Stepping into San Francisco’s Gaspar Brasserie is like stepping onto the set of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and other creative geniuses of the Lost Generation would likely find inspiration amidst the camaraderie and Absinthe found in this Parisian style eatery and bar.
Absinthe, the anise-flavored spirit, is a favored ingredient in several of Gaspar’s French-inspired specialty cocktails, but the true libation star at Gaspar is brandy. Just as Smuggler’s Cove has made rum the centerpiece of its bar menu, and soon-to-open Whitechapel specializes in gin, Gaspar highlights the many varieties of this caramel-colored spirit. Gaspar General Manager Jonathan Allen has collaborated with renowned barman Johnny Codd (named by Zagat as one of 2014’s ’30 Under 30 Rock Stars Redefining the ‘dining’ Industry) to create The Cognac Room with a bar menu featuring more than 50 brandy centric cocktails. Nowhere else in the City will one find this same brandy focus.
Modeled after its restaurant soul mate, NYC’s famed Balthazar, Gaspar features classic French brasserie décor with a stamped tin ceiling in two bars and dining areas on two levels – the chandeliered first floor with heavy fabric drapes and an impressive liquor display, and the low-ceilinged, tufted banquette-lined second level with windows overlooking Sutter Street. The atmosphere in both spaces is sexy, glamorous and casually luxe.
Owned by San Francisco restauranteur Franck LeClerc (Café Claude, Claudine and Gitane) Gaspar recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. The place is popular with the Financial District crowd at lunchtime, and quiets down a tiny bit at night, which enables patrons to land a coveted reservation, and carry-on a conversation with tablemates sans shouting – two aspects important for a positive San Francisco dining experience.
Our corner table on the second level allowed for both a bar and dining room view and patrons were clearly enjoying themselves, likely attributable to the skilled mixology of creative cocktails such as Ma Cherie, Pepe Verjus, and Napolean’s Folly. I started with a Famous Last Words: vodka, yellow chartreuse, lime and maraschino. My husband selected a Pinot Noir from the more than 25 wines by the glass.
As at any French restaurant, cheese plays a starring role, as it should. Nearly an entire menu page is devoted to the nine choices divided by cow, goat and sheep. The cheese plate is served with plentiful toasted crostini, fig jam and sugar boiled assorted nuts. The Smoked Salmon Mille Crepes from the Petits Plats portion of the menu featured smoked salmon layered between crepes and egg with salmon caviar, capers, red onion and crème fraiche and was as festively beautiful as it was delicious.
The Chilled Asparagus Soup with Lobster was rich and refreshing; the Organic Baby Beet Salade with chevre mousse, cress, pistachios and Banyuls vinaigrette showcased the flavor of the simple root vegetable. My husband pronounced his Grilled Bavette Steak to be one of the most tender and delicious cuts he’s had. Served with fingerling potatoes, sugar snaps, torpedo onions, green peppercorn-olive sauce and a thick slab of bone marrow butter, the meal was expertly prepared. I opted for the lone vegetarian choice, Chickpea Panisse Cakes, a selection that has graced the menu from day one. The three puck sized cakes sat on a bed of roasted baby carrots, torpedo onions, spring onion pistou and a sprinkle of melted French feta – a creamy combination of great flavors.
We capped our meal with a flaming tableside coffee preparation that captivated the entire dining room. The Café Brulot serves two and is composed of peeled lemon and orange zest, cognac, orange liqueur, brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon and coffee set afire. Amazing…yet definitely not to be replicated at home. Our affable waiter Tommy clearly enjoyed this theatrical moment and was pleased to provide a command performance for curious diners on the other side of the dining room.
Just as Parisian eateries and bars inspired Gertrude and her compatriots, we too were inspired by Gaspar Brasserie. Perhaps not to write the next great American novel, but simply to return again soon.
Located at 185 Sutter Street, Gaspar is a short walk from the easily accessible and affordable Sutter Stockton Garage, making parking (admittedly an SF deterrent) a non-issue.
Mon – Wed: 11:30 am – 10:30 pm
Thu – Fri: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Sat: 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sun: 5:00 pm – 10:30 pm