♪♪ ♪♪ [ Sizzling ] ♪♪ Sbrocco: Does Absinthe make
your heart grow fonder? Young: Oh, my, what a question. Sbrocco: Hi.
I’m Leslie Sbrocco. Welcome to
“Check, Please! Bay Area,” the show where regular
Bay Area residents review and talk about their
favorite restaurants. We have three guests,
and each one recommends one of their favorite spots,
and the other two go check ’em out,
to see what they think. In this episode,
we revisit three destinations that take us on a journey
through French cuisine, Bay-Area style. Up first, Joanna Manders
is a product designer. Along with specs for bag designs
in her purse is a blueprint for regular
visits to a little French spot on a tree-lined street
in Cole Valley. It’s easy to miss
this cozy eatery with vintage poster-lined walls
and updated French menu, but it offers
a satisfying treat. On Cole Street in San Francisco,
it’s called Zazie. ♪♪ Piallat: I’m Jennifer Piallat,
owner of Zazie Restaurant in Cole Valley. Zazie, the name of the
restaurant, came from the film “Zazie dans le Metro”
by Louis Malle, a French film from the ’60s
where the main character, Zazie, was sort of
the French Shirley Temple, but because she was French,
of course, she drank
and smoked and swore. Cole Valley is a real pocket in the center of the city
full of families. A lot of regulars
come into our restaurant. I’d say we know about 80% of the
people that walk in the door. That keeps us on our toes as far
as constantly changing the menu, adding special events
every season, and then we also have
special weekly events for them. Zazie feels like a house party. It feels like a home
dinner party every night, where tables next to each other
know each other, where the staff
knows their tables. We’re the only non-union
restaurant in San Francisco to have full benefits,
to my knowledge, and I think that that really
makes our staff welcoming and friendly and the kind of people
that you want to come back and see again and again. Zazie has been famous
for our brunches for years. However, my real favorite
is the dinners. I think that they’re unique,
interesting, sitting outside on the garden
patio under the stars. ♪♪ Sbrocco: Okay, Joanna.
I just like saying, “Zazie, maybe Zazie.” This is French fare. This is casual bistro fare,
right? Manders: Yes. It is a very cozy French bistro
in Cole Valley, and it’s just a really great
neighborhood spot. I love driving over
off the beaten track a little because it’s not
the hot, trendy spot, and I like how nice
the service is and how they kind of
accommodate you. If you don’t get in right away,
you can go to the bar next door and get a drink. We actually got there early,
and they brought glasses out. They poured the beer for us when we brought our own beer
on Tuesdays, and — Sbrocco: Because they have
bring your own, no corkage fee on Tuesday.
Uyeshima: Oh, huh. Manders: Right, exactly.
Sbrocco: Mm-hmm. Manders: And then I just think
that the food is so delicious. It’s like French comfort food, and it’s also very good price,
so I always enjoy it, and I also appreciate
that I can talk to people. It’s not too loud. Lourie: I went for dinner,
but I’ll tell you, I was not expecting
anything that terrific. Manders: Mm.
Lourie: I went with two friends. We had no idea where we were
going and what we were doing, and we were thrilled.
Manders: Oh, great. Lourie: And all three of us
loved our food. Manders: That’s great. Lourie: And I had
the prix-fixe menu.
Manders: Yes. Lourie: And only because —
not because of the price, but I was going to
order everything on it.
Manders: Mm-hmm. Lourie: It was delicious. I had the polenta with the mascarpone
and the tomato sauce. Drop-dead. But my friend had the raviolis
with the prawns. Manders: Mm-hmm. Lourie: And I’m having that
next time. Sbrocco: Did you steal
off her plate? Lourie: It was so good, and we
all were happy, all three of us. So it was —
I think it was a great find. Manders: That’s great.
Sbrocco: A great find. Now, Ed, what did you have
when you ate at Zazie? Uyeshima: Yeah. We had the lemon ricotta
ravioli, which was fantastic. I got to tell you,
the standout dish for me was actually
the roasted trout with cherry tomatoes
and basil vinaigrette. That was so delicious. I’ve never had fish that great.
