Dining

We Need a Hiro

Bistro food with a twist at Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani's Urchin Bistrot

It's not hard to imagine Gavroche, the famous street urchin of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, roaming through the Mission, but the inspiration behind Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani's casual new French restaurant on Valencia Street is a decidedly more updated, upbeat vision of Paris.

Unlike the couple's other Michelin-starred spots—wine country stalwart Terra and Ame at the St. Regis—Urchin Bistrot is a more straightforward homage to France's cuisine bistronomique.

That is, straight up, but with a few twists. Just as the mash-up of Paris and SF landmarks depicted in the brown-and-beige mural (based on a sketch drawn by Sone) that dominates the room suggests, the City of Light may serve as the kitchen's muse, but Sone, working alongside chef and Ame alum Michael Morrison, executes a California vision.

Oui, the menu is anchored by enough bistro workhorses such as hand-cut steak tartare ($16), panisses with ratatouille ($18) and steak frites ($26) to please hardcore Francophiles, but diners who dig deeper are rewarded with more inspired offerings, such as grilled duck hearts with Berbere spice ($6) and Egg³ ($6), a solitary deviled egg gilded with ocean trout caviar and uni.

Nowhere is that whimsy more evident than in the Hiro's Sandwich ($18), an open-faced "sandwich" comprised of two giant roasted marrow bones, topped with meatballs, jalapeños and fresh tomato relish, covered by a slice of grilled, aioli-smeared baguette, and served over a pile of frites with beef jus. Parisian poutine-meets-Ike's Sandwich, it's the kitchen's flirtation with stunt food—and it works—if only for the novelty of being the only sandwich in town requiring a spoon to eat.

By contrast, the deceptively simple-sounding sea urchin spaghettini ($22), a tangle of pasta cloaked in a luxuriously creamy, umami-spiked sauce of uni butter, garlic, egg yolk and red chile flakes, is the kind of deeply satisfying comfort food we'll return for over and over.

The bar, which runs the length the downstairs' room, is stocked with a stellar wine selection of affordable, predominantly French wines (over a dozen by glass), along with aperitifs and spirits for crafting cocktails such as the Champs Elysees (Cognac, green chartreuse, lemon and Angostura bitters, $11).

Given that the food here is so rich, you'd be forgiven for wanting to skip dessert, but don't do it. Doumani is a pastry chef by training. Our favorite of her creations is the chocolate bête noire ($10), a flourless dark chocolate cake sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. Like the Eiffel Tower, it is a construction to marvel at. Order it with a glass of 10-year-old Tawny Port or Madeira.

How do you say YOLO in French?

Urchin Bistrot 584 Valencia St. San Francisco CA 94110 415-861-1844

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