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Southern French Cuisine with an Italian Flair

The corner of Sutter & Steiner seems to come with a restaurant curse. Before Cassis opened its doors in May, two other notable restaurants had tried to make their claim in the same space in recent years. Both Julia’s and Winterland, despite critical acclaim, never quite attained the appropriate mix of gourmands and regulars to establish themselves in this Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. But with Cassis, brothers Jerome and Stephane Meloni just might have hit on a winning formula.

Growing up in Nice, France, the brothers acquired an appreciation for good food and wine from their Italian father and French mother. After running two successful restaurants in Antibes, France, the brothers figured it was time to bring the traditional Southern French dishes and Italian-inspired cuisine of their hometown to San Francisco.

For those who remember Winterland, the interior is very similar, and that’s a good thing. Upon entering, you first see a sleek and welcoming bar, perfect for a before-dinner cocktail or glass of wine ($6-11 per glass), or perhaps even just for drinks if you’re a neighborhood regular. The adjacent dining area possesses a stylish but casual elegance -- not quite a bistro feel, but with enough sophistication to set the tone for a special occasion.

The dinner menu, paying homage to both Italian-inspired dishes and classic French bistro fare, presents many options to create your own dining experience. From the starter menu, both the traditional Niçoise onion ($7.25) and the wild mushroom ($9) tarts are delicious.

However, you might find it hard to resist ordering one of Cassis’s brick oven-baked, Neopolitan style thin crust pizzas, or “Les Pizzas” as they are affectionately called on the menu. Meals in themselves (and smartly available for take-out), try the Diable ($13.50) or Trois Fromages ($12.95). Add egg ($1.75), prosciutto or jambon ($4) for something extra special.

From the main courses, the house specialty Lasagna Bolognaise ($17.50), served with a rich and creamy Bechamel sauce, is just one standout. The Veal Scaloppini ($22.50) comes in a wild mushroom sauce and is served with the fluffiest of gnocchi. For the Francophile in you, Cassis’ Filet Mignon does not disappoint; the juicy cut (ordered medium rare) is served over a green peppercorn sauce with garbanzo bean flour French fries on the side.

Speaking of which, you still might want to order some side dishes to accompany everything, and the Gratin Daphinois ($5), thinly sliced potatoes layered with cream and gruyere, is certainly one way to go, cholesterol be damned. Traditional pommes frites ($4.25), of course, make the menu.

The wine list (from $19-$95 per bottle) is a treat to explore, and not surprisingly is made up most mostly of Italian and French bottles. Ask Jerome, Stephane, or any of the other helpful staff for advice, but be warned that they might start waxing poetic about their favorites and even linger at your table with stories of the old country!

Will Cassis break the curse of Sutter & Steiner? The San Francisco dining scene being what it is, anything is possible. But so far, the combination of Italian and French regional specialties, warm and friendly service, and the ability to dress down (pizza) and up (filet) your dining experience are giving early indications that Cassis is here to stay.

Lower Pacific Heights

**SF Station's food writers make anonymous visits to each of the restaurants selected for editorial review.**