Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cafe Bastille

Yesterday marks the date of one of the best days of my entire life.

We rode the BART train into the last stop in San Francisco and emerged into the drizzly March afternoon. Everywhere people had umbrellas and boots. Everyone except us. The goal was to relive an incredible experience Kelly had the last time she was in the city and it seemed our luck was running out.

She had visited a beautiful hotel with a bar called The Pied Piper after the original Maxfield Parrish painting hanging above the bar. She said it was the definition of San Fran class. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the lights were dim, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting and casual. The bartender then had recommended an amazing Italian restaurant called Tiramisu (rightly so- their dessert is the best you can get). It was there in this restaurant that Kelly had the best potato gnocchi she had ever eaten. So naturally I demanded the same experience, and what I got was even better.

After taking a $9 taxi cab to the wrong location (Kelly thought we were looking for the Park Hotel, which in fact doesn't exist in San Francisco), we hoofed it to the beautiful Palace Hotel. Situated in between high-end bridal shops, Chanel, and an imported fabric store (think French lace and Italian silk), there we were. There was a note outside the door telling us that an episode of Mad Men had been filmed here! The bar was exactly as she described it. We enjoyed some Martinis and then made our way back out into the rain to find this amazing little restaurant. But of course, as luck would have it, as soon as we arrived they informed us we'd arrived 15 minutes too late. They closed between 3-5 and would reopen again at dinner. Our train out of the city would leave at 5:30. Not enough time. But, the store owner said, there was a French restaurant at the end of the street that stayed open. We decided to try it. Suddenly, all the good luck in the world was on our side.

Cafe Bastille is the first of 3 or 4 little restaurants located down a narrow cobblestone lane right in the heart of San Francisco. Twinkle lights adorn the awnings that protect the little tables outside of the shop. We decided to eat inside and were greeted by the friendly French owner. When we were ready to order our waiter (who was also French) asked for our menus and told us each in turn "Merci!" as we handed them to him. He brought us a basket of bread and butter to munch on while we waited. Bear in mind this is not the seasoned soft hot bread you eat at Carrabas or Olive Garden or Macaroni grill. Pure, simple, fresh baked baguette. Chewy. Perfect.

Next came the meal. And what a meal. For an appetizer we decided Escargot would be appropriate, especially since Ben has never tried it. Delicious. Buttery, garlicy, full of parsley and bread crumbs it was easily the most delicious thing I've eaten. Next I ordered the Quiche Lorraine, which was so melt in your mouth it was hard to tell where the cheese and crust and spinach and ham ended and began. It was hot and soft and a perfect remedy for being soaked to the bone. The frittes that came with it were golden and crunchy and the salad was superb. Ben ordered the prosciutto and fig-marmalade sandwich, which is unlike any other sandwich I have ever tried. Rich and salty and sweet. Kelly luckily found a truffle Gnocchi which, as it turns out, is BETTER than the Tiramisu dish (which she explained drunkenly to the owner). We finished our meal with a chocolate and cup of espresso. After we paid and were ready to leave, the owner stopped us and asked us to wait. He ran into the back yelling in French and emerged with two huge freshly baked baguettes. "Take these home for breakfast tomorrow. A little butter, a little marmalade, you will be so happy!" he exclaimed. We couldn't have been more of just that.

Can I also just mention the atmosphere, the novelty of the whole thing? The restaurant itself was so perfect we felt we had stepped into Paris for a day. Several different French men came in and out to greet the waiter with two kisses, one on each cheek, and to discuss something rapidly and briefly in French before the man would run back out into the rain. There were people from France EATING in the restaurant. I know I must sound so sheltered, but this just wasn't an experience I was going to ever have back home.

So here I am, the next morning, ready to make my eggs and eat fresh-baked baguette from the little french cafe, and reminiscing on this whole experience. It's the kind you dream about, that you only have with the right opportunity and a local who knows his way around. It felt like a day out of someone else's life. Certainly not mine. Anthony Bourdain, maybe. But certainly not me.

And you can definitely bet the next time I'm here, that will be the first place I go.


  1. Wow! That sounds like heaven! I totally want to make this journey with you and Kelly next time I am in SF. You had me at Mad Men! :)

  2. One day I will stay at the Palace Hotel 2 New Montgomery Street San Francisco. I will eat in the Garden Restaurant. I will relive my day in the city. My journey in life led me to the pied piper. Maxfield Parrish will never know that his beautiful paintings helped me to get through one of the most incredible and difficult parts of my life journey. Who knew it would lead to Cafe Bastille, Tiramisu, and the Pied Piper Mural in the bar at the Palace Hotel.