In the wake of a number of January closings, including some long-timers I'd rather not see go (like Vivande Porta Via), I've been reflecting on those neighborhood spots or classic restaurants we often forget are there but don't want to lose. From time to time, I'd like to share reviews of places we'd do well to re-visit... or get to for the first time. They might be receiving a fresh infusion of flavor from recent chef or menu changes, or are good enough to remain noteworthy, despite the flood of new openings and (over)hyped hot spots. The Grand Cafe is one of them.
Elegant but relaxed, Grand Cafe  is easy to overlook. For starters, it's in a hotel (Hotel Monaco) which gives it the tourist stigma. It's been there for years and is so centrally located right next to Union Square and ACT theaters, that locals often forget about it. It's long been a solid place for a meal, but with new Lyon chef de cuisine, Sophiane Benaouda, at the helm, there's new life being infused into every corner... whether you have a martini lunch in the grand dining room or wine and appetizers in the cafe/tavern area. Benauouda comes from France's three-star Michelin restaurant, L’Auberge de L’Eridan, and was trained at none other than Paul Bocuse’s Chateau du Vivier.
His energy is infectious, amping up classic Provençal dishes as well as fresh takes on specials like dark, pink, medium-rare buffalo with artistically-arranged scalloped potatoes. Benauouda's scallops are seared perfectly, and a glass of champagne with garlicky escargots de Bourgogne is a fine respite all by itself. Maybe you add in a round of oysters or king crab legs. Or it's an espresso and dessert break with a Lemon Meringue Tart (ask about pastry chef, Jessica Miller’s chocolates, particularly the buttery sea salt truffle). Whatever way you use the cafe, as a quick stop or a full meal, it's truly a downtown asset and one of those touristy locations locals can appreciate.
501 Geary Street
in Hotel Monaco