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French bistros in San Francisco.

They're perfect for a pretheater dinner or a lazy lunch

IN A CITY THAT seems obsessed with discovering the cuisines of faraway lands, one of the most glorious--if occasionally overlooked--imports of them all is French food. In downtown San Francisco, you'll find a thriving colony of comfortable French bistros serving simple, regional cuisine.

By bistro, we mean a sociable place--often filled with closely spaced, paper-covered tables--where you can hang out, have a drink and a snack, or make a pretheater dinner of an appetizer and a salad. Decor, prices, and service can vary dramatically.

These nine bistros are all within an easy walk of three downtown garages: Downtown Center, Sutter Stockton (the best deal), and Union Square. Area code is 415.

Brasserie Chambord, 152 Kearny Street; 434-3688. Rush-seat chairs, and faience plates on the walls, suggest the Old Country, and a menu that ranges from pan-fried scallops to pears poached in red wine and cinnamon completes the illusion. Entrees cost $12 to $17.

Brasserie Savoy, 580 Geary Street; 474-8686. The ticket can mount here, but a $19 prix fixe dinner of appetizer, entree, and dessert seems just right for theatergoers. Windows are ornamented with low wooden arches, and the big dining room is cheerful but orderly.

Cafe Bastille, 22 Belden Place; 986-5673. Live no-cover jazz, entwined with curls of cigarette smoke, is offered several nights a week at this authentic French hangout. Andouillette with sauteed apples ($8.75) is among the outstanding entrees.

Cafe Claude, 7 Claude Lane; 392-3505. A tin "Buvez Pepsi" sign over the bar exhorts the youngish crowd to enjoy the lively atmosphere, frequent evening jazz, and the excellent, inexpensive food. We liked the pan-fried sturgeon. With its top-price entree about $9, Cafe Claude is a great value.

City of Paris, 101 Shannon Alley; 441-4442. Art nouveau borders and coiled light fixtures evoke Alphonse Mucha and turn-of-the-century France. The busy, convivial bar is in a separate room. Top-price entree is $15.

Janot's, 44 Campton Place; 392-5373. Whether you order the rich and subtly spicy lobster bisque, the grill-seared and succulent rib lamb chops, the almost ethereal hazelnut napoleon, or the after-dinner coffee, everything shines here. Tables are crowded in the multilevel space, but no one seems to mind. Entrees range from $13 to $18.

Lascaux, 248 Sutter Street; 391-1555. Besides turning an underground dining room into a luxurious prehistoric cave, Lascaux also works wonderful transformations with its Mediterranean-influenced grilled dishes and their vegetable accompaniments. Entrees are $10 to $21.

Le Central, 453 Bush Street; 391-2233. Although it has a definite following, this venerable establishment seems to be resting on its laurels. But the satisfying steamy onion soup deserves its place on the menu, and the roast chicken ($12.25) is a favorite.

Rendezvous du Monde, 431 Bush Street; 392-3332. Excellent salads attract a loyal lunch crowd, which, perhaps, is the reason the owner recently decided to open for dinner on Thursdays and Fridays (entrees are $8 to $12). The grilled salmon served over wilted red chard is worth a trip at lunch.
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Title Annotation:San Francisco, California
Author:Williamson, Marcia
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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