Cafe des Amis (Amis means Friends in French) is a 3 week old classic French Brasserie on Union Street in middle of the Marina – Cow Hollow area, located were Restaurant Prego used to be. It is run by the Bacchus Management Group who also runs Spruce, Mayfield Bakery, and Village Pub. Former Florio chef Ed Carew is executive chef.
Decor, Vibe – Cafe des Amis bring you a little closer to France with vintage ceiling tiles, dim lighting, long zinc bar, long red leather banquette, marble tiled floor, velvet-upholstered walls, mirrors everywhere, and retro lighting and fans. Long Bar to one side with a huge refrigerator wall in back. Back room with grand chandelier and roaring fireplace. The row of seats we dined at, left only 2 feet for people to pass. The place was LOUD and packed with the upscale well dressed Marina crowd of yuppies and some older folks from 30’s and 50’s.
Cafe des Amis Menu mirrors classic French Brasseries with salads, fruit de mer, appetizers, daily specials, and 9 entrees. Not a lot of vegetarian options.
Signature Dishes – French onion soup, Steak Frites
Full image set
House made Epi Bread was dense, chewy, and excellent.
Mojito ($11) was strong, well balanced, and very good.
Foie Gras Terrine ($17) ramp and mustard seed marmalade, toasted brioche was stellar with a huge portion of super smooth foie.
Oysters – Kumoomoto, Malpeque, Beausolei ($8) were fresh and solid. Hard to botch this. Very vinegary strong mignonette.
Grilled Branzino Provencal ($27) fennel, tomato, garlic, olives, sauce verte was a very good entree with a good sized portion of well cooked deboned sea bass served in a healthy style. Not overly juicy and a tad bit of undercooking would have helped.
Mussels ($16) tomato, white wine, garlic and lovage was another solid entree with lots of fresh mussels and an aioli covered toast. Very nice broth that deserves consuming with bread.
Summer Pole Beans ($6) brown butter and almonds were thin beans cooked in a healthy style without much butter or salt.
Paperback Apple Pie Special ($8) was excellent and came in a paper bag. Crisp crust, tender apples, and a nice topping made for a good dessert.
Soupe À L’Oignon Gratinee ($9) oxtail and beef shank broth, carmelized onions, gruyere was a very nice and very hot onion soup with a dense cheese crust but came with a big burnt spot that smelled like something was burning. We should have returned it.
Hanger Steak Frites ($26) béarnaise, watercress salad was cooked to a perfect medium rare but was slightly oversalted, even with the sauce on the side. This is not the most tender cut of meat around, so it was a bit chewy. Grilled with a bit of almond hints. Watercress salad was also a bit over salty. Fries were average, not spectacular.
Bouchon’s Steak Frites is better than this version.
Petit Fours: Salted Chocolate Toffees were very bitter and salty.
Roast Chicken Ballotine ($22) roasted potatoes, wilted purslane had a slightly salty chicken that was made super salty with the included robust gravy. We could not even finish this dish! Duck liver pate toast was fine. Excellent potatoes.
Service – Cafe des Amis is relatively new but being operated by a veteran team, service was decent albeit a bit slow, with not much need for hailing waiters. The waiter could have been more knowledgeable on the dishes.
Value – Prices while not inexpensive, are inline with an upscale French restaurant.
Alternatives – Not many. Classic French brasseries in this area include excellent Bouchon in Yountville and Absinthe in San Francisco. Compare these to Josephine Chez Dumonet, an uncopiable classic Paris bistro we reviewed and lust for from our 2009 adventures.
Verdict – Does Cafe des Amis live up to its hype? Frankly we expected much more from seasoned veterans and 3 years of waiting. There were a lot of misses and even the waiter admitted that other waiters had clinkers that evening. Comparatively, Prospect and Wayfare Tavern recently opened and are excellent. Bouchon remains the best in our area.
The atmosphere is spot on so give them a couple months to optimize things before trying it. If you must visit it now, be careful and conservative with your ordering.
2% Healthy SF Surcharge. Extensive wine list with high markup, glasses from $8, Bottles from an inexpensive $16. Long beer, ale list and lots of classic cocktails.