When even august hotel dining experiences are revamping to go casual (Fifth Floor's transformation into Dirty Habit being a good case in point), you half-expect to be paying in advance and gathering up your own silverware at Chez Spencer upon its reopening. For good or for ill -- mostly good, IMHO -- San Francisco is de-emphasizing service to glorify what's actually on the plate. So in a way, it's very nice to see Gaspar Brasserie, inside the Galleria Park Hotel, bucking the trend.
This Francophone duplex at the border of Union Square and the Financial District faces north, rendering it dark and club-like, with burgundy banquettes, fabulous chandeliers, and big framed posters for long-gone aperitifs. The large staff was unerringly unctuous as any hotel manual dictates, and I wished I weren't wearing sneakers. I heard almost no English among the other patrons.
Probably by design, one of the few things on the lunch menu that suggests you are eating in the twenty-first century is a pork belly salad (with butter lettuce, Mission figs, pickled red onion, fresh goat cheese and Banyuls vinaigrette). Otherwise, it's moules à la bière, steak frites, duck confit an appealing variety of French and Californian cheeses -- and that's a fine thing. A plate of tuna tartine (with olive-oil poached tuna, hen egg, oven-dried tomato, Moroccan tapenade and field greens) pulled sweetness and saltiness together into a perfect salad-on-levain.
Even if it's just for a drink at the bar -- which has its own menu, plus a cocktail list cleverly divided into "Hi Octane" and "Lo Octane" -- Gaspar would be a fantastic place to take visiting relatives who are generally horrified by everything, because everyone will enjoy it. Gaspar isn't so much a revolution against conspicuous composting, mandatory exposed forearm tattoos, Mason jars, and hipsterism in general. It's what going out to eat meant before any of that ever existed: the slightly starchy yet smashingly executed cosmopolitanism I wish Pacific Heights had more of. "Un hipster? Qu'est-ce- que c'est?" Well done, Gaspar.
Gaspar Brasserie, 185 Sutter St., (415) 576-8800.