Sbrocco: Mm-hmm. Uyeshima: And so, I just thought
it was a fantastic find, for me. You’re not kidding, though,
about easily missing it because we literally passed by,
I think, three times before realizing,
“Oh, there it is.” But once we were there —
Sbrocco: Could you find parking? Uyeshima: You know,
we actually used Muni because it’s right close
to the N Judah line, so it was very easy
just to go there, so… Sbrocco: Now, are you
a breakfast/brunch person there, or…? Manders: I usually
go there for dinner. I actually have been there
for brunch, but I feel like
the experience is a little bit better
for dinner. I actually like sitting
on the back patio.
Sbrocco: Mm-hmm. Manders: They have heat lamps
on a cold San Francisco night, and it’s got lights strung up,
and it just feels a little bit like you’re transported
out of the city for a little. So I really like that. But I also love for brunch
the mimosa that you can design yourself. It’s, like, you can choose
the juice that you want in your mimosa, and it’s all different
kinds of juice, and then they
can bring out — They bring out
a little carafe of the juice and then a carafe
of the champagne, so that’s kind of fun if you’re
going with a girlfriend. Sbrocco: I like Joanna.
We can go out together. Manders: Yeah. That sounds good.
It’s a great — I think it’s just a great place
to go with friends. And you can actually talk. Like, a lot of places,
they’re too loud. Sbrocco: Right.
Manders: I feel like it’s, like, this really nurturing
environment for conversation. Sbrocco: You can even bring
your dog on Monday night. Bring your dog.
Manders: Yeah, you can
bring your dog, so that’s kind of fun. Sbrocco: And what about
the service there? Uyeshima: I thought the service
was actually terrific. They were very attentive. You know,
it’s a very crowded space, so I was kind of wondering,
you know, how they were going to maneuver,
actually, all the tables, but I have to really
characterize the service as very seamless. They came
right at the right time. Lourie: To ask if we were happy
with our meal. Uyeshima: Exactly.
Lourie: And then she
just disappeared. Manders: Oh, okay.
Lourie: It was great,
and we said we were thrilled. And then she just went away,
which I like. I don’t like someone
hovering over me, so…
Manders: Right. Sbrocco: Did you have dessert,
Lois? You were so thrilled
with dinner. And you got a prix-fixe menu.
Lourie: I think we were full. I can’t — Oh, no, we did. We had two desserts.
Mine came with — Manders: Yeah.
Yours came with — Lourie: Oh, it was the crumble. It was the rhubarb crumble, and I ordered
the gelato ice cream. It was terrific. And then we had
a chocolate mousse dessert. Oh, yeah.
We didn’t leave a thing. Manders: Good.
Can’t get better than that. Sbrocco: And what about —
Because you got the prix-fixe, do you feel that
this was a good value? Lourie: Oh, yeah.
Oh, terrific value. And what they did,
which I like, because when
you’re a little older, sometimes you can’t
eat that much, so the first
and the third courses are supposed to be smaller, and the middle course, which is
the main, is the full size, and I was stuffed,
so I thought it was perfect. Sbrocco: Okay. Good.
Lourie: Yeah, no complaints
from me. Sbrocco: All right.
Well, this is your restaurant. So I want you to wrap it up
for us, Joanna. Manders: I would say that this
is a cozy neighborhood spot with delicious
French bistro food, and you will not
be disappointed. Sbrocco: Lois? Lourie: An unexpected surprise, and I’d definitely make the trip
to San Francisco to go again. Sbrocco: Oh. All right.
