitress to recommend a half glass of subtle nectar, a Savignon Blanc, to match. Most wines come by the glass or half glass (they call it a taste -- the better to sample), and it's definitely one of their merits.

I supposed that duck was going to be the gamiest thing on the menu, so I had the patient and helpful waitress break the tie. (Yes, service is good and the waitstaff knowledgeable and helpful.) Duck breast wins over duck cassoulet, sophistication over heartiness.

The duck breast is perfectly cooked. Tender moist meat (made more moist in a sauce that seemed to be made from pan juices) and a nice edge of firm fat. Good texture. The green butter-coated flavors of the accompanying rapini make a good match, especially when it gives off a hint of nuttiness, but it is the sweet roasted mangos that really brighten the duck when tasted together. I was trying to catch the spice from the advertised szechuan peppercorns, but I couldn't catch any heat. Not a big deal at all. To drink, a rather fruity and robust Pinor Noir, a second half glass.

Dessert followed the path of least resistance -- a warm chocolate fondant cake (somewhat mousse-y in texture, I would have liked it better suave and smooth) in a shallow pool of light vanilla sauce. And two scoops of good but gentle expresso ice cream. Satisfying.

For an appetizer, entree, dessert, 2 half glasses of wine and a pot of tea and tax -- about $44 (not counting tip). Dinner was good, but not exactly a bargain. It would probably cost more than a meal at nearby Street or Antica Trattoria. And a few dollars more could get me a more refined meal at Chaz. So on the whole, very good but not great.

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