Chef Laurent Guillaume, who has helped open hotels and restaurants in Paris, brings years of culinary expertise to Chouquet’s menu and adorns time-tested continental fare with surprising New World elements. Attentive servers emerge from the kitchen carrying escargot and niçoise salads, cruising past sleek stools at a bar accented by swirls of natural wood grain and designed by Dominique Maxime Genauzeau. On the patio, diners soak up the sun or choose least-favorite clouds for a sky writer to edit out. The dining room's sand-hued walls and burnt-orange accents resound with the sounds of glasses clinking together, bearing more than 70 wines from Europe, South America, and the Pacific Northwest and a rotating selection of draft beers from France and the United States.
When to Go: The signature tasting menu, which can include as many as 25 courses, is served Tuesday through Saturday. Of course, they also offer a shorter and less expensive 7–10 course tasting menu Tuesday through Thursday.
How to Navigate the Menu: Think of it as a poem rather than an outline of dishes and ingredients. For instance, a menu description such as “mellow serenades of colors licorice and orange” is rendered on the plate as sea urchin torchon with caviar and yuzu. Ask your server or a nearby English professor to help you translate.
The Gist: The seasonal French dishes here are as far reaching as they are inventive. Chefs combine locally sourced, seasonal produce with a dash of molecular gastronomy and a generous smattering of artful presentation.
Who’s Cooking: Versailles-native Dominique Crenn views the culinary arts as exactly that—an art. Her expressive flair has paid off—she won Iron Chef America, earned the title of Esquire’s “chef of the year” in 2008, and secured a place in history as Indonesia’s first-ever female executive chef.
While You’re In the Neighborhood Before: Pick up a pair of vintage-inspired earrings to debut at dinner at Fawn(3108 Fillmore Street), a quaint women’s boutique. After: Cut a rug or two at Comet Club (3111 Fillmore Street) before commemorating the evening with pictures in their photo booth.
The Ingredients: Executive Chef Arthur Wall hunts down the freshest in-season and local ingredients he can find, including oysters and cheeses. The everchanging selection of available items inspires Mr. Wall to constantly update his menu, as well as prepare a new prix fixe offering every day.
When to Go: On Tuesday, when the restaurant lets patrons bring in bottles of wine with no corkage fee.
Vibe: Paul Reidinger of the San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote “Garçon! might be one of the most Parisian-looking restaurants in the city, with its vintage Dubonnet posters and individual lamps on each table.”
Coq au vin: Traditional french dish of chicken cooked in red wine.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Take in the aromas of more than 400 herbs, essential oils, and flower essences at The Scarlet Sage Herb Company (1173 Valencia St).
After: See some live theatre at The Marsh (1062 Valencia St).
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Gaspar Brasserie (185 Sutter St), where you can dine on French cuisine beneath a crystal chandalier.
Who’s Cooking: Chef-owner Traci Des Jardins. Her French-California cuisine has earned her multiple James Beard awards and even earned her a spot on season three of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
The Vibe: Jardiniere occupies a landmark building in the Civic Center neighborhood, and features a warm two-story interior that rests beneath an inverted champagne glass dome with twinkling, bubble-like lights.
When to Go: Monday nights offer the best bang for your buck with themed prix fixe dinners that include wine pairings.
While You're Waiting: Sip on a cocktail in the J Lounge. Here, you can get a taste of the restaurant’s elegance and, if you’re very hungry, its food—the lounge menu includes dishes such as warm bread salad with artichokes and crescenza.
Confit: a French term used to describe food that has been cooked in oil, syrup, or—in the case of some meat—its own fat, and then preserved.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Stop by one of chef Des Jardins’ other establishments, including Public House (24 Willie Mays Plaza, AT&T Park) and Mijita Cocina Mexicana, which has two prime locations.
When To Go: Sip wines and pace yourself through the sumptuous dinner menu on a Friday evening; the atmosphere then is more relaxed and conversation-friendly compared to the fever pitch of the popular weekend brunch.
Bistronomy: locally grown, organic ingredients served with style amid a casual, convivial environment.
Cornichon: French for "gherkin," these small, tart pickles traditionally accompany pâté and other French dishes.
While You’re in the Neighborhood: Before or after your meal, head around the corner to the Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street), a historic movie house built in 1922. It screens classic and recent releases, and the owners host singalongs to the likes of Grease and Frozen and occasionally fire up a Wurlitzer organ before the show.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Whip up authentic French bistro dishes at home with guidance from the chef’s cookbook, Nick Ronan: The Kissing Chef.
Meet Chef-Owner Stephane Gregoire
Where to Sit: Snag one of the few counter seats, or join the majority of the crowd and take your meal to-go.
When to Go: lunchtime during the workweek (it’s closed on weekends). Because everything is prepackaged, the line tends to move quickly.
Macaron: a colorful, sandwich-like pastry made of almond flour and egg whites; it’s usually filled with fruit preserves or flavored creams.
Steak au poivre: steak seared in a crust of cracked peppercorns, leaving it rare to medium-rare inside.
While You’re in the Neighborhood: Take a break from the office with a leisurely stroll along the San Francisco Bay Trail.