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Bistro Annex

Elegant and Cozy in the Mission

It was my favorite time of evening when I discovered Bistro Annex. The sun had set, the sky glowed electric blue, and the restaurants were turning on their lights. With its flickering candles and warm red walls, this 9-table date spot invited me in from across the street.

In early February Teo Kridech, the owner of the French/Californian restaurant Watercress, opened Bistro Annex next door as an appeal to the thin wallets yet sophisticated palettes of San Francisco diners. In a section of the Mission defined by the severe contrast between cheap eats and restaurants with valet parking, Teo envisioned more of a middle ground. He has succeeded in creating an environment that is elegant without sacrificing comfort.

Latin Jazz drowns out the hustle bustle of Valencia Street, and Sylvie, the one and only waitress, takes each order by memory. Moreover, the prices are reasonable and the portions uniformly generous. Teo accomplishes this feat of economics by keeping the menu small. With only four appetizers and six entrees from which to choose, meat eaters will be sufficiently entertained by salads, pastas, stews, and fish dishes, although vegetarians may find themselves strapped for options.

Watercress and Bistro Annex's menus overlap (as do the staff, who ran back and forth on the sidewalk throughout the course of our meal), but the latter is more pan-European, experimenting with Italian and Spanish as well as French cuisines. As we perused the menu, we sprung for a carafe of the house chardonnay ($14), which at 3 glasses total, was quite a deal. For starters, we went against a recommendation for the French onion soup gratinee and opted for salads. The tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil salad ($6) was unremarkable, so we fought over the baby spinach salad ($5), whose melt-in-your-mouth goat cheese and mustardy vinagrette were delightful.

Our empty plates were swept away with typical grace, and the entrees followed quickly. The seafood paella with saffron rice and country sausage ($10.95), faithful to the classic Spanish recipe, was as hearty and belly-warming as I remembered from my days living in Sevilla. It was also a huge portion, which was fortunate, because while the spinach ravioli with pesto sauce ($8.95) was tasty, the intensity of the pesto was overwhelming. For desert we shared the creme brulee ($4.50), and were pleasantly surprised by its lemony twist and smooth texture.

If all continues to go as planned, Bistro Annex will soon expand its hours to include lunch, serving pizza, panini and the like. Whether you go during the day or in the evening just make sure that you are not in a hurry because the restaurant's relaxing atmosphere, paired with the European custom of withholding the bill until it is requested, will make you want to sit for hours.

The Mission