Saturday night I headed to L’Ardoise, with a recently purchased bottle of ’99 Chateau Lagrange St Julien in hand (well, in backpack to be more precise). Conveniently located on Noe St, between the Castro and Hayes Valley, L’Ardoise is a small, cozy, classic neighborhood bistro. Since there are only about 40 seats and the warm, congenial atmosphere occasional encourages lingering over a leisurely meal, you may need to wait 10-15 minutes for an open table, even with a reservation. Another couple who was waiting ahead of us left. Unfortunate, as they probably would have eaten very well if our meal was any indication.
While we waited for a table, we were given a glass of sparkling wine and some complimentary frites at the bar. Everyone was friendly and apologized for the wait: our hostess, the owner, our server to-be. We enjoyed the fries with a very mild aioli (which seemed all the more tame compared with the head of garlic version I made earlier in the week). The sparkling wine, however, was cheap cava from Segura Viudas, which we probably would have been better without - we both suffered minor headaches later in the night, which I am tracing back to the cheap bubbly. Which brings up my major gripe with the otherwise spot on L’Ardoise: the wine list. There is very little of interest, especially by the glass. We followed our comped glass of headache bubbly with a so-so ’06 Chablis and a strangely medicinal Bordeaux Blanc (sorry – mediocre wine and no note taking means that I forget the produers for both). Wines by the bottle mainly consist of mediocre French, and industrial, boring California wines. Exceptions would be ’05 Tempier Bandol, ’04 Jasmin Cote-Rotie and ’04 d’Epire Savennieres, which are all fine but not exactly things I’d want to drink now, even with food; they’re too young. Oh, ’01 Chateau Meyney St-Estephe is good, but not exactly a value at $78. Hopefully, a wine rep in the SF area is reading this and will help L’Ardoise to re-tool their list with Muscadet, chenin, cru Beaujolais, etc.
Dinner was delicious. A succulent petite filet mignon, cooked rare, accompanied by an intense red wine reduction, and served with crisp, thinly sliced, fried potato rounds drizzled with white truffle oil. The intermingling of truffled potato and juicy, cooked to perfection beef is just a ridiculousy delicious, elegant flavor combo. I know, it all sounds a bit decadent but at $27 it’s a steal to me. Some people like BMWs, Diesel jeans…I like eating and drinking well, you know? We also had some haricots verts and sautéed baby spinach, both tasty and adding some necessary nutrients to this beef and potatoes dinner.
As for the wine…it showed young but very well. St. Julien, along with St Estephe and Moulis-en-Medoc, is generally amongst my favorite communes. 3rd, 4th and 5th growths are usually more to my liking than 2nd’s (as of yet I do not know from the first growths, I hear they’re a bit expensive these days). So the 1999 Lagrange, a 3rd growth St. Julien, was quite enjoyable. 1999 left bank bordeaux are generally very juicy, fruity wines, and the Lagrange did not prove to be an exception. It showed lots of savory dark cherry fruit on the nose and palate, with a bit of noticeable development – a touch of wet tobacco on the nose, some roasted and raw meat on the palate. Tannins are smoothing out and fairly well balanced with the fruit, but could use another several years to soften and integrate just a bit more. Overall, though, this is a tasty drink. Not a mind blowing bottle of claret, but solid. At $40 plus $15 corkage, it was a good deal.
And I feel the same way about L’Ardoise. What it lacks in exciting wines it more than delivers in the quality of food, service and typical neighborhood French bistro ambiance. Stop by and celebrate Bastille Day, the continuation of the Tour, or finishing another day at the office. You’ll be in good hands.