Hamburger on a French Roll with Aïoli and French Fries; Pork Chop and Brussels Sprouts with Cider Mustard Sauce; Nutella and Banana Crêpe
Occupation: Photo Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Maman
Reviewed Chez Maman: Saturday February 16, 2008
Chez Maman is located on Potrero, right on 18th Street. It’s a small French bistro serving good French food with a California twist. It’s all neighborhood parking, which is easy to find within a block or two of the restaurant. My friend arrived before I did and put our names on the list. Chez Maman does not accept reservations, nor will they hold seats for regulars like me (trust me, I’ve tried). As is usual for dinner, there was a wait, but it was only about 10 minutes. We sat at one of the only two bar tables as the restaurant is counter seating. Chez Maman has two waiters: Olivier for lunch and Laurent for dinner. Both French (and quite handsome), they set the tone and pace (along with the excellent music).
We started with a nice glass of Sancerre. We then shared the warm goat cheese salad, which is more than enough for two people to share. The portions are much bigger than your typical French meal but totally manageable. I couldn’t decide between the pork chop and grilled salmon. So, as usual, I asked the waiter. After a 5-minute discussion about making sure it’s not dry, Laurent recommended it be cooked medium. Courtney had the grilled salmon with fingerling potatoes, which were quite suggestive. I asked Laurent if this was a new side dish. He told me no, but also reminded me that I always ask for a substitute. The pork chop was quite moist and tender, and served with Brussels sprouts which I usually find offensive (too complicated and busy). The Brussels sprouts were nicely cooked and mixed well with the apple cider mustard sauce (with loads of apples). My only complaint is there were too many Brussels sprouts (but again, I’m not a huge fan). After our second glass of Sancerre, we shared the chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse is on the airy side and very well done.
The service is spaced out quite nicely, so you will never feel rushed even when you see people standing outside waiting and looking at you through the window. The crowd is quite diverse and easy going. It’s usually a mix of locals or friends/family of locals. The menu is pretty much the same since they opened (again, typically French). The burger, served on a French roll, is the best in San Francisco, the quesadillas are wonderful, and the panini are always good. The french fries are quite tasty, although I order mine a little on the soft side. Make sure you ask for the aioli for your fries. Occasionally, they run out of bread for the burgers; actually, they ran out of bread for the panini the night I was there. Don’t let this get you down, as there are other excellent items on the menu.
Occupation: Environmental Scientist
Location: Palo Alto
Favorite Restaurant: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
Reviewed Chez Maman: Saturday March 1, 2008
At first glance, Chez Maman looks from the outside like the rest of the bistros on the block, but from the inside it’s a surprisingly unique place, more a sophisticated diner than an upscale restaurant. However, the atmosphere is the only thing casual about Chez Maman. The food is delightfully well prepared and presented, and those responsible for its preparation are all about detail. You’ll know because you can see them at work from behind the counter.
Chez Maman is exactly as it’s advertised: a “neighborhood restaurant with a bistro concept.” Seated at one of the 15 or so counter spots or in one of the tables along the entrance, diners rub elbows with their neighbors while enjoying simple, traditional French dishes. The owner served us promptly on our arrival and did admit that, as advertised, his mother’s cooking was an inspiration for the cuisine. When put to the test, he admitted that, yes, I had in fact ordered his least favorite dish from the menu, which I found to be absolutely wonderful. Always trust a chef who is willing to be critical of his own work.
The appetizers are simple, delicious, and prepared with the same care as the main dishes, so expect something unique from your first course, from corn chips and guacamole to baked Camembert and roasted garlic. Attention to detail is part of what makes Chez Maman unique. For those looking to satisfy a smaller appetite, the panini menu provides an ample selection of lighter fare, as does the burger menu. But it’s the entrée menu that really shines. The fish are fresh, the salads are bright and crisp, the mango cucumber vinaigrette? Decidedly un-French, but certainly welcome on my plate. We thoroughly enjoyed the mahi mahi with garlic spinach (and that’s before the second glass of wine). Also welcome was the banana with Nutella dessert crêpe I promised myself I wouldn’t order, and then indulged, anyway. It was certainly worth it.
For those looking for a casual, yet intimate and unique dining experience within walking distance of home, I would highly recommend Chez Maman for its quality food and creative presentation. The only drawback was the price, a bit hefty, but certainly reasonable for the care that each plate receives. On a Saturday night, we were able to sit right down without a wait, something I would attribute to the restaurant’s location and not the quality of the experience, and the quiet, soft-lit interior is A+ for a romantic dinner. Parking can be found around the block without too much effort, especially for those skilled in finding those perfect (yet oh-so-elusive) SF neighborhood spaces.
Occupation: Massage Therapist
Favorite Restaurant: Kirala
Reviewed Chez Maman: Monday February 18, 2008
I called Chez Maman beforehand to ensure that they were open on Monday and a holiday, and to find out if they accept reservations. A guy with a French accent said that they are a small restaurant of "14 tops." I understood that to be 14 tables. Imagine my surprise when I arrived with 4 other friends to a diner-type restaurant that seats 10 at the counter and has 2 tables for 2 in addition!
It's friendly enough. I would guess that most of the people at the counter are regulars at that restaurant and may know each other. We didn't have to wait too long before all 5 of us were seated at the counter. This seating arrangement, however, is a small drawback, because it's not like the friends at either end could talk to each other or anything. I'll have to say, though, that I was totally FLOORED by the good food, considering the small space and kitchen. (The whole restaurant is probably just twice the size of my bathroom at home!) The salads were a hit. Fresh and very tasty, not at all overdressed, genuinely French. The crepes were healthy buckwheat. I watched them make it, and they didn't put anything else in it but the filling.
My friend's crêpe complete was topped with an egg, sunny-side up, done perfectly and finished in the oven/ broiler. We shared a bottle of wine from the Languedoc region of France. Wonderful and extremely reasonable. My son said the croque monsieur he had was the best he's ever tasted anywhere. The bread was soft, with the cheese melted just right. The dessert crêpes were as good as the dinner crêpes, but I was hoping for a darker chocolate mousse. The portion was extremely generous, so that made up for the lack of darkness.
The meal was surprisingly delicious for a little diner with practically no atmosphere. The dining experience at Chez Maman was good down to the dessert wine, a dark muscat. And my husband said the cappuccino was every bit as good as what he had in France. This is elegant French cuisine in a casual dining atmosphere. A little gem of a place. No snobbish French waiter turning up their nose because you ordered inexpensive wine. No shi-shi linen table settings. No frou frou reduction sauces. You eat your wholesome French meal, you pay, and you leave. It's casual, it's friendly. It's a diner with excellent healthy French food if you've ever heard of such a thing.
I would definitely go back for more. Besides, there is a certificate in the bathroom from The Guardian stating that Chez Maman had the best French waiter to flirt with. I tried to flirt with him, both in French and in English, but I didn't even get a rise of out him. It gives me a challenge for next time. Maybe it takes a Frenchman more time to warm up. So I've got to go back, not just for the food.