If you’ve been waiting patiently for a San Francisco version of Balthazar
, then wait no more. You’ve got it, in Cafe des Amis
. Occupying the former Prego space on Union Street in Cow Hollow, Cafe des Amis has the feel of a (really really big and loud) Parisian brasserie. The restaurant is vast, but still has a welcoming ambiance and the staff is super-duper friendly. The menu is everything you expect, with soups, salads, hors d’oeuvres, fromage, charcuterie, plats du jour (daily specials; we went on the ‘tripe’ day), fruits de mer, plats principaux, and a cote (sides). Oh geez, plus there’s the caviar service. It’s like Paris exploded on a menu.
That said, the food is familiar (like my husband’s deliciously rich french onion soup), yet sometimes still different enough to be interesting (like the raisin gastrique with my diver scallop). The delivery is not earth-shattering, but it is solid. Because of the acoustical nightmare of the restaurant (it’s really, really, did I say really?, loud) and the dim lighting, this seemed most appropriate for a great casual first date place or large group place. You can do some people watching, eat some good food, and get away with not having to talk about anything too serious because you’re using the “loud conversation voice” the entire meal (I confess, it was hard not to to hear the 4 women next to me, who bordered on Cougar-age, and I did cringe a little when I heard one woman tell the waiter how she was enjoying her sauvignon blanc…with her steak frites…and side of beurre blanc sauce…dollars to donuts, that steak was served well-done to boot). In the atmospherics, I suppose Cafe des Amis is nothing like Bouchon and Balthazar, whose smaller venues afford more intimacy and charm. But beware, one similarity that Cafe des Amis has with those brasserie phenoms is the price point. Nevertheless, it seems to be a welcome addition to Cow Hollow: the restaurant was buzzing on a Thursday night with patrons young and old and made Union Street feel like the Union Street of the 90′s (when I was still young enough to justify going to Union Street Fair).
Postscript: I went to Cafe des Amis in mid-October and actually wrote this review then; coincidentally, Bauer came out with his review late October (FYI, if Bauer reviewed a restaurant prior to my visit, I make it a practice not to read his review so that I can form my own amateur opinion — it’s probably a case of not liking people telling me what to do). We both noted similar things — mainly the deafening noise level, the Balthazar comparison, and the happening night life — and came to the same general conclusion: that Cafe des Amis is worth the visit as long as you can overlook some not-so-great aspects (for him, it was the uneven execution of the menu; for me, it was the dim lights and loud noises — I know, I sound like an old lady).
Postcript 2: (12/1/10) The chef, perhaps after the not-great review from Bauer, is departing. No doubt whomever is brought in will have to address some consistency issues. I imagine the ambiance, lively and loud, will remain the same.