These two Nob Hill newcomers satisfy my longing for a little romance inherent in a great glass of wine, gourmet-yet-heartfelt cooking, and intimate environs. Make a date with a lover or a close friend at these idyllic neighborhood bistros.
COCOTTE, Nob Hill (1521 Hyde St. at Jackson, 415-292-4415)
Hyde Street Bistro was one of those blessedly non-trendy restaurants, a traditional French bistro proffering a warm welcome. Remaining virtually unchanged since I moved to SF over 12 years ago, in October 2012 the owners refreshed and reopened the restaurant as Cocotte. The warm welcome continues, while interior decor and painting upgrades are noticeable but understated.
Most importantly, the feeling of being transported to a neighborhood bistro in France lives on. French staff pour French wines generously, with a sly comment, a knowing smile, treating even the newcomer as a regular.
The classics are deftly prepared, whether coq au vin ($19), tender chicken (translated as “rooster/cock with wine”), slow-cooked in Burgundy wine with pancetta, rainbow carrots, mushroom, or a half or whole roasted, organic Petaluma chicken ($15/$26). Sides are heartwarming, like a creamy cauliflower gratin ($6) laced with Emmental cheese.
Luxurious rabbit mustard ragu satisfies over potato gnocchi and English peas in rabbit a la moutarde ($12), or mustard, in English.
Farm eggs meurette ($10) is a dish as striking as it is sensual on the tongue. Farm eggs are poached in Pinot Noir, rosy with red wine, served alongside fatty bone marrow on brioche. Buttery, unctuous, bright – it’s a winning combo, balanced by the earthy crunch of frisee salad.
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MASON PACIFIC, Nob Hill (1358 Mason St. at Pacific, 415-374-7185)
Sitting in window-lined Mason Pacific, Nob Hill’s two-month-old bistro oversees passing cable cars and Bay views down the hill. The setting is transporting – not so much straight to Europe. Instead, nestled amongst water and hills, it feels entirely San Francisco.
Executive Chef (and CIA grad) Sean McTiernan’s background runs from SF (Delfina, Rose Pistola) to Michelin-starred Paris at Taillevent, La Table de Robuchon. Initial house favorites are buttermilk fried chicken ($14), its crispy tenderness melding with remoulade and green Tabasco sauces, or a small but flavor-packed pretzel bun burger ($14).
Delights appear regularly, whether a simple, gratifying ball of fried feta cheese ($6), warm and oozing over spring peas and fava beans, or a decadent bowl of tagliatelle pasta ($12) under a soft mound of shaved Parmesan and chives, lush in egg and a truffle buerre fondue.
Though I’ve had many a pot de creme ($6), Mason Pacific’s silky chocolate pot is perfectly accented by a rich peanut butter mouse, candied marcona almonds and sea salt. Milk chocolate pot could be boring on its own if not for the salty melange of peanut butter on top, appealing to my peanut butter and chocolate cravings of childhood.
Former lead sommelier at RN74, Eric Railsback, assembles a thoughtful wine list at Mason Pacific, where value and taste collide, as with a crisp Chateau de Trinquevedel 2011 Rose of Grenache from Tavel, France ($10 glass/$40 bottle). He also includes a couple of fantastic beers, like The Bruery Trade Winds ($8), in rare form: on draft.
Date night, indeed.