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Bistro Chapeau!

A Foodie Haven in the Richmond

When Philippe Gardelle left La Folie six years ago to open the Richmond District's Bistro Chapeau! on a shoestring, a successful restaurant venture in the area was far from a sure thing. Today, with critically acclaimed and popular eateries popping up all along the Geary Boulevard artery, the Richmond is quickly becoming a culinary destination, but back in 1995 this was not the case.

In order to succeed in what otherwise might seem to be an impossible location, Philippe relied on what he knew best: wine. Chapeau! is one of only 6 Bay Area restaurants to have been honored with Wine Spectator's "award of excellence", and one glance at its list shows why. This massive tome encompasses nearly 300 bottles ranging from $23 to $280 dollars, all California, Oregon, and French producers. Philippe says he focuses on just these regions alone because "he wants to truly know the areas with which he works", and know them he does. There are tons of highly allocated and hard to find bottles on this list including cult favorites by Flowers, Williams Selyem, and Martinelli. The wine list is neatly organized into sections entitled great values around 30, 40, and 50 dollars, and encompasses 30 half bottles.

But wine is not Chapeau!'s only strength. The classic bistro menu includes 3 and 4-course tasting arrangements, and vegetarian options abound. We recommend the 4-course prix fixe, with wine pairings at the table by Philippe himself. For starters the cold stuffed artichoke salad ($9) is somewhat unmemorable, but the Wilgenburg tomato Gazpacho ($8) is a delicious mix of pureed tomato essence and rich garlic seasoning. Both the foie gras ballotine ($11) and seared foie gras with potato galette and black truffle vinaigrette ($17) are perfectly executed renditions of these classic French dishes. For a truly decadent combination, pair both with glasses of the Chateau La Foret Sauternes ($12), and get ready for some serious richness.

For main courses, the grilled Rack of Lamb ($22.50) comes topped with garlic parsley butter and a side of potato dauphines. The flavor is rustic and somewhat subtle, but is brought out nicely when paired with a half bottle of Chateau de Gardin Chateauneuf du Pape ($28). The oven roasted duck breast ($19) is outstanding. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the breast is smothered in a delectably sweet caramelized peach glaze, and sits atop a bed of flaky Lyonnaise potatoes. Another dish not to miss is the pan seared organic striped bass with English pea risotto ($19). The fish is served medium, cooked well enough for most meat eaters, but juicy and tender throughout. It sits atop a light fluffy risotto, which adds a savory, buttery flavor to the presentation.

Desserts are fairly standard bistro fare; but make sure not to skip the cheese plate ($8) before diving into the luscious, molten warm chocolate cake ($7).

Six years in, and Chapeau! is still going strong serving a mixed clientele of neighborhood regulars, wine aficionados, and French food fanatics. So take a trip to the Richmond and indulge.