As a fan of Chez Papa Bistrot on Potrero Hill, I was eager to try out its new downtown San Francisco location in Mint Plaza, Chez Papa Resto. Some may consider its location to be in SOMA (South of Market) as it is off 5th Street, between Market and Mission Streets.
Before entering Chez Papa Resto, I was a bit apprehensive about where I was going. I had exited the San Francisco Centre on Fifth Street mid-block between Market and Mission Streets and had to walk to the end of the block to cross Fifth Street...I really wanted to jaywalk because Jessie Street, where the restaurant is located, is almost directly across from where I came out of the San Francisco Centre. Walking into Mint Plaza at 6 p.m., I was surprised at its emptiness and was, from a distance, uncertain that I was in the right place until I spotted Chez Papa Resto's small sign hanging above the entrance.
Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple and sophisticated decor of the dining room and bar.
I knew my French was rusty when our server greeted us in French and I tried to respond to him. Not to worry...English is definitely the main language spoken by the staff. But, since most of the staff is French, dining here offers the added bonus of providing the opportunity to practice your French.
We were a party of four on a Girls Night Out. While we looked over the menu, we enjoyed our Epi bread, which was accompanied by a bowl of two tapenades, one made with black olives, one made with green olives. Their presentation in a divided white bowl make me think they were the yin and yang of tapenades. I decided not to share this thought with my friends as we devoured much of the bread and all of the tapenade...our attentive server brought us another serving of tapenade when he spotted our empty bowl.
We shared two appetizers to start:
Fried Squash Blossoms that were stuffed with Mozzarella and Goat Cheeses and the Green and White Asparagus Salad.
Then, we were on to our main courses. With about half a dozen Entree choices, the four of us were able to sample much of the menu. We ordered Grilled Loch Duart Salmon, Lamb Daube braised in chateauneuf du Pape, Roasted Monkfish served Bouillabaisse style, and a Vegetarian Plate.
If you've not heard of Lock Duart Salmon, it is a Scottish farm raised salmon that restaurateurs and environmentalists consider to be of the same high quality as wild salmon. Chez Papa Resto's preparation with a Citrus Melange, Orange Braised Fennel, and Opal Basil, was delicous and beautifuuly presented.
The Lamb Daube is a traditional French stew. I sample one of the cubes of lamb and it was perfection...in a rich sauce subtly flavored with Chateauneuf du Pape wine and ganished with colorful vegetables.
The Vegetarian Plate was composed of a selection of the day's vegetables. It included Ratatoille, Potato and Fennel Gratin, Asparagus, Carrots, Fennel, and Peas.
I think that the Roasted Monkfish that I ordered was the most interesting of the four dishes, mainly because of its presentation. I was first served a bowl in which there was the Monkfish, Clams, Clamari and slices of potato. Then, our server returned with a pitcher of Bouillabaisse-like broth which he poured over the fish...the menu describes the broth as a "Boullabaisse Fumet." Finally, I was presented with a small platter on which there was Rouille, shaved Gruyere cheese, and toasted thin slices of bread...I chose to put some Rouille on the toasts and submerge them in the broth; I sprinked the Gruyere over the fish.
We chose two desserts to share:
Profiteroles, a French classic of cream puffs filled with ice cream and topped with warm chocolate sauce. Usually, restaurants serve three Profiteroles in a serving. Thoughtfully, our server brought us four, so we each got our own Profiterole.
Our second dessert selection was a very untraditional Strawberry Ravioli. Instead of being made with pasta, the raviolis were made from a sort of gelatinous fruit leather and they were filled with a thyme and honey cream filling. The ravioli were topped with a fresh strawberry puree that had pieces of strawberry in it...very creative, very tasty.
Our lovely dinner and visit ended with complimentary glasses of sweet wine that were presented to us after dessert.
To sum up, the food at Chez Papa Resto is just the kind of French food that I most enjoy...casual bistro-style Provencal dishes prepared with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Presentations were beautiful. Service was attentive without being intrusive. Co-owner, Marc-Henri Sempere stopped by several times, just to chat and even humored us a bit by tolerating our speaking in French. We left Chez Papa Resto feeling very happy and satisfied.
A few more observations: The dining room is intimate, seating about 70 people. Although it was busy throughout our meal, the noise level was low enough for us to easily carry on conversation at our table...a refreshing change from some of San Francisco's "hot" restaurants where it is impossible to hear or talk with your dining companion. Prices are reasonable for the quality of food: First courses average $14 and entrees average $25. Our dinner for four, with a bottle of wine, was about $50 per person, including tax and gratuity. While the large outdoor patio was not being used during the dinner hour, I can imagine that it would be a lovely place to enjoy lunch or weekend brunch on a sunny day.