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Our Darling Clémentine

French bistro meets California cuisine

Sipping a chilled white Lillet on the rocks, resting against the back banquette at Clémentine (located where Alain Rondelli once delighted diners in the Richmond), we dreamed in secret that this spacious, homey French restaurant would be our new darling. The delicious meal that was to follow absolutely confirmed our hopes. Chef and co-owner Didier Labbé's stints at L'Orangerie in Los Angeles, Raphael in NYC, and L'Arpege in Paris have left him well-versed in fresh, modern usage of traditional French techniques. One bite of the ethereally crispy tilapia with beet risotto and chive beurre blanc left us reeling, wishing that crispy tilapia could be an endless fish so that we could eat the dish all night. Luckily, when the fish ran out, we were sated with other treats.

Vibrant beef carpaccio came alight with fresh thyme, balsamic reduction, parmesan and capers. An appetizer of house-cured salmon dressed with juniper berries and laurel seduced us with a smattering of paprika and olive oil. Although the sautéed salmon with bell peppers (an entrée) did not excite us, the warm, soothing boeuf bourgignon more than made up for it. One true thing: Labbé is as at home with California cuisine as he is with French fare. Rarely is such a balance struck at a French bistro, much less a neighborhood haunt, but Clémentine pulls it off.

Dessert is worth the time at Clémentine, where crême brulée comes afire with blazing grand marnier, and rich, caramelized pain perdu tastes and feels like a pluffy, rich cloud of vanilla and cinnamon delight.

Maître'd and co-owner Laurent Legendre maintains a calm, romantic front of house with a comfy, modern interior. The fact that Legendre and Chef Labbé are old friends only reinforces the feeling of warmth and camaraderie within the restaurant. In a true neighborhood spirit, Clémentine welcomes large families and children with a Tuesday through Thursday (and Sunday) prix fixe meal, three courses for $19.99 from 5:30 pm. to 7:00 pm Service runs from 5:30 pm until 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and until 10:00 pm otherwise. We're dying to go back and try Sunday brunch, served from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm Sweetbread omelettes? Croque Monsieur? Pain perdu? Mais oui. We'll be there.

Additional Comments
A small, friendly restaurant that focuses its attention into the preparation and presentation of French cuisine in hope that their customers will have an enjoyable experience.

The Sunday brunch is delicious.

Reservations are recommended.