San Francisco is home to many a French-style cafe (ahem, La Boulange), but The Butler and the Chef is the real deal. Tucked away in SOMA's charming South Park, the bistro's yellow storefront draws customers into its bright dining space, dotted with graphic posters and tiny circular tables for two.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations, but a half-hour stroll around South Park on a sunny morning is certainly nothing to complain about. Specials are scrawled on a chalkboard outside by the ample bike racks, advertising dishes that any francophile would recognize immediately.
Don't expect any "New American" innovations on the menu; instead you'll find true French classics many restaurants overlook. Yes, there are the staples -- Salad Lyonnaise and a selection of benedicts -- but there's also a duck rillette and a baguette filled simply with butter, ham and cornichons. These are things you'll find on any street corner in Paris, and they're executed well at The Butler and the Chef.
The Eggs Benedict ($14) delivers a hefty portion size, with ham, poached eggs and lemony Hollandaise served on thick slices of toasted olive bread. The ham is hearty, flavorful Niman Ranch, and it's (fortunately) featured in many dishes throughout the menu. With a side of hash browns the benedict would be too much to handle, but in typical French fashion, this one is served with a side of lightly dressed organic spinach instead.
A man standing in the back of the restaurant makes crepes to order, with a sour, slightly nutty buckwheat batter. La Parisienne ($14) features a classic combination of eggs, ham and emmenthal -- again with a side of that spinach salad. It's a beautiful presentation, with the crepe piled high on the plate, and the texture is nicely crisp. You may have to tear off some empty crepe edges to get to the filling, but you'll find plenty of it.
If lunch, not breakfast, is your calling, try the Nicoise Salade ($12). With seared ahi tuna, green beans, potatoes, olives and more -- it's a classic combination from the south of France. The ahi portion is generous and the dressing bright -- a few more toppings wouldn't hurt, but all in all, the fresh greens satisfy.
But you'd probably be better off disregarding the previous suggestions entirely and ordering the Croque Monsieur ($12) instead. Seasoned croque connoisseurs, forget everything you think you know; The Butler and the Chef has The Best Croque in San Francisco. It's everything you want -- thick, crispy bread and a layer of broiled emmenthal cheese on the outside, beyond creamy, soft and cheesy on the inside. Salty ham cuts the richness of the cheese and creme fraiche, with organic mixed greens served on the side. Truly, it's heaven, but don't expect to do anything besides sleep after finishing it.
Wash it all down with coffee or a Kir Royale ($7) -- delicious and refreshing, if a bit sweet -- and if you still have room, treat yourself to a cookie or pastry from behind the bakery counter. If not, no worries -- the restaurant will leave you with a dark chocolate truffle to cleanse your palate. Très charmant.
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.