And Ed. Uyeshima: Cheaper
than a trip to Paris and with an unexpectedly robust
menu of French bistro cuisine. Sbrocco: If you would like
to try Zazie, it’s on Cole Street at Carl
in San Francisco. The telephone number
is 415-564-5332. It’s open for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner weekdays, with brunch and dinner
on the weekends. Reservations are recommended, and the average tab per person,
without drinks, is around $40. Our next restaurant,
from season 11, was chosen by retired professor
and fiction writer Elayne Klasson,
who grew up in a restaurant. Having seen the good, the bad,
and the ugly behind the scenes, she opted for
another path in life and now creates
her own culinary stories. Comfort food is served up
at Elayne’s pick, although it’s so elaborate, it’s called
American bistro fare. The bold flavors are presented
in an elegant setting full of neighborly charm in Los Gatos
at Nick’s Next Door. ♪♪ Difu: This restaurant
used to be a home, and then the old owner transferred it
into a restaurant. The tree is about,
I want to say, 180 years old. We produce good California
bistro-style food that is made with love. Hi. I’m Nick Difu, and I own
Nick’s Next Door in Los Gatos. I went to Culinary Academy
in San Francisco. The teachers there were
old-school French teachers, and they basically said,
“You have to work 15, 16 hours a day, minimum, to get ahead in this business,”
and I said, “Okay.” I said goodbye to my friends
and family, pretty much, for a good four or five years,
and I dived into it. One of the reasons why
I got into this business is because I wanted
to make people happy. My grandmother was the one
who inspired me to become a chef because she cooked for us,
and it was made with love. I just wanted to provide
that same happiness that I felt every day
when I was there. Everybody works
five days a week here. We’re closed Sundays
and Mondays, because Sundays and Mondays
are family days. It’s very important for us to be able to spend time
with our family. Man: Cheers. Difu: I would have never wanted
to do anything else. It’s been a pleasure
to provide those smiles, to be able to provide food,
and make people happy with it. It was the best decision
I ever made. Sbrocco:
Now, I just have to say,
you know, when you say, “Check, please,” at this place,
how do you get the check? Klasson: Oh, it’s in
a wonderful book. They do stick the check
in a book, and people do write comments
all over the book. Sbrocco: Right.
Klasson: It’s very charming. Sbrocco: So a new way of saying,
“Check, please.” Klasson: Exactly. Sbrocco: How did you
discover Nick’s? Klasson: Well,
I’m in the neighborhood. I live very close by,
and it was a tiny, little hole-in-the-wall
on Main Street. We suggested, you know,
since it was so hard to get into that he needed to expand,
and he said, “No, I’d rather be full than
have a bigger restaurant
and be empty,” but eventually, he had to,
and he moved around the corner. It’s not Nick’s Next Door.
It’s Nick’s Around the Corner. We followed him, and I think half the town
has followed him. Sbrocco: What is your dish
that you grab every time? Klasson: Well, there’s a lot, but I think my favorite
is the steak. I think it’s one of
the best steaks around, and my snobby food daughter
from L.A. says that she thinks it was the
best steak she’s ever had, too. It’s just wonderfully flavorful. It’s very juicy. It’s always done
precisely as we ask. It comes with frites. And it feels like
a French bistro. But I have a hard time
not just sticking to appetizers because I love his starters, and I have definitely had two
or three starters for a meal instead of ordering a main dish. Sbrocco: And what’s
your favorite? Klasson: I think I like
the chicken liver pâté, which is served
with sherry and red cherries and has that wonderful sweet
that goes so well with liver. I definitely love
the chicken liver pâté. Sbrocco: The starters.
Ryan, where did you go first? Poirier: Absolutely.
I took my mom to lunch. Sbrocco: Aw!
Klasson: Aw! Sbrocco: Nice guy!
What a nice guy! Poirier:
That was nice. And I know
everyone went to dinner, but our lunch experience
was great. We arrived. It was very,
very busy, so they said, “Please take a seat
on the patio,” and we actually started
with a hibiscus lemonade in the sun of Los Gatos.
Forgues: Wow. Poirier: We’re both
San Franciscans, so the sun is, like —
we sit, and we just basked in it for about 20 minutes
before we got a table. And then we went right
to the crab toast. We would have liked to have
a little more of that very clean
Dungeness crab flavor. It was a little muddled with
avocado and a farmer’s cheese, but when I got that
really great, big bite of lumpy crabmeat, that was excellent,
and there was enough where, if we had finished it, we wouldn’t have been able
to finish much else. It was entree-portion-sized. Klasson: I love how large
the starter portions are. Poirier: They are.
Sbrocco: Did you agree
with that, Philippe? Forgues: I did.
I had the chicken liver pâté, and it was infused
with cognac, and I loved it because
my mom used to make that. It was served with croutons.
It was delicious. It was creamy — just perfect.
