I don’t know when it first happened, but it did, and I can no longer wear hats. Bummer, right? I know! Men these days get so few accessories as it is, and a fedora looks like a botched circumcision on my head. It’s just dreadful.
In my high school preppy tennis-brat phase, I had Kangol visors in almost every color and my overly gelled spiky hair fanned out the top. When I was addicted to diet pills in LA, I used to wear baseball caps with my charcoal New Balance cross-trainers for a sporty look (which I like to think was the precursor to today’s overplayed LuLu Lemon look, but really I’m just jealous I can no longer wear Lycra and Spandex). Now, for some reason, I just feel like my head is too big for hats. Maybe it’s the chubbier cheeks, or the “fuller” neck? I just feel like hats (aside from the fedora) make my head look like the tip of a hot dog wiener peaking out from my shoulder-buns.
So you can see why I was surprised when I enjoyed such a fantastic dinner at Chapeau!, which means “Hat” in French if you remove the “!” (it means wow). This quaint neighborhood bistro on Clement Street in the Inner Richmond is fantastic! From the moment we stepped through the front door and into the tiny red velvet draped nook they call an entrance we felt welcomed as if entering an old friend’s home. Immediately we were greeted by the chef and owner Philippe Gardelle who shook all our hands and checked for our reservation.
The table-clothed restaurant has enough seating for about 50 people (+/- 10) with some additional seating at the bar where they’ll make any cocktail you can dream up.
The menu is full of classic French dishes made with a modern twist. They have a 3-course menu, 4-course menu, vegetarian menu, and a Chef’s menu with a sampling of their most popular dishes for you to choose from. You can order a la carte and mix and match. You can choose the palate cleanser if you want. The versatility was refreshing.
After my go-to T&T with two limes at the bar, Philippe escorted us to our table. Unfortunately, it was the one in front of the door and on the other side of the entrance curtain. I hate that table in restaurants. It’s always cold and it feels like diners waiting for a table are standing over you.
“You have to believe me,” Philippe said with his totally believable French accent, “this is actually the best table in restaurant.”
We took his word for it since we were staaarvnig, and for what it’s worth…it was a fantastic meal and a wonderful table! Thank you Philippe.
So here’s what we had for dinner:
The chef started us all off with a complimentary amuse bouche, which the cheap Jew in me always appreciates, not to mention it’s just a thoughtful way to get everyone’s palate at the table on the same note. This was a cauliflower and curry soup. It was creamy and buttery, and delish!
Oysters on the half shell. These were delicious, but there were too many shallots in the mignonette.
The trio of salmon. This was gravlax wrapped around a tartare of salmon with some salmon caviar. The caviar was a little scarce, but the dish was beautiful and light with a hint of smoke.
Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in white wine, shallot and parsley with pommes frites and rouille.
Deep fried black tiger prawns with shredded phylo dough and a fondue provencale and herbed aioli.
For our entrees Jonathan and our friend Jim had the sautéed striped bass served over a bed of braised oxtail and roasted garlic Yukon gold mashed potatoes, caramelized pearl onions and jus de poulet (chicken demi-glace).
Jim’s wife Nancy had the cassoulet de Toulouse. Traditionally a peasant dish was kicked up a notch with shredded braised lamb shoulder, duck leg confit, garlic and Toulouse sausage. All of these meats are roasted in clay dish with cannellini beans and….I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
I had the bouillabaisse, which was probably the best I’ve ever had. It had tai snapper, dorade, day boat scallops, prince Edward island mussels and manila clams. All the fish was poached in what they called a fish fumet, and fondue of poireaux (sautéed leeks and fish broth). On the side was a small ramekin of croutons, gruyere cheese and rouille (red pepper mayonnaise). I was perfectly happy with the dish, but was thinking it would be nice to have some more broth, and then suddenly Philippe was bringing me my own little pot of extra broth.
“I could see you didn’t have quite enough broth,” he said, pouring a little more over the fish in my bowl.
And that’s the reason why Chapeau! is on the top 100 best restaurants in the Bay Area list every year. Not only is the food impeccable, but the service is too…and that’s a sign of a good restaurant.
So you see, it doesn’t matter whether you think hats fit your head or not, because Chapeau! is one of the few one-size-fits-all.
Lemon tart with raspberry puree
Valrhona chocolate cake with banana flambee and rum-raisin ice cream.
French toasted with salted caramel ice cream. And this was by far the best French toast I’ve ever had….for obvious reasons, but I was actually sad when the taste left my mouth.
The frozen nougat with grains (like a parfait of sorts) in an orange soup was like no other dessert I’ve ever had before and yet I couldn’t keep my spoon away from it.