Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bon Appetit… Affordable French Cuisine in the Bay Area

By Linda Lau Anusasananan

Fifteen years ago Roland Passot, chef/owner of San Francisco’s elegant La Folie created Left Bank, a casual, lively brassiere that served everyday French classics such as Onion Soup Gratinée and Steak Frites. His prototype has multiplied five-fold with locations in Menlo Park, San Mateo, Pleasant Hill, Santana Row, and Larkspur.

A few weeks ago, Lora (my travel pal and author of this blog) and I visited Left Bank Brasserie in San Mateo. I fell in love with the new menu. There were tempting choices for every taste. Best of all, prices seemed fair. Some even offered great value, considering the quality ingredients and generous portions.

We started with typical French aperitifs Pastis and Lillet as we studied the menu. There were so many appealing choices we had a hard time deciding what to order. We asked recently promoted Executive Chef Brendy M. Monsada (left) for his personal favorites. He suggested the Navarin D’Agneau (lamb stew $18.50) and Halibut with sautéed Calamari, braised in Fennel Broth ($23.50). Both were delicious and generously portioned. In the lamb stew, spring vegetables such as sugar snap peas, baby turnips, and carrots added a fresh lightness to tender chunks of lamb, braised in veal stock and white wine. Olives, sweet cherry tomatoes, and fava beans gave the halibut a Provençal persona.

We were intrigued with the Les Tartes Flambées, described as classic Alsatian thin crust savory tarts. We chose the Périgord ($11.75) simply because I love duck confit. We ordered it as a first course. Out came a 10-inch tart, somewhat akin to pizza. The very crisp, blistered, cracker-thin crust was blanketed with delicious moist shreds of duck confit, mushrooms, and truffle vinaigrette. It was hearty enough to be our whole meal. We had to stop ourselves from consuming the whole tart so we could eat the rest of our dinner.

There were so many dishes I wanted to taste, I stopped by again a few nights ago. I seriously considered the Monday special Roasted Duck å L’Orange ($19.50). A different French classic such as Cassoulet ($19.50), or Beef Short Rib Pot au Feu ($19.95) is offered every day of the week. I was tempted by the three-course Prix Fixe by Passot ($26.50) which that night included Mesclun Salade, Basque Tarte Flambée, and Crème Brulée. I finally chose the regional two-course Tour of France Prix Fixe ($28) that changes monthly.

May’s menu from the Loire Valley featured Artic char (below, right) with a soft coral color similar to salmon set on a bed of white and green asparagus in a delicate sorrel sauce. A regional cheese followed. The handmade goat’s milk cheese, Le Chevrot,, came with cherry compote, candied pecans, and toasted baguette slices. My husband opted for his perennial Left Bank favorite, Moules Florentine (steamed mussels with spinach and white wine $11.75). A huge bowl overflowing with petite mussels is a meal in itself.

I can’t wait to go back again and explore the menu further. Dining at Left Bank tastes like a trip to Paris, without the plane ticket!

About our guest writer: Linda Lau Anusasananan is a freelance writer/editor and recipe developer. She was a food writer/editor and recipe editor at Sunset Magazine for 34 years. Currently she is working on a Chinese cookbook and

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