Sbrocco: Mm-hmm. Forgues: And I wanted to have
comfort food that night, probably because
it looks like a house to me. It looks like someone’s
inviting me to their home. So I had the meatloaf,
and it was served with a wonderful,
creamy mushroom coulis, or a sauce, and underneath were these most
wonderful mashed potatoes. It was like eating clouds. And I think that I ate
that whole dish in maybe five minutes,
and it was delicious. Sbrocco: You came out
with mashed potatoes all over your mustache
and your beard, didn’t you? Klasson: He’s really famous
for that meatloaf. It’s his grandmother’s recipe,
he says. Forgues: It is very flavorful. Poirier: It is an
American bistro, right, and so, for me, I hear that, and I automatically gravitate
toward the burger. This one, I think, was elevated.
It was delicious. They called it Kobe Burger,
and the meat was rich, velvety. There’s a bit of pork belly
that really sets it off, and it had really nice tomatoes.
Sbrocco: That’s not heavy
at all, is it, a little pork belly
on your burger? Poirier: No, you know what?
And they were nice enough because, again,
I was with my mom. I said, you know,
“Can we split these mains?” And they actually
brought it out to us burger even in half, with her scallops
on the other half of one plate for each of us.
Forgues: Wow. Poirier: And I thought
that was so considerate. Really, that made the experience
really special. Sbrocco: And you had scallops
as well. Poirier:
And we had the scallops… Sbrocco: Mm-hmm.
Poirier: …which were perfect with the crispy kale, which that bitterness…
Sbrocco: Mm-hmm. Poirier: …in the scallops
that they serve with the polenta in a kind of a really
light Italian sausage sauce — and I think, to me, that was
the star dish at lunch. Sbrocco: Mm-hmm.
Klasson: He’s doing things that a lot of people
in the Bay Area are doing, but I think he just
does them so well. For example,
roasted Brussels sprouts, that’s very popular now, but his are just cooked
so perfectly, charred on the outside
and really soft and mushy on the inside…
Forgues: Mm-hmm. Klasson:
…with some, of course, pork belly in there, too. But we also had wine, and I love
that Nick’s features Santa Cruz. Sbrocco: And people don’t know
what a historic region that is, the Santa Cruz Mountains,
for wine. There’s some beautiful
wineries there. Klasson: It is.
Poirier: It was really good. Service was impeccable. Forgues: Oh, yeah.
The service was terrific. Poirier: Service was —
Klasson: Don’t they make you feel like you’re just
part of the family? Forgues: Oh, you are.
Poirier: Mm-hmm. Forgues: And they’re
very intuitive, too. When I arrived there after
driving from San Francisco, the waitstaff, the hostess,
you know, when I arrived, she looked at me, and she said,
“You need a cocktail,” and I said, “I do.” [ Laughter ] And we were sat down
on the veranda in the front, and we just had
a wonderful evening. It was warm and so
anti-San Francisco for winter. It was great.
Sbrocco: What about desserts? Any dessert for the group here? Poirier: Oh, we had the banana
bread pudding which came with a huge dollop of rich, airy
whipped cream on top, and it came with
a little cognac in the base, and it was excellent.
Sbrocco: All right. Elayne, your restaurant —
give us a quick summary. Klasson:
A true neighborhood gem, everybody has
a good time at Nick’s, and we always go back. Sbrocco: All right.
And Philippe? Forgues: Go there for
a slow evening with friends. Sbrocco: And Ryan.
Poirier: I wish Nick’s was next door to my home
in San Francisco. Sbrocco: If you would like
to try Nick’s Next Door, it’s located on College Avenue
at Main in Los Gatos. The telephone number
is 408-402-5053. It’s open for lunch and dinner
Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended, and the average dinner
tab per person without drinks
is around $30. Our third pick hails
from season two. Actor and business analyst
Robert Young’s Southern French brasserie sets the stage for
what he says are classics combined with California
creativity. Robert claims that there’s
no rehearsal for his restaurant. In over seven years
of dining there, he hasn’t had a bad dish. That combined with the casual
but plush atmosphere makes it worthy of his encore. On Hayes in San Francisco, it’s called
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar. ♪♪ Hollinger: Absinthe is a spirit
that is a style of pastis that’s infused with wormwood. It’s said to have
hallucinogen qualities if you drink enough of it. It was very popular around
the turn of the last century in Paris around the era
of the dilettante. We came to the idea
of this restaurant wanting to evoke
a lively artistic spirit that was so celebrated around the turn
of the last century in Paris. Eddie Arriaga, our current chef, has been with Absinthe
since it opened eight years ago and just recently
took over as chef. Eddie’s menu pulls initially
from Southern France and a little bit from Italy,
a little bit from Spain, but he’s also come in and
brought some dishes of his own that have been new and exciting and things that
we haven’t seen here before. The guests here at Absinthe
can range anywhere from a couple that’s going out
to opening night at the opera that’s getting
all dressed up to go out for this very special night to young 20- and 30-somethings
that want to come in and hang out at the bar
and just have cocktails. We’ll see the entire spectrum
of San Francisco society and diversity
all in the same night. Sbrocco: All right, Robert, does Absinthe make
your heart grow fonder? Young: Oh, my, what a question.
