Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Gaspar Brasserie. It's alluring in red, black, polished brass and dark wood under low ceilings. There's an intimate bar and banquettes downstairs, a dining room and a long - also intimate - bar upstairs. And it's right Downtown near the Montgomery BART stop, in a prime meet-up location for a workday lunch or evening rendezvous. Tomorrow (May 22), restaurateur Franck LeClerc, the man behind Gitane, two Cafe Claude locations and Claudine, opens this, his fifth restaurant, which recalls a Parisian brasserie circa 1960.
We slipped in for an early dinner, tasting through multiple courses from executive chef Chris Jones (formerly of Napa's Brix and Sonoma's the girl & the fig), pastry chef Chucky Dugo (executive pastry chef of the Slanted Door Group since 2008) and bar manager extraordinaire Kevin Diedrich (formerly of Jasper's and Burritt Room). With this dream team, we are not surprised to say that an early peek is nothing short of exciting. Gaspar has the encompassing scope of a NYC classic like Balthazar but with greater seductive allure.
Walk with us through early dish and dessert highlights today and cocktail standouts tomorrow. Then visit the restaurant after it opens on Thursday. Opening hours are Monday-Saturday, 4-11 PM. Happy hour happens weekdays from 4-6 PM. Lunch, Sunday dinner, late-night dining, and brunch to come. 185 Sutter St.; 415-576-8800
Look for the red awning.
Beautifully stacked, cool smoked salmon crêpes ($11) are layered with salmon, sieved egg, capers and red onion, surrounded by dots of salmon roe, crème fraîche and mustard seeds. It's an artful twist on a smoked salmon starter.
This is one of the better escargot dishes we've had outside of France. Burgundian snails ($12) are poached in sherry vinaigrette instead of the usual butter and herbs. As much as we adore classic, buttery escargot, this version allows the meat to shine, clean and bright. And it's good...especially with accents of smoked bacon, garlic confit, brioche croutons, toasted walnuts, chevril and savory-sweet roasted shallots.
Another favorite: instead of pickled herring, it's bright, pickled sardines ($7). These plump local fish, surrounded by spring onion, radish, dill and piquillo peppers sit over a white-bean purée.
Crisp aspargus from the Sacramento Delta are lined up in a row over sauce gribiche (a French mayo-egg-mustard sauce) with pickled pearl onions, brioche croutons and quail eggs contrasting the green.
A winning entree? Wild king salmon ($24) is appropriately silky with crispy, salty skin. It rests atop purple potatoes given green accents from English peas and pea sprouts, plus spring onions. Red and green play in a beurre rouge and a fine herb green sauce drizzled around the plate.
The downstairs bar and lounge is ideal for a bite with a cocktail or a glass of French wine (emphasizing Rhone Valley varietals) curated by wine director Sarah Knoefler.
The upstairs dining room is spacious but still intimate under low ceilings.
Pastry chef Chucky Dugo's desserts are beautiful - none more so than Le Fraisier Pour Deux ($14), loosely translated to "two for the strawberry." A dense yet fluffy circular pistachio cake (called bisquit, or in English, biscuit) is marked by slivers of roasted strawberries around the perimeter of the cake, with caramelized meringue its crowning glory.
The one dessert that pulls from Austria, this beautiful linzertorte ($8) is a twist on an Austrian classic utilizing local spring bounty: rhubarb compote oozes from cinnamon-almond shortbread, accented by crème fraîche. Heartwarming, delicious and up there with our favorite linzertortes in Austria.