Tunnel Top - from Duchamp to Bossa Nova

Tunnel Top – from Duchamp to Bossa Nova

March 19, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

Perched high above the actual tunnel on Stockton Street sits the Tunnel Top, an historic San Francisco institution. As I was crossing Bush Street, the dim lights were tempting me to go in. The original sign, probably from the sixties, still stands, and a massive oak door reads Merci when you get closer.

Welcome to the Tunnel Top, a European bar and lounge infused with the red and orange colors of the south of France, decorated with old antique shutters on the windows, 19th century SNCF (French railroads) lamps illuminating different focal points, and bottle racks in wrought iron (fer forgé). You can’t help but notice the impressive chandelier, a huge bottle rack (séchoir à bouteilles) that is actually an old replica of a Duchamp readymade, the first ordinary object found by Marcel Duchamp in the Bazaar of Paris in 1914 that entered the list of art objects – the readymades, as he called them.

As you climb the stairs to get to the mezzanine, a silent film is playing on the wall. The chandelier appears even grander, and your senses are buzzing. Groups of people are having a great time conversing on leather couches, feeling relaxed by the warmth of the décor. As you gaze at the art on the walls, you might wonder about the cross. This is actually an antique 1823 iron cross, one of many unusual pieces that make this place an artsy heaven.

Back at the bar below, Jean-Michel, the bartender, has a bright smile, busily preparing mojitos. The Tunnel Top offers outstanding cocktails made with fresh and organic ingredients. It has a stellar selection of Belgian beer and good French wine. Happy hour draws an eclectic mix of people, from professionals to strollers.

The bar is open from 5 PM to 2 AM, Monday to Saturday. A DJ, somewhat hidden from view in the mezzanine, plays every night. Mondays are Bossa Nova nights. During the week, the music can vary from Salsa to French musical icons. On Friday and Saturday, the style is Top 40. The weekends are the busiest time for the bar, and with all the action going on, don’t fail to notice all the details and good vibes that make this place a must-see!

  • Tunnel Top, 601 Bush Street, San Francisco 94108
  • (415) 986-8900
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The “New” Café Bastille

March 10, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

If you happened to be in San Francisco on the 14th of July, you have probably heard of Café Bastille. It is in the small alley of Belden Lane, with its European flair and café terraces, that all festivities start and spread to the rest of the city. If something important is happening in France, TV crews head to Café Bastille, sure to find enthusiasts and regulars to offer their reactions. We are in the center of French culture in the city, in a way. As the saying goes, ‘it all begins here.’ A lot of young French restaurant owners, who opened their own restaurants in the city and beyond, started their American dream at Café Bastille.

Olivier, who owns the café, is born and raised in Paris and he feels proud of the history and the continuity of his restaurant, one of the rare bistros to have been around for 20 years. He studied hospitality in France, and when he came to San Francisco, he wanted to create a corner of France, a bistro, just like a typical one in Paris, that offers traditional Bistro fair and has a famous name for party times.

On March 6th The “New” Café Bastille was unveiled with a party, a new chef and a spanking new menu. The lunch menu boasts Bistro favorites such as moules et frites, avocat crevettes, escargots de Bourgogne, truite aux amandes and steak au poivre, while French classics were added to the dinner menu – boudin noir, hachis parmentier, boeuf bourguignon, lapin à la moutarde, and coq au vin.


The décor also marked a new beginning with colorful posters that emphasize the Bistro look. Now, the Café is officially ready to continue with business as usual – regulars stopping by to say hello to Olivier, French music playing in the background amid the Bistro’s hustle and bustle, tourists enjoying the San Francisco sun and ambiance, and Financial District folks grabbing a lunch. “People come to the café,” Olivier says, “because they discover a surprisingly European type of environment where they feel relaxed and happy. It is rare to find cafés with outdoor terraces next to each other in the USA.” And Olivier likes all of it. He feels at home in his French Bistro in America, where French culture lives and is celebrated every day.

  • Café Bastille, 22 Belden Lane, San Francisco
  • Reservations: (415) 986-5673
  • Visit website!


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February 21, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

I call Mickaël Audry, the chef of Cocotte (anciemment Hyde Street Bistro) in San Francisco a rising star. He laughs, of course, doubting and loving my words at the same time, but the truth remains — his food is excellent, and the ambiance of his charming restaurant on a San Francisco hill is authentically and beautifully French.

With his boyish looks and charismatic personality, Chef Audry is an ambassador for terroir style of cooking. He grew up in the Loire Valley countryside, Sancerre precisely, a town where the quality of the wine and food leaves deep markings on the human soul. His family grew their food and raised their animals, and he still remembers the pain he experienced the day he switched from home milk to industrial milk.

In the kitchen of Cocotte, he practices a simple philosophy —find the best possible products in the local markets and cook them in the shortest time possible to conserve their flavor.

Then, with a lot of conviction in his voice, he adds: “Moi, je suis terroir. Les bons produits, la bonne viande.” (“My style is terroir. Good produce, good meat.”) There is no doubt that his clients on Nob Hill love his cooking. One night he offered a Blanquette de veau special, and a client called him the following week to ask if he had that special again.

“A great dish,” he tells me, “is bursting with flavors — something acidic and something sweet, something crunchy and something smooth.”

À la carte of the moment one finds dishes like Twice baked aged cheddar cheese soufflé, Pork and pinot noir pâté served with toasted Levain bread, Black Mission figs and goat cheese tart, Sonoma Duck leg confit, Creekstone Rib-eye steak served with green peppercorn sauce et pommes frites, Seared Branzino sea bass with baby fennel, leeks and sorrel sauce, Lapin à la moutarde and much more.

Chef Audry also enjoys transforming traditional dishes into something simple, fresh and new. He gives me the example of La Poire Belle Hélène. “You can recreate the dish and the flavor by replacing the poached pair with pear purée. You destroy the concept, but you can recreate it in new ways.” He points out more examples on the menu, like the slightly seared Tartar Rossini, a variation of the traditional raw Tartare he serves with seared fois gras, onions, cornichons capers and mustard, and the tomato tart Tatin with a hint of crème fraîche on top.

For inspiration, he likes turn to the books of famous French chef, Michel Brin. He evokes to me the romantic image of the chef humbly scrolling the countryside for herbs for his dishes, and he admires his commitment to artisan products. Then, all of a sudden, the memory of the potato purée of his grandmother illuminates his face.

“She was adding sea salt to the potato purée, and when you tasted it, the salt pieces were cracking in your mouth. I miss it,” he says. He also misses la quiche lorraine of his mother and the thick pumpkin soup she made in the fall.

When I asked him how he sees the future of French cuisine, he tells me “as a come-back of traditional healthy dishes.”

“Now, people pay for quality. They demand chicken that tastes great; they want to protect the environment; they want the products to come from the local markets. Working in California is a challenge,” he continues, “because Californians have great taste and they are good critics. Their palate is developed; they have traveled all over the world. At the same time, they expect change. Everything in California is a trend. And maybe I am here for a trend as well, and then… I’ll start over somewhere else.”

  • Cocotte | Visit website
  • 1521 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA
  • Reservations: (415) 292-4414
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