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Restaurants & Bars 6

Report on La Table (long)

svL | Jan 27, 200302:37 PM

La Table, a 4-month old restaurant near Laurel Village, has gotten a very good review in the Chronicle as well as uniformly good reports on this board. Last night our family of four had dinner at La Table and I would definitely support the positive assessments. In fact, I think it is already one of the top restaurants in the city.

La Table is the most ambitious effort so far by the Bay Breads people who have "invaded" San Francisco in the last few years with a series of high-quality French bakeries and restaurants. They are the people behind Chez Nous and Gallette on Fillmore, and Le Petit Robert on Polk (and probably some other restaurants that I don't know about).

La Table replaced Tortola, a restaurant I have never been to. The space is somewhat difficult, with a long and narrow room. The street end of the room has a large window and the other end is an open kitchen. The decorators have done an excellent job, with lots of draperies, unusual light fixtures and paintings, and the room feels comfortable and cozy. The noise level is low and although the restaurant was full it never felt crowded. Very comfortable banquettes and chairs with plenty of space between tables. There is also another,
quite elegant, dining room behind the kitchen where they use a different, about-$10-more-per-entree, menu and also have several tasting menus ranging from $45 to $68. That room is not open every night and was closed last night. I did look at the menu and it appeared impressive, with lots of imaginative pairings of expensive ingredients. I'd like to come back and try it sometime. Although expensive, it looked like good value.

The staff was polite and friendly. We were about ten minutes early for our reservation and the maitre d' was quite attentive to us while we waited. They don't have a bar, but they have set up some tables outside the dining room near the kitchen where you can have a drink or look at the menus.

At 8 p.m. the dining room was full but, like I said, didn't feel crowded or harried. The diners, who looked to be mostly in the 30s to 50s, were casual-but-well dressed. Maybe that's a reflection of the neighborhood, or Sunday night dining, or maybe because the big ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) event was in town, I don't know. My wife and I fit right in, although our daughters (12 and 14) brought the age averages down.

The waitstaff was quite competent and attentive at all times. Water was refilled whenever the glasses became half-empty (or is it half-full?), wine was refilled as soon there was a hint of being empty. (By the way, for a refreshing change, the very elegant wine glasses were filled to the proper about-one-third-of-the-glass level. How often do waiters, probably in an attempt to make you order more sooner, fill the wine glasses to the brim, leaving absolutely no room for the bouquet to develop?)

Last night's dinner menu had nine choices in the appetizer category (between $7 and $10) and six main courses (between $14 and $19.50). Desserts were $8. They told me that the menu changes every couple of
months to adapt to the seasons.

We had three apps that we all shared. A bouillabaisse ($9) was nicely prepared with chunks of salmon and skate, mussels and day boat scallops. The rouille with croutons was good, although (this is just a personal preference) I would have liked it to be a bit more spicy. The soup stock was excellent and I sopped it all up with the bread (good bread of course here). We also had a grilled calamari dish ($9), which was way different from the usual deep-fried calamari you get at the wharfs near the ocean. The plump calamari were grilled, not deep-fried, and were fresh and slightly chewy. A good taste of the sea. The best app was probably the Salade Cochone ($10), which was a concoction of some kind of a suckling pig terrine topped with white beans, some green salad vegetables and really-nicely smoked pieces of bacon. The salad dressing was terrific. When we were ordering the
dishes, our 14-year-old daughter (who will eat anything, really, even fish eyes) made a face when the Cochone was discussed, but when the food came, she ate most of it.

For the mains, we ordered four dishes. I had the beef cheeks ($17) prepared in a wine-based sauce, which, I know, is sort of out-of-fashion by now although five years ago it was all the rage in the city. This was kind of a calibrating dish for me and it certainly passed the test. It was quite rich, somewhat smoky and very tender. My wife had a lamb shoulder dish ($16), which was also rich and tender and "falling off the bone." It had a great taste of lamb (yes, it was Niman Ranch). Both dishes had a good assortment of baby carrots and onions and small potatos on the side. The older daughter had a classic cassoulet with duck confit and sausages ($15). This was a very filling dish (white beans will do that to you) and she couldn't finish it. It was perfectly executed but not as interesting (to me) as the other two dishes. The younger daughter (she's the one that's hard to please in a good restaurant; pizza, burgers and french fries would always be her top choice) had flank steak ($17.50). I don't like to order steak in good restaurants (just like I don't like to order boiled lobster), but that was her choice. I guess she thought it was the least fussy choice on the menu. I tried it, of course. It was a good steak (Niman Ranch again) with a good sauce and a nice side dish of small potatos that looked like little sausages.

They have a good wine list. It has a fair amount of California wines but the interesting stuff is on the French side. They have their share of expensive and not-so-expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, but also
quite a bit of reasonably-priced choices from the Rhone Valley, Loire, Alsace, Languedoc and Provence. Even Corsica. They range from about $20 to just over $100 but mostly around $35. Corkage is $12 (and according
to the Chronicle review, corkage is waived if you order another bottle from their list).

For dessert (all $8) we had a creme brulee (which the kids quickly devoured) and a good and small fruit tarte. Our tarte came with a small lit candle in it; it was my wife's birthday which I mentioned to our waitress during the course of the meal. It was a nice, quiet gesture.

All in all, it was a very satisfying experience and I would certainly go back again. It is not an unexpensive restaurant but nothing outrageous, and you get very good value. The food, service and ambience are all first-class.

When you leave, they give you a small sample of (what else?) their good breads, which I had with coffee this morning.

La Table
3640 Sacramento Street (between Locust and Spruce)
San Francisco, CA

Note: street parking is usually difficult in the neighborhood and La Table has valet parking ($8).

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