I’m quite familiar with Café de la Presse, the San Francisco French bistro that sits prominently at the corner of Grant and Bush Streets under the shadows of Chinatown’s Dragon Gate.
During my frequent trips to Chinatown, I would pass by the café and marvel at its press theme (as a former journalist I feel a connection), and envied the couples donning sunglasses sitting at the sidewalk tables sipping their espresso and latte. So very vivre la vie.
But I admit, I’d never dined there.
That changed recently when I was invited by the restaurant as a guest. Café de la Presse marked its 10th year of business last fall, so it’s trying to reacquaint old friends to their menu and introduce new diners (that’s me) to the restaurant from famed French chef Laurent Manrique (who also owns restaurants in New York).
Having just visited another San Francisco classic, I was in a nostalgic mood, so I went for dinner last night with my niece, Margot.
On a warm night, the sidewalk tables were still pretty popular when we arrived. Walking past the bar, you get the press theme with the racks of magazines (mostly English but some European), which I believe are available for diners to browse while eating (a great idea for those going solo).
We were seated in the large dining room in the back, which had tall ceilings and servers dressed in that classic bistro attire of white shirt, black vests, and long white aprons. Our waiter was friendly and helpful, and overall service was attentive and efficient.
The menu has all the classic elements of a neighborhood bistro in Paris, with items like onion soup (it’s not really called French onion soup when served in a French bistro), croque monsieur and madame (lunch only), escargots, foie gras, steak frites, and salade nicoise. The kitchen is led by Executive Chef Patrick Albert.
I started with the tarte au saumon fume ($14) or smoked salmon on flat bread. I enjoyed the balance of flavors from the smoked salmon, capers, caramelized red onions and horseradish crème, and Margot liked how the salmon was shredded so the bite isn’t overwhelmingly salmon. She had the shrimp cocktail ($16), which was blended with avocado and grapefruit. She enjoyed the blending of flavors, but I felt the shrimp didn’t have the same impressive size I’d seen in other places around town.
For our main entrees, Margot had the steamed mussels ($19) with a cornet of fries (again, they’re not French fries when listed on a bistro menu) that were pencil thin and crispy. Her mussels had a white wine sauce with a twist – it had the additional flavors of green curry and diced apples. The sauce was different but enjoyable, and it was a big bowl of mussels.
I went with another French classic, Boeuf Bourguignon ($26), which is braised beef short ribs in red wine sauce with pearl onions, mushrooms, diced bacon, and carrots. The plate looked hearty with classic notes everywhere. While the beef was tender, my preference is for a bit more tenderness – almost-falling-apart tender.
Our meal ended with desserts of sorbet ($11) with blackberry, raspberry and mango flavors, and the croissant pudding ($10) with chocolate-toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla gelato. The sorbets were what you would expect, but the warm croissant pudding was almost like eating French toast (or is it just toast if served in a French bistro?). There was a genuine European flair to the dessert that I appreciated.
Side note: For those wary of the prices, Café de la Presse recently introduced prix fixe menus, offering up three courses for $39 or four courses for $49. When I visited, options including dishes like lamb two ways or butter poached halibut.
The last bite
In the end, we enjoyed our dinner at Café de la Presse. Margot said she would come back for the fries, especially for lunch or a light dinner in the café area. I agree that the charm seems to be the café for brunch or lunch, especially on a nice day. Café de la Presse is a French bistro in its most traditional form, with classic flavors and no fuss.
I’m not giving my typical rating since I was a guest. Thanks to Café de la Presse for the invitation.
The deets: Café de la Presse, 352 Grant Ave. (at Bush), San Francisco. PH: 415.398.2680. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. 5% SF healthy tax added to the check. cafedelapresse.com
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