By David Sason
I actually thought it was charming when I called the Left Bank for reservations. "Bonjour," answered the bubbly hostess with an accent that could only be described as California beach bunny. Nevertheless, I'd heard wonderful things about the brasserie and its bestowal of authentic French cuisine upon the people of Larkspur. (Four other Left Bank outlets are found in the South Bay.)
And so, on a recent Friday evening, my Paris-born fiancée and I left our car with a valet and walked inside. We entered a dimly lit yet bustling bistro with mustard-colored walls and enough oversized vintage French posters and marionettes to make us believe we were in the City of Light. We were promptly seated at a table facing a set of clocks noting the time in French-speaking Tahiti, Montreal and, um, San Francisco. Our friendly but novice waitress' quaint pronunciation of the cheese "Livarot" during the recitation of specials furthered my skepticism. After another special, she told us, "Don't ask me what that means, but it's really, really good!"
She also informed us of the franchise's Tour of France deal, an interesting contest for a trip to France, but an odd pitch from a fine-dining establishment. Also awkward was when the manager politely interrupted my surreptitious note-taking to confidently offer a take-home copy of the spring dinner menu. Slightly dumbfounded, I started off with the moules Florentine ($11.75), steamed mussels with shallots in a delectable white wine sauce. The calamars frits ($8.50) were not as crispy as desired, but the whole-grain mustard vinaigrette was perfectly tangy. Both starters were well-complemented by the bottle of 2003 Maison Louts Latour, the brisk house Pinot ($39).
For the main course, I had the canard a l'orange ($20.50), a plate of seared duck breast medallions surrounded by Camargue rice whose savory orange sauce was just calming enough to battle the dining room's decibel level. My fiancée's sole Côte d'Azur ($19.50) proved to be a soft, succulent fillet with delectable capers and olives in a light wine sauce.
After the manager swept our table with a tiny squeegee, we sneaked in an order of the pommes frites ($4.25), which were slightly too flaky for my taste. Now ready for dessert proper, we split the duo de sorbets ($5.50), seasonal ices made from local fruit. The pure, refreshing apple sorbet was a lovely surprise. We took the manager's suggestion and each tried a glass of low-alcohol spring pear wine ($6.25 glass), part of the Normandy special that month and a delicious dessert wine that tasted like a deceptively soothing cider.
With our leisurely meal nearing its end, I took in the décor, a splendid blend of traditional and avant-garde (the giant pig's head atop the fireplace). With over an hour until closing time, I was surprised when the manager returned our car keys and informed us of their valet's early departure. Our car was parked right in front so I thanked him, slightly perplexed. "Yup," my fiancée said between giggles. "That's French, all right."
Such splendid food is worth a little benign pomp.
Left Bank. Open for lunch, Monday-Saturday; dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday only, from 10am. 507 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. 415.927.3331.
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