2 Top French Restaurant Picks in San Francisco

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A French food lover? What a better place to explore French restaurants than in one of the top foodie capitals in the U.S. For my birthday this year, we headed to Cafe Jacqueline, an exquisite bistro gem in the heart of the city whose owner is also the chef and has been specializing in soufflees for over 30 years. Sweet and savory souffles are the star of the menu at this longtime French eatery.  There’s not much else on this limited menu that Chef Jacqueline Margulis prepares nightly but soufflees are most definitely her passion. I wouldn’t have known just how small, authentic and old school this place was if I hadn’t made my way to the bathroom, with a whole lot of curiosity in the back of my mind. I walked slowly past the open kitchen and there was Jacqueline herself, giving me a friendly nod as I made my way past.  She whips up her soufflees with such precision and passion, you have to wonder how she continues to do so with such enthusiasm after making the same thing year after year for so long.

I learn that she grew up in a convent in France because her mother died at childbirth and it was there she learned to cook. You’ll find her every night the restaurant is open whipping up egg whites in an oh so French copper bowl with other authentic utensils and bowls around her, including one of those massive old fashioned wooden bowls.  For a moment, I felt as if I had been transported back in time. I wanted to start with the snails – as tres cher as the appetizer was, I had to try them — lots of garlic, I had hoped and they didn’t disappoint. Below, the green flecks aren’t pesto but parsley mixed with butter and garlic and a whole lotta experience and love from inside a French-infused kitchen.

Cafe Jacqueline

Alongside the snails, Anthony had to try the oh so decadent onion soup that was perfectly prepared. It’s hard to get that perfect creamy blend of butter, onions, garlic and cheese and she nails it.

 Then came out the souflees, the gourmet savory ones that is. We opted for prosciutto and mushrooms — they are a combination of perfectly fluffy and decadent. Dishes range from around $35-60 depending on what you order and include fresh ingredients like cilantro, tomato, mushroom (often my favorite), asparagus, broccoli and more. You can also have crab and lobster if you really want a rich blend.  We didn’t try it but the corn with ginger and garlic sounded oh so divine and I noticed our neighbors had ordered it.

She offers 18 savory options, which are meant to be shared, and they start at $35 for single add-ins such as mushroom, spinach, broccoli, asparagus or tomato and cilantro, and go up to $60 for crab and lobster.

There’s a whole lotta wow going on here!

Dessert anyone? We weren’t going to splurge but Anthony insisted given that it was my birthday and while they don’t do the “cake” thing, they did put a candle on my soufflee to make me feel a l’il special for my night out on the town. She offered berry choices but I was drawn to the Grand Marnier and Anthony went with the chocolate, though we were told later on that her lemon soufflee would have had us begging for more.   So unique, so authentic and so pure that despite its limited menu of anything else, it’s an experience not to miss.

The eatery is small and romantic, classic in every way from the lighting to the fixtures on the walls and the tablecloths. Seating only 28 in total, you want to book well in advance just in case. There really isn’t a turn over in an evening as dinner can easily last four hours given the long preparation time and what I’d call a specialty experience.


1454 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, California 94133

Cafe Claude

In the heart of San Francisco’s financial district near Union Square, this charming French restaurant provides a Paris fix via “très délicieux” cuisine and a kinda Left Bank atmosphere. I’ve dined here at least four times including on my birthday two years ago – seems like we have a French restaurant on my birthday trend, but these very well may be the only two in my lifetime but yes, both in San Francisco. It’s elegant on the inside and oh so French bistro on the outside during warmer months though they do offer heat lamps. The other really charming thing about the restaurant is that its located on Claude Lane, which is a pedestrian only small inset off the main shopping square, which makes for a great choice after a day of shopping. I love their outside terrace especially for a toasty cappuccino after an afternoon of walking around or simply to meet up with a girlfriend late morning and catch up. Cafe Claude is also known for its live music although I was only there on one occasion where they offered it during my meal.

On one such visit, we had perhaps one of the best servers I’ve experienced at a French restaurant in the states and on another occasion, one who was a bit too pretentious for our taste despite being ‘punctual.’ Next time I go, I’ll look for the waiter we had the first time around to revisit that incredibly charming and romantic memory. You definitely get the feeling of old world right away, which is a rarity in the states — a big bravo for maintaining that authenticity in a city that is becoming more about modern trendy cafes where technology innovators hang their hats.  I hope you’re drinking a Bordeaux while you browse through these decadent dishes, starting with a traditional Coq au vin.

Above: Coq au Vin, photo credit: Alena/Yelp

Above Pork au Miel; credit: DebP/Yelp

Above: Croque Monsieur; credit: Scott F/Yelp

Above: Agneau, Roasted lamb sirloin; Emily D/Yelp

Inside, check out the warmth of the decor and attention to detail, from the wall fixtures and paintings to the fresh flowers and hardwood paneling throughout.

Credit: Bay City Guide

The first time through, we started with their classic Assiette de Charcuterie that plates up a variety of Artisanal cured meats, including cornichons, dijon mustard, Rosette de Lyon, pork, salami, saucisson a L’ail, pork and veal, garlic, bologna, Bresaola  beef, salt cured, dry Prosciutto and salt cured duck with aged Assiette de Pate. My favorite pate was by far the truffle and brandy although the Venison with hazelnuts and apricots was a close second.  They also do a fabulous plate of escargots with garlic buttery, parsley, pernod, shallows, and anchovies.  While we didn’t try it, they do offer Foie Gras from Hudson Valley, which they serve with carmelized apples, espelette and brioche toast. Those who prefer something lighter can opt for the Atlantic Salmon with pickled onion, salmon roe and French breakfast radish. There’s also a salt cod with yukon gold potato, olive oil, panko and a salad as well as the Tuna Tartare with avocado, orange supreme, chive extra virgin olive oil and crostini. Want a classic Croque Monsieur? They’ve got you covered, complete with ham, gruyère, béchamel sauce, pain de mie and a side mixed green salad and a classic Quiche Lorraine is also an option with spinach, smoked bacon and garlic.
We tried their farm-raised trout with toasted almonds, haricot verts, golden raisins, capers in a sauce meuniere and Anthony couldn’t resist the PEI mussels, which they served with green garlic, whole grain mustard, shallots, croutons and herbs.  For sides, I loved their sauteed pea‏ tendrils with lemon and garlic. Simple but delicious, fresh and memorable!


Cafe Claude

7 Claude Lane

San Francisco CA 94108


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