Les Clos

Posted on in Healthy Living by Eric Newsom

SOMA’s Bistro-Style Wine
Bar Gastronomique


From the team that brought you Saison comes Les Clos, a full-service, threemeal restaurant expertly disguised as a hole-in-the-wall SOMA wine bar. Fronted by Mark Bright, partner and wine director at the upmarket, down-the-block Michelin three-star Saison, this space exudes a warm, laidback charm, with its burlwood bar, leather-couched “living room” tucked behind wine racks, and enticing display of its two dozen cheeses. If you live or work in the surrounding bustle of Townsend Street, you may find Les Clos the ideal place to park your laptop for coffee and a croissant, or invite a friend for a glass and a bite.

This is head chef Shawn Gawle’s first foray into a full menu of savory cuisine (previously, he was pastry chef at Saison, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, and Veritas, among others). Chef Gawle commands the restaurant’s miniscule kitchen, folding his organic, sustainable, locally sourced, and ever-changing ingredients into a broad array of impressive French-inspired dishes. And hearty they were—if you think “French comfort food” a contradiction in terms, Les Clos will set you straight. Cara Patricia serves as general manager and head sommelier, leading an allfemale wine team of four, among them our sommelier, Erica Woskey.

Did we mention the miniscule kitchen? By far the most striking aspect of our visit, given the food to follow, was the fly-by tour of Chef Gawle’s meticulously organized workspace. That a kitchen sporting only a standup oven and a single, two-top induction stove can produce cuisine of such variety, quantity, and consistent quality is, to put it mildly, noteworthy.

Les Clos serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though our focus was on nighttime fare. While the cuisine certainly reflects its southern French roots, the dinner menu is far more varied and sophisticated than one would ordinarily expect of a wine bar.

The Blue Pool oysters, served raw with mignonette or lightly broiled with a seaweed butter, were refined and delicate. From there, our dishes started to increase in intensity. Gawle’s take on lobster bisque is lustrous and bright—qualities not normally associated with bisque. Here the kitchen relies on its all-day lobster stock and not so much on cream, producing a less dense (though no less flavorful) texture that makes the submerged gnocchi an elegant surprise. Erica paired this smartly on our visit with a mineral-driven white Burgundy (Domaine Vocoret, Montée de Tonnerre Chablis).

How about frisée aux lardons with soft egg and ver jus? Like roast chicken, this seemingly simple dish often exposes a kitchen’s weaknesses—a too-hardened yolk or flabby (or overly crisped) lardons can instantly deflate this wonderful Lyonnais specialty. The Les Clos version reveals attention to detail—the acidity of the vinaigrette and ver jus balancing perfectly against the creamy yolk and sumptuous lardons. Better still, this came with a delightful Blanc de Blancs champagne (Eric Isselee, Cuvee des Grappes d’Or), its 100% Chardonnay richness and bubbles playing the same balancing act as the dish it complements.

The escargot stew, served with koshihikare rice, sweet garlic, and chervil, emerged looking gorgeous but was undersalted and lacked the acidity necessary to pierce the richness of the snails. The Poulet Basquez, however, righted this minor wrong in a major way. Served in a clay pot with padron peppers and couscous, this is the dish worth crossing town and dining alone with. We’ll take another of those perfectly rendered thighs with a side of iberico-flecked cassoulet beans and a glass of that Liger-Belair Beaujolais, please!

Let us pause over the Pommes Aligot, France’s answer to those who bemoan pretentious cuisine. Imagine the buttery mashed potatoes of your dreams, streaked with garlic and melded with practically inappropriate amounts of Cantal cheese. Often made with Tomme d’Auvergne and served tableside, elastic, from traditional copper pots, here the kitchen refines the dish with perhaps a touch more cream than customary. Swirl your spoon around that little copper ramekin and make sure you’ve left none behind. Not enough comfort food for you? Try the Parisian Gnocchi Gratinée, with Comté and dry chorizo, although at this point in our night of indulgence, the pillowy gnocchi, swimming alongside toothy bites of chorizo in a velvety white sauce, bordered on excess.

Having indulged in these hearty savories, dessert was a daunting prospect. But here Chef Gawle’s pastry background shines. He cites the southwestern French cuisine of Chez L’Ami Jean in Paris as the inspiration for his rice pudding, but adds bitter caramel, lemon curd, and granola to give this traditional dish a modern edge. Several vintages of Madeira, as well as a selection of off-dry whites from the Loire Valley are offered to accompany desserts.

Though Les Clos was fairly packed, service remained warm and attentive throughout. While by-the-glass wine prices trend high, the selection is vast and expert, and one can order pours of various sizes. Sommelier Erica Woskey was as excited to describe the pairings as we were to try them. That said, the lusty, organic, farm-to-table food (see the website for a list of local partner producers) is the real attraction here, a testament to the vision of the Bright/Gawle team and a reason to make Les Clos a SOMA destination.

Eric Newsom is a Bay Area native raised on good food and wine. This is his first review in Common Ground.

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