Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to share.
The quesadillas are wittier than the run-of-the-mill sort. I was especially taken by a vegetarian version ($10.50) filled with a sauté of red and yellow bell peppers and zucchini, and smears of goat cheese. The quesadilla, duly grilled, was cut into quarters and stacked like a club sandwich, which made it easier to share, sharing being a recurrent motif at Chez Maman, perhaps because of the close quarters or the sense of maternal vigilance.
Across the way, my friend took a deep whiff of his niçoise salad ($13.50), as if he were warming his face over a steamy bowl of soup.
"It smells fishy," he said with satisfaction, "like the real thing." The salad included fresh grilled tuna, naturally, to contribute to this authenticating perfume, but also anchovy fillets, whose aroma is indispensable in certain preparations. I have had niçoise salads, even good niçoise salads, without anchovies, but anchovies are, without doubt, an improvement. (The rest of the salad was satisfyingly standard-issue: quarters of hard-boiled eggs and tomato, green beans, potatoes, and black olives.)
Perhaps the most genuinely French aspect of the Chez Maman experience is the service. As those who've visited France know, the French tend not to fawn over restaurant customers. Service is generally crisp and correct, and servers are pleasant while avoiding the noisome American tic of pretending to be your friend. Chez Maman's service offers a version of this brisk continental experience, which is intensified by the crowding smallness of the place into a blend of efficiency and urgency. Plates clatter, people come and go, and Maman reminds us, gently but firmly, not to talk with our mouths full. *
CHEZ MAMAN POTRERO HILL
Mon.Fri., 11:30 a.m.11 p.m.; Sat.Sun., 10:30 a.m.11 p.m.
1453 18th St., SF
Beer and wine
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