Chapeau in San Francisco: Put Your Hat Back On
1408 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94118
My friends The Asian Marina Couple (TAMC) had gone to Chapeau! a few times (once even for Valentine’s Day) and raved about its French bistro food, the attentive neighborhoody service, and value-oriented prix fixe. Since they’re pretty picky about dining (yet also value-oriented like us GrubGirl groupies), I added Chapeau! to my list of places to check out. Finally I got the gals to go before hitting the Sex and The City movie.
With 6:30pm dinner reservations, we arrived into a tiny room jam-packed with rows of tables, and patrons eating elbow to elbow. There was the sprinkling of younger or yuppie couples, and a few small families here and there. But the majority of the diners basically were of the demographic that watches, say, the CBS Evening News. (Note, I had heard recently that the average age of CBS Evening News watchers is 62.)
Service was very pleasant but the level of crowdedness and resulting noise level was not what I expected (nor do I believe that TAMC would actually have tolerated this.) Fortunately, we were not rushed out of our seating area, otherwise I would’ve felt like we were in some foodie sweatshop or mill. “Eat eat eat then leave leave leave!”
We guessed that they have 2 waves of reservation times. However with 3 of us, I was by the aisle where waiters were constantly trying to avoid each other, and my friend was trying not to hit me while she buttered her bread, and she was also trying to avoid the couple to her right. The whole time, we were raising our voices so we could hear each other speak.
We were offered a complimentary little savory pastry. It was a pleasant way to start off the evening but the taste was not any more distinctive than, say, a frozen pastry that you’d buy from Costco or Trader Joe’s.
The waiter also politely offered us some champagne. Grubgirl warning! This is NOT complimentary. We debated this amongst ourselves while sipping on it. At French Laundry, this is also done, and it definitely goes on the bill. More on this later.
The prix fixe menu changes, so I won’t go into too much detail other than that I had the cassoulet, a friend had salmon, and another had the duck. Thankfully, the food was served piping hot, and was tasty indeed. Portions were also good for us. (No leftovers for this GrubGirl, but my friends had leftovers…which they promptly donated to me.)
At the end of the evening, we did notice that the champagne was on our bill. Though this was an overt upsell that we should have been more wary about, we still felt misled by our waiter. (Who knew that these things happen in upscale restaurants? It just seems a little tacky.)
Unfortunately, the total lack of ambiance (not even enough to have a neighborhoody contrarian feel to it), did not enthuse us to return again. Been there, done that, overrated. Chapeau! probably was a more quaint restaurant in its day, and I can imagine that the current situation is a sad result of their original success. Hopefully they can afford to give up a few tables so that the ambiance can return. (But with that much more money coming in by squeezing in 6-10 more tables, that’s probably a lot of cash to turn away.)