Castagna Serves Southern French in an Intimate Setting
Mere weeks in existence, Café Castagna (“Chestnut”) on Chestnut Street in San Francisco seems to capture the imagination of the local Francophiles with its simple, affordable, freshly prepared bistro-style cuisine with pronounced Italian influences.
Owned by the Meloni brothers, originally from Nice, France, with many years or culinary experience in Antibes and San Francisco, the little restaurant – which seats 18 in the dining room, eight at the bar, and six outside – is packed at dinnertime, warmly lit by low-hung fixtures and table tea lights reflected in polished wood surfaces.
Personable and friendly, the brothers are setting the mood in the dining room. General Manager Jerome engages in chats with each customer and pours a starter glass of kir with a lemon twist, while Executive Chef Stephane sets cognac on fire for a steak sauce in his miniscule kitchen.
Operating a baker’s oven, a gas stove, and a crepe range all at once, the chef adds basil and pine nut pistou to fresh linguini, covers soupe a l’oignon with grated Gruyere, and stuffs fresh-baked beignets with pastry cream while being watched by those seated at the bar.
Pissaladière, a traditional caramelized onion tart from Nice, is served with white anchovies (on the side) and black olives, and creates a melt-in-your-mouth sensation of rich sweet-and-savory pastry.
Les Moules – steamed mussels – are prepared in three different ways, and I was happy I decided to choose Mariniere – plump and appetizing in white wine, Noilly Pratt vermouth and butter with shallots and parsley.
Out of four equally enticing varieties of thin-crust pizza, I picked the house specialty, Campagnarde, made with potato sauce, bacon, crème fraiche, caramelized onions and pungent raclette cheese. It plays nicely with Bohemian Highway chardonnay, although there are several whites and even more reds from France and Italy on the Castagna wine list.
A main course of Confit de Canard was just perfect with its crispy skin and succulent flesh, and came on a bed of Tuscan white bean ragout – a lighter version of classic cassoulet, accompanied by a glass of full-bodied Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone.
A dessert of Panna Cotta with Amarena cherries and sliced roasted almonds was airy and satisfactory—a great finale to a well-rounded meal.
Castagna is open nightly for dinner, weekdays for lunch and on weekends for brunch and is located at 2015 Chestnut Street in San Francisco.
Call for reservations (415) 440-4290 or visit their website.