Imagine a late-nineteenth century style Parisian brasserie in the heart of Marin in northern California? Enter Left Bank Brasserie, a trendy and chic French restaurant in Larkspur. It’s not the only one however – be sure to see our review of the Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park about a year and a half ago. and they also have a San Jose location as well.
Authentic in a myriad of ways, the Larkspur venue is so infused with French brasserie motif throughout that you could easily imagine Toulouse Lautrec sketching at one of the tables. As you’d expect from a brasserie (Paris lovers will appreciate this place), you can get French classics like Prawns Provencale, Smoked Salmon Rillette, Fried Calamari, Baked Camembert, Cheese Fondue and Escargots as Hors D’oeuvres options. As someone who has devoured her fair share of musssels and oysters in France over the years, I was thrilled to see both on the Left Bank Brasserie menu. Anthony and I had to order both the Oysters on the half shell (we were surprised just how fresh they tasted) and their Florentine Style Les Moules (Mussels).
Anthony’s Mussels were even tastier — he went for the Florentine style Moules, which were prepared with white wine, garlic, shallots (one of my favorites), and a Pernod garlic butter. Who doesn’t love an overdose of garlic? I could have it on almost any dish. They also offer their mussels Provencale style with tomatoes, basil, white wine and traditional herbs from Provence. If you’ve spent any time in France (or Belgium of course), you’ll be accustomed to your mussels being served with pommes frites (French Fries). You have the option of a half pound or full pound of mussels and you can have on their own or with the fries.
And whoahhh those oysters were heavenly. Truth be told, I could have eaten another dozen.
There were a variety of salads to choose from as well including Nicoise with Seared Tuna (of course), a Lyonnaise Salade with Frisee, Bacon Lardons, croutons and a warm poached egg (in hindsight, I wish I had tried this) and their Rive Gauch Salade with radishes in a cucumber herb vinaigrette. I was shocked that Anthony didn’t go for the Onion Soup (traditional ‘onion soupe gratinee’ with Emmenthal cheese and a baguette because that’s his “go to” at French restaurants), however there were so many incredible appetizer options, we decided to have fun with a few epic dishes we haven’t had in awhile.
If diet isn’t a consideration (or carbs), then you shouldn’t miss out on their Fried Calamari (with fried onions too) or their Salt Cod Fritters with pistou aioli. Next time I head to a Left Bank Brasserie restaurant, I will order the Filet Mignon Steak Tartare — oh so yum! Every time I try it, I’m taken back in time to the countless times I’ve ordered it when I lived in Europe.
We kept things light on this hot August evening in Marin. With all the delicious and fresh seafood options, how could we resist? I went for the Roasted Snapper Basquaise, which is a mash-up of mussels, prawns, bay scallops, fennel confit (my favorite), and spinach, all exquisitely cooked in a spicy smoked paprika tomato broth — there was so much wow in this dish!! I paired this seafood melody with a Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay from Russian River Valley which is always a reliable option, although in hindsight with the spicy kick, one of their Sauvignon Blancs would have been a better choice. They also had a divine Rose (Fleurs de Prairie from Cotes de Provence) as well as a lovely Pinot Blanc (Schlumberger ‘Princes Abbes’) from Alsace.
Other seafood options worth trying include their Salmon with Loch Duart, wild rice, roasted corn and red bell peppers, tomatoes and basil. They also had a Trout Almondine with brown butter, roasted almonds and green beans — oh so classic French! They offered a couple different chicken options if you’re not a seafood fan but want to keep things light, and if that isn’t a consideration, then why not dive right into one of their heartier meat dishes, like the scrumptious Beef Bourguignon, best paired with a bold Bordeaux/Merlot (only one option by the glass but 9 by the bottle including one of our favorites, the Duckhorn from Napa)!
There is an extensive list of Pinot Noir and Cabs as well as Rhone Blends, Syrah and Zinfandel. They even had a few Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley, including a California one (Howell Mountain) La Jota!
Below is Anthony’s main course choice: the Beef Bourguignon, which they made with red wine braised boneless short ribs, bacon lardons, baby carrots, button mushrooms, pearl onions and fingerling potatoes. We couldn’t finish it all so let’s just say that the next day, it was even better after the flavors had more time to soak in — and just look at how beautiful the presentation is as well!!
If the evening wasn’t so hot or it was a cooler season, I would have opted for their Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast (I am a huge fan of Duck) or their Lamb Shank Provencale. Anthony is not a lamb lover so we never make it at home — here, they serve it Provencale style with creamy Parmesan polenta, roasted tomatoes, Nicoise olives and basil. Heavenly right? On the heavier side is a housemade Garlic Pork Sausage. If you have kids in tow, they offer a couple of burger options as well as chicken with pommes frites. Some delicious sides include Summer Squash, Haricots Verts (with shallots and butter), Spinach with roasted garlic and Wild Rice with roasted corn, red bell peppers and basil. How can you go wrong?
Have a sweet tooth? I’ve never been a big dessert person although Anthony can’t resist anything with chocolate or cream — after all, he grew up in an Italian household. He went for the Fondant Au Chocolat which is essentially a dark chocolate molten cake with chocolate sauce and a Caramel Heath bar ice cream. On the lighter side, you can opt for a seasonal fruit sorbet. If you want to stick to traditional French classics, then go for their Creme Brulee (pair it with the Domaine La Tour, Banyuls) or their Les Profiteroles (cream puffs, vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce), which you can pair with the Graham’s 10 year old Tawny, one of Anthony’s favorites.
I LOVE French cheese and quite frankly, it’s one of the things I miss about living in Europe — it was my go to on a weekly basis while sitting in a favorite outdoor cafe. And so, rather than go with a traditional dessert, I ordered a cheese plate, which is pretty typical on any French menu. (you can choose one, two or three as options). They also offered a wonderful Dessert Wine Flight (three one ounce pours). On the menu in August was a Chateau Les Justice (Sauternes), Domaine Cauhape (Jurancon) and the Chateau des Arroucats (Sainte-Croix-Du-Mont)!
While we didn’t try any of their cocktails, they offer a good variation and all the fun French drinks you’d expect to find on the menu are there, such as Pastis (YUM!!!) and Absinthe of course. When I lived in London, we used to have Absinthe on Sunday evenings. And, while they do offer both draught lagers and ales as well as bottled selections, the wine list is too good to order beer here.
And then ahhh yes, there’s the ambiance! Vibrant, fun, full of color and epic in so many wonderful ways.
There’s a beautiful mirrored bar with brass detailing, high ceilings, and richly polished wood. You’ll find lots of drink diversity and a wonderful selection of French aperitifs. Given that the weather is typically mild year round, you can sip one of these with an appetizer at one of their outdoor tables while watching people and cars go by.
Would we return? You betcha!! There are far too many delicious dishes we didn’t get a chance to try the first time around. We didn’t mention the service yet which is a good sign — if the service is bad, it’s hard for me to write a review, period. They were attentive and never were our wine or water glasses empty and never did I wonder where something was when I wanted it. Enuf said! Whether you live in Marin or are passing through on your way to wine country, give it a try!
Left Bank Brasserie
507 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, CA 94939
For more information, visit their website.
Note: we were hosted by the restaurant but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.