San Francisco, CA

I Take My Hat Off to This San Francisco Restaurant

Claire Handscombe
photo is author's own

If you want to splurge a little and you like good food, there's probably no better place to go in San Francisco than Chapeau!. I had fond memories of it from my first visit in 2017, and am glad to see it's survived the pandemic. Back then, I'd stumbled across it almost by accident after strolling through the nearby Golden Gate Park and browsing at the iconic Green Apple Books a few blocks away. The Michelin-listed restaurant was full, so when I was offered the bar to sit at, it didn't feel like they were just trying to shunt me there because I'm single, as it does in so many other restaurants. Rather, it felt lucky that I'd snagged a spot. I remember feeling welcome and comfortable and being plied with a lot of delicious bread.

Then, as now, the chef himself, Philippe Gardelle, often greets guests with warmth and kindness. He couldn't know that, since I'm half French (and my French mother has recently passed away), hearing him pronounce my name with the R it was designed to have would make me feel so at home. And even though I'd booked a table outside, I was freezing when I arrived and he gladly rearranged things so I could sit inside and warm up.

It was a pleasure to be able to order a kir -- the classic French pre-dinner drink of white wine with a splash of blackcurrant liqueur -- and actually know that I'd get it made just right. It was doubly pleasurable to hear Jean-Jacques Goldman, the iconic singer I'd grown up loving, though the speakers at my table.

As for food, I had the salade landaise -- a duck frisée salad served over a slim layer of chicken liver mousse -- and even more duck, my favourite, in the cassoulet, a bean-based stew with various meats. I asked for a red wine that would pair well, and my waiter brought me a glass of 2018 Crozes-Hermitage, which complimented the food. But it's the crême brulée I enjoyed most of all -- there's nothing quite like the pleasure of cracking that top, sugary layer, and rounding off a delicious meal with a little sweetness.

You might know that Chapeau means hat in French. But Chapeau! is also an expression of surprise and admiration, a kind of "wow": I take my hat off to you. It's an apt name for a place which, even amid social distancing and mask wearing, knows how to make its guests feel welcome as well as spoiled with excellent food.


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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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