Dining

Clos Encounters

Mark Bright opens Les Clos in SoMA

Walking into Mark Bright's Les Clos, it's hard to believe that it hasn't been around for at least a decade or two. It's not that it feels old, it's more that it has the lived-in feel of a neighborhood restaurant, from the casual, cozy atmosphere to the empty bottles of wine lining the front window.

Well, the kind of joint that most neighborhoods would fight to the death over, anyway. Bright is the wine director of Saison, and Les Clos is his take on the all-day café-wine bars he fell in love with in France. This café happens to be stocked with his jaw-droppingly impressive bottle collection, a 3,000-plus selection with an emphasis on Burgundies, Champagne, Rhone and California vintages, of which 40 are available by the glass at all times.

But the prestige of the drinking options here does not translate into a stuffiness. Whether you're stopping by for a leisurely cheese and charcuterie lunch or indulging in a multicourse, wine-paired dinner, Les Clos makes you feel comfortable, and intentionally so.

Chef Shawn Gawle

Both the daytime and nighttime menus from head chef Shawn Gawle (also a Saison vet) are comprised of simple, shareable dishes, with emphasis on flavor, ingredients and, of course, pair-ability. The all-day larder is an excellent place to start, where selections of cheese and charcuterie come in "grand" and "petite" iterations that change on the regular.

Cheese and bread come together again on the lunch menu in the form of a grilled cantalet sandwich ($10), layered with deeply sweet roasted tomato and earthy maitake mushrooms. It's warm and rich, made memorable by the sticky, sour quality of the levain, fresh from Le Marais Bakery across town.

When the kitchen changes gears for its nighttime menu after 3 p.m., the menu offers 12 wine-friendly items that would not be out of place in a Paris bistrotheque or a local tavern in the South of France. Nearly all of the items are available in whole and half portions—the well-priced halves are generous and allow for a memorable mix-and-match meal.

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Absolutely order the Tête de Cochon ($12 for a half, $16 for whole): The terrine-like texture gives way to rich, confit-flavored pork—good on its own, even better with an unctuous dollop of pickle-rich sauce gribiche and fried capers.

Parisian Gnocchi ($8 for a half, $12 for whole) comes in a charming copper skillet, swimming in cream and Comté cheese and laced with smoked paprika, courtesy of shredded chorizo strands (you can get fresh-shaved Burgundy truffles on top for $15). The highlight of our dinner was the Poulet Basquez ($18 for a half, $26 for whole), a North African-style fall-off-the-bone-tender roast chicken, couscous soaked in roasting juice and padron peppers, all served in a ceramic pot. Comforting and perfectly balanced, it was not only an ideal match for a glass of Syrah, it's the kind of dish we would happily eat every night.

It was hard not to feel some regret that we were too full for dessert. But the feeling was fleeting—it's good to have a reason to come back.

Les Clos 234 Townsend St. San Francisco CA 94107

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