[ Laughter ] Sbrocco: I couldn’t resist.
I had to do it. Young: Yeah.
Sbrocco: One actor to another, right?
Young: You know, I don’t think of Absinthe a lot at odd times, but when I think of a restaurant
that I want to take people to where the environment is lovely, and the service is lovely, and the food can be
guaranteed to be good, that one comes up on
the short list, very definitely. Sbrocco: And what do you
normally get when you go there? I mean, is it a place
for snacks, for appetizers? Do you go for dinner,
just for dessert before the theater or something? Young: I have sometimes gone
in there for dessert. Occasionally we’ll go just
into the bar and sit and have the cafe menu there, but most of the time
I go for the sit, to sit at the table,
have a good hour and a half to just chat leisurely,
drink good wine. Sbrocco: And what are
your favorite dishes? Young: I’ll tell you,
there is one classic that I can think of that,
interestingly, stays on a menu that changes very regularly,
and that’s coq au vin, and their coq au vin
is really excellent. Sbrocco: It’s excellent.
Well, that of course, along with French onion soup
and French fries… Young: Yes.
Sbrocco: …can sort of define a French restaurant, right?
Young: Sure. Sbrocco: All right.
Young: Yeah. Sbrocco: What about your
experience there? Did you have the French fries?
I have to ask. Mendelsohn: I didn’t have
the French fries, had the French onion soup,
and it was very traditional. It was delicious,
lots of cheese on it, really enjoyed that. Also had a cheese course,
which I don’t normally do. And we really did
the full-on dining experience, went for the leisurely evening. There weren’t any shows,
so we had pretty much the restaurant to ourselves,
which was really nice. Our waiter, Aaron,
was phenomenal, and I had the rack of lamb… Sbrocco: Mmm.
Young: Mm-hmm. Mendelsohn:
…which was delicious, and the sauces were… They were so light. They just weren’t heavy and
overpowering over the dishes. Sbrocco: Now, he’s being
quiet over here, so I want to hear Jim’s opinion.
Cyr: The French fries rock. Sbrocco: Thank you!
Cyr: The French fries are excellent.
I had them with the rib eye which I ordered rare. That’s my test for a restaurant. Young: Do they really
give it to you rare? Mendelsohn: Yeah, yeah,
the temperatures — yeah. Cyr: It was awesome, but you know
what else was really good? We had a arugula salad.
Young: Mmm. Cyr: The salad had little bits of grapefruit
and watermelon in it and some freshly
roasted pine nuts. Like you said, the lightness
of the sauces, it was like it was dressed. It was like the arugula
was picked, like, three minutes before they served it to us, and I don’t know
how they dress it — just a hint of something.
Young: Yes. Mendelsohn: Uh-huh.
Cyr: Bit it was, like, one of the most wonderful salads
I’ve ever had. Mendelsohn: Mm.
Cyr: Totally blown away. And then — It’s one
of these foodie terms. I don’t remember it.
I’m sorry. It was some sort of marinated
calamari dish, which I had as an appetizer.
Young: Mmm. Cyr: Everything at this place
was great. I mean, thank you, thank you,
thank you, really. Sbrocco:
But you really feel like you’re in a Parisian bistro or,
you know, a French bistro. Cyr: I felt I was
in a good restaurant. Young: The other thing
that I find distinctive about the restaurant
in terms of the service that you wouldn’t necessarily
find in a bistro is they have — I don’t quite
know what to call them, but they have a sort of
mid-level staff that aren’t the busboys, and it isn’t the waiter who keep
their attention on the kitchen, and when your food comes up, it is out at your table
immediately, and that’s just
really impressive. Sbrocco: Two doors down,
the owner also has a little
wine store named Arlequin, and on Sundays,
you can go buy a bottle of wine and bring it over to the
restaurant, no corkage fee… Young: Oh, that’s nice.
