From exposed brick walls and vintage posters to tightly-packed dining tables, Zazie has all the makings of a classic French bistro. The dinner menu features usual regional suspects -- think French Onion Soup Gratinee and Mussels Marineres -- but the Cole Valley gem is at its best during brunch, when the offerings expand tremendously (9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday).
Because of the sweet decor and tempting, double-sided menu, Zazie has become a quintessential destination for "ladies who brunch;" if you need more convincing, just check out the crowd waiting for a table on sunny Saturdays. A charmingly quaint garden patio dotted with yellow umbrellas tops off the Parisian feel, and thanks to strategically placed heaters, it's actually functional. Who can resist the lure of outdoor dining, even with San Francisco's stubborn temperatures?
Diners in this city are used to choosing between a whopping seven items on a typical menu. That's not the Zazie style, so prepare to make some tough choices. Indeed, when it comes down to the age-old sweet/savory brunch debate, the gingerbread pancakes vs. poached eggs with prosciutto pose a challenge.
Speaking of poached eggs, Zazie takes hollandaise beyond Eggs Benedict. Their stacks of English muffins, runny eggs and light, lemony sauce include everything from roasted eggplant to dungeness crab. Try the Albert, with bacon, white cheddar and salsa fresca, or the Pierre Noir, with roasted tomatoes provencales and -- what else? -- bacon (both $9-$15). A choice of homefries or salad accompanies most savory dishes, like the scrambles (also available with egg whites).
Noticed that price range we mentioned? The cost of dishes varies depending on how many eggs and slices of toast you order, so it's easy to budget with a small appetite.
If lunch sounds more appealing than breakfast, you're still in luck. Sandwich options include a variety of croques (try the Croque Royale, $13, with prosciutto and tomatoes), ahi tuna and roasted veggies. Meal-sized salads and entree plates round out the menu, though we'd recommend splitting the Challah French Toast ($5-12) for dessert if you're going that route. You won't regret it.
Zazie doesn't take brunch reservations, but you can call ahead to put your name on the list. Cross your fingers for nice weather, because you'll be waiting outside for at least half an hour anyway. Still, the busy service staff takes orders as soon as you take off your coat, and dishes are out within 15 minutes, max -- making the initial wait seem much more bearable.
The scene is bustling, the food is fast, fresh and light -- and despite the rush, no one hurries you to finish your coffee. It's no wonder this neighborhood favorite has become an institution.
Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog, The Blender. She also writes a personal food blog at LivBites.com.