Visiting Paris last summer with my family, we quickly discovered that rather than taking our concierge’s advice on where to dine — often over-priced tourist traps — we were better off wandering into little cafes on the side streets for authentic, delicious French cuisine.
When I walked into Bistro Unique on Union Street, it felt just like a time machine. The cozy atmosphere, complete with a brick wall along the back of the restaurant, and a charming French waiter, completed my fantasy. Owner Yannick Coindoz hails from Lyon, and he was the former owner of the Hyde Street Bistro. He brought chef Andre Tripier, originally from Chablis, with him to this new venture.
The dinner menu at Bistro Unique is French to the core. Start your meal with a classic French appetizer: les moules marinieres ($12), steamed mussels with butter, white wine, garlic, and shallots. Of course, escargots ($8) are on the menu along with French onion soup with melted Emmental cheese ($8). We shared the foie gras and chicken liver mousse with toasted brioche and a brandied prune ($10) and delighted in the silky texture of the mousse and the light buttery toast.
Entrées consist of French classics, including a cassoulet ($22) with duck confit, pork, and garlic Toulouse sausage; steak au poivre ($26) with house-made fries; poulet cordon bleu ($19) in a Calvados reduction sauce; and coquilles Saint Jacques à la Provençale ($22), seared scallops with parmesan cheese risotto and ratatouille in a sun-dried tomato sauce. Everything is beautifully presented, and the simple salade Nicoise ($18) with seared Ahi tuna, green beans, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, and tomatoes had the perfect combination of flavors. Bistro Unique has nightly specials; we sampled the braised short ribs, which were scrumptious with succulent meat falling off the bone.
The restaurant sings the praises of its tarte tatin, a caramelized apple tart with butterscotch sauce, but my vote goes to the marquise au chocolat, a rich slice of creamy dark chocolate ganache served with brandied cherries. There is also a white chocolate mousse, a cinnamon-scented poached pear with rum-raisin ice cream, and seasonal fruit sorbets. All desserts are $8.
An ample wine list featuring many French wines along with those from Spain, Argentina, and California rounds out the menu. The restaurant recently started serving brunch, and I’m already planning another visit. I just can’t get those Parisian omelets out of my head.
Bistro Unique: 1849 Union Street (btw. Laguna & Octavia); dinner Monday–Friday 5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 6 p.m.–11 p.m.; brunch Thursday–Sunday 10 a.m.–3 p.m., (415) 346-1280, www.bistrouniquesf.com