Mendelsohn: Hmm. Sbrocco:…
so for a nice Sunday brunch, and their half-bottle selection,
which I love to see on a restaurant wine list,
is terrific. It allows you to really just
have a little bit of white if you want it, a little bit of
red if you want it. Cyr: The most incredible drinks
menu you’re ever going to see, or at least I have ever seen. It’s like a binder this thick, and it’s just page after page. Cyr: I had something called
La Pira — very good. Can’t remember what was in it. I mean, the little lemon thing was floating perfectly in
the middle of the glass. They use nice glass. I mean, everything gleams
in the place. It’s immaculately clean. Sbrocco: And it’s pretty lively.
What about the atmosphere? I mean, was it —
Did you sit at the bar? Cyr: When I initially got there, we were seated in that front
room where the bar is, and I thought the noise
was gonna be a problem. Then they hand you
the phone book of drinks, and I was distracted,
and it never bothered me again. Sbrocco: After two,
you hardly heard a thing. Cyr: You know? Young: It’s a great place
for a date. Mendelsohn: Pretty much
accommodates anything. Young: It’s comfortable,
very casual. The waitstaff
lets you have your space. Mendelsohn: Mm-hmm. Cyr: And the parking karma’s
good. We got a spot
right in front as we pulled up. Young: How good for you.
Mendelsohn: So did I. Sbrocco: All right, since this
is your spot, Robert… Young: Mm-hmm.
Sbrocco: …tell everybody why they should go to Absinthe. Young: They should go for the
combination of the ambiance, for that lovely balance between
plush and really comfortable, for the service and for
the knowing that no matter when you go, you’re gonna
get quality food. It doesn’t differ
in its quality. It’s always good.
Sbrocco: It’s always good. Karen, would you agree? Mendelsohn: I would agree,
traditional brasserie food and just a really
nice atmosphere that you can just be at home in,
really comfortable. Sbrocco: All right.
Jim. Cyr: I would have to say
all of those things. Yes, I love the food, obviously, but it’s got to be
a special-occasion place. I mean, for two of us,
it was well over $100. So, I mean, you know?
Young: You’re right. If you get a really good wine,
you can easily go up there. Mendelsohn: Mm-hmm.
Cyr: Didn’t even get a wine, just had little drinks and
things, and they add up, too. [ Overlapping comments ] Cyr: But, no,
a special occasion place, I mean, there are about —
Like you said, there’s a short list
of restaurants in the city that I know are dependable.
Young: Yeah. Sbrocco: If you would like to go
to Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, it’s on Hayes at Golf
in San Francisco. The telephone number
is 415-551-1590. It’s open every day for lunch
and dinner with brunch on weekends. Reservations are recommended, and the average tab per person
without drinks is around $55. If you missed these places
the first time around, we hope you’ve enjoyed
a look back at three spots in the Bay Area. Now you have a chance
to check them out. From season 11, product designer
Joanna Manders showed us that the blueprint
for a great French meal can be found right here
in San Francisco at Zazie. Retired professor
and fiction writer Elayne Klasson from season 11
discovered the unique flavors from a Cordon Bleu-trained chef
at Nick’s Next Door, and finally from season two,
there’s no acting required when it comes to the joy Robert Young’s restaurant
brings him. For French cuisine
with California flair, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
is the ticket. We really want to hear
about your experiences at any of the restaurants
we’ve been talking about, so keep in touch
with us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Or better yet, post
your favorite food shots on Instagram at #bayareabites and have a chance to see
your food pics on the show. And don’t forget
that you can watch any of the shows on our website
at kqed.org/checkplease. It’s where you’ll find the links
to the restaurant and where you’ll find
my notes and recommendations on all of the wines
through the seasons. So join us next time
with three new guests will recommend
their favorite spots right here on
“Check, Please! Bay Area.” I’m Leslie Sbrocco,
and I’ll see you then. Cheers! ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