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Flawless French in the Mission

With Chez Papa, Jeanty at Jack's, Café Bastille, Plouf, Fringale, and so on, it seems that San Francisco has more competent French brasseries and bistros than, say, Grenoble. Can we stand another?

Yes, when it's Garçon, the welcoming restaurant that recently took over Alma's Mission District dwelling. Broad windows look out onto the lively corner of 22nd and Valencia. White lilies scent the air. There's a buzz, but it's not too loud: a handsome young couple didn't seem to have trouble whispering across their table, nor did a group of older patrons need to contort their heads to hear each other.

The service is wonderful: warm but not obsequious. When a diner brushed her just-poured glass of expensive Armagnac off the table with her elbow, the wait staff quickly swept away the shards and graciously replaced the drink. The response was so perfect, I wanted to applaud.

The restaurant's ownership has a fine pedigree; managing partner Jerome Rivoire opened Garcon with partners Eric Klein, Pierre Klein and Olivier Azancot, a group known for the mini-empire that includes Café Bastille, B44, Plouf, Chouchou, Voda, and Les Amis.

The menu takes few risks, offering classic, crowd-pleasing French bistro food, with occasional California touches such as frisée aux lardons ($8.50), papillote of monkfish Provençale ($20), and duck confit ($19).

The chef, Franck Ouvrard (Le Charm, Hyde St. Bistro, Bistro Clement), stands out with his grandmother's mussels "Mamie Tourenne" ($9) sautéed with proscuitto, garlic, and croutons. They are hearty and delicious.

In fact, everything we tried on a recent visit was delicious. The choucroute de la mer ($17) was one of my greatest eating pleasures in recent memory: perfect salmon with a jewel-pink center, smoky haddock, and other fresh seafood were placed, with steamed potatoes and beurre blanc, around mild sauerkraut. Lovely duck confit seemed to get more flavorful the closer I got to the bone.

Desserts, such as a raspberry millefeuille ($7) are competent, but unremarkable. There are attractive vegetarian options, and a large wine list offers brief, unpretentious descriptions for those lacking a degree in enology.

This Mission corner proved hospitable for the excellent Alma until its chef/owner headed for snow country; let's hope it provides a lasting home for Garçon.