For a taste of Paris in The City, try out L’Ardoise 

It’s a rainy Wednesday night and reservations at L’Ardoise, a small French bistro, are running late. Diners are crammed around every postage-stamp-sized table, while damp newcomers crush together behind a curtain by the front door.

The only thing to do is walk down to Market Street for a cocktail and return when the place has emptied out.

This happened to four of us the other night. If it had not been pouring, we could have waited outside on the tree-lined sidewalk. The narrow streets in the Duboce Triangle, where L’Ardoise occupies a choice corner spot, evoke Paris; and the bistro has set a bench outside just for these occasions.

On a previous visit, two of us sat at a six-seat bar in front of the kitchen. We called first and the host saved two places for us.

L’Ardoise is worth the wait and extra effort. Chef/owner Thierry Clement, formerly of Fringale, does what the French do best: cook on a gas stove.

Using this single piece of equipment in a miniscule kitchen partially visible through a brightly lit cutout window, Clement skillfully turns out classic bistro fare. Old-school, old-world, old-fashioned, without a whiff of California conscience, his cooking is comforting and delicious.

A green salad is a towering stack of butter lettuce leaves ($8) in mild vinaigrette. A tender artichoke heart is mounded with puffy warm goat cheese ($10), with retro torn lettuce in balsamic vinaigrette on the side. 

A generous slab of buttery foie gras terrine ($16), with toasted brioche, epitomizes la cuisine.

French cooks know how to use the oven, too.

In Clement’s hands, coq au vin ($18), chicken slowly braised in red wine with bacon, develops a  velvety, russet sauce and maintains moist, flavorful flesh. He sets the coq au vin over mashed potatoes and tops it with spinach.

Fork-tender rabbit ($21) comes smothered in a voluptuous, perfectly balanced grain mustard sauce.

Duck legs slowly roasted in their own fat become duck confit ($18). Clement sautés the conserved duck legs to order to give them that delectable crisp skin and pairs them with pommes landaise, thinly sliced potatoes roasted in duck fat scattered with garlic.

Golden filets of petrale sole ($19) glisten with an emulsified white wine and butter sauce called beurre blanc, a triumph of French civilization.

A tall, crisp puff pastry filled with meaty brown mushrooms in mushroom liquor fragrant with fresh herbs ($16) is another miracle.

Tart tatin ($7), arranged with caramelized apples on top with rich crust below, stars for dessert.

Well-chosen wines, pricey but lush, and this food are truly made for each other.

The French wait staff, even during the busiest times, refold your napkin, recommend the right wine, and never, ever bring a check until you ask for it. Maybe that’s why reservations get backed up, but how French!

Deep russet walls, draperies and carpeting the color of the sauce on the coq au vin, glow in warm light cast by shaded lamps and votives. A huge vase of lilacs anchors one end of the bar.

“L’ardoise” means “blackboard,” so of course three of them hang around the small room. 

If you eat late, there might be erasures. No matter, really.  Food, wine, ambiance and service are all of a piece, straight from a culture that believes in the rituals of dinner.


L’Ardoise
Location: 151 Noe St., S.F.Contact: (415) 437-2600; www.lardoisesf.com
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Price range: Starters, $6 to $16; main courses, $16 to $29
Recommended dishes: Foie gras terrine, butter lettuce salad, coq au vin, rabbit in mustard sauce, mushrooms in puff pastry
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover
Reservations: Accepted


Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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