Walking into the reopened L'Appart Resto in San Anselmo on a recent weeknight, I was greeted by the sound of Serge Gainsbourg's raspy voice and a French-accented host welcoming us for dinner. It set the tone for the meal ahead: authentically French, and graciously so.
After shuttering last November after only five months of business, L'Appart re-emerged from winter hibernation in February with a more informal look and a new bistro menu. The original restaurant had a distinctly special-occasion vibe and suffered from slow weekday traffic, leading the owners to retool their concept toward a more family- and neighborhood-friendly approach. Judging by the number of kids and four-tops in the dining room, it seems they've succeeded.
With a spring chill still in the air, the enclosed outdoor patio remained empty, but one can easily imagine sipping Pinot Blanc and devouring bowls of mussels Provencal at one of the umbrella-shaded tables with a group of friends on a warm summer evening. The interior dining room is intimate, with barely 30 seats (the patio seats another 40), a communal farm-style dining table, a six-stool bar and diffused lighting.
Within moments of being seated, a basket of crusty warm baguette arrived, along with an aperitif menu featuring classic French libations such as a Kir Royal, Dubonnet rouge and a mimosa. I opted for a Lillet Blanc on the rocks, and perused the rustic French dinner menu: modest but varied, comprised of seven appetizers and nine entrees, plus four sides and a cheese-and-charcuterie plate. Prices vary from a $6 soup du jour to a $15 foie gras au torchon for appetizers, and from a $15 Manila clams marniere to a $25 steak frites for entrees. (A $13 kobe beef cheeseburger is sure to please the small fries.)
Our first appetizer of croquettes de brandade—breaded and fried balls of cod and potatoes served with a bright pesto aioli—was perfectly paired with a crisp Pinot Blanc. Crunchy and hot on the outside, creamy and salty on the inside, the croquettes came nested in a mesh basket lined with French newspaper, and were gone in two minutes. An order of squid stuffed with chorizo, peppers and rice, baked with tomato basil concasse, was devoured less fervently.
The wine list at L'Appart offers an excellent selection of wines by the glass, both French and Californian, which enticed us to switch to a full-bodied Cotes du Rhone for our meatier main courses. An entree special of rabbit with olive-stuffed loins was perfectly braised and tender, served atop a bed of buttery rich fettuccini and steamed baby vegetables. But the steak frites was the star dish of the night. L'Appart's version includes a thin cut of mild but juicy Black Angus rib-eye with green peppercorn sauce and a heaping pile of house-cut fries. The gravy's bold flavor is a perfect foil to the rib-eye, and the shoestring potatoes are light, crisp and addictive. I cleaned my plate and had to pass on the profiteroles for dessert—but I can't say I wasn't tempted.
L'Appart Resto, 636 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. 415.256.9884.