San Francisco has a setting that is unlike any other American city I know. Its hills are vertigo-inspiring (is it any wonder that Alfred Hitchcockâ€™s Vertigo was set here?), and its shoreline is breathtaking. The many neoclassical and Beaux Arts-style buildings, some of which bear keystones that date them to the years following the 1906 quake, add a layer of manmade beauty to a natural wonder. The massive Grace Cathedral (pictured above) atop Nob Hill, with its stained glass windows depicting Albert Einstein and Thurgood Marshall, is a prime example.
It seems fitting, then, that one of my best discoveries on my recent trip to the city was a restaurant with a superb setting. Le Colonial, an elegant Vietnamese restaurant, is decorated to bring to mind the days when the nation was still part of French Indochina. Located on the second story of a building on an easy-to-miss alleyway called Cosmo Place (it runs off Taylor Street between Post and Sutter), the restaurantâ€™s entryway holds an interior patio filled with bamboo furniture, wrought-iron pillars, and flower-laced trellises. Inside, the dining rooms are decked out with Oriental rugs and slow-moving ceiling fans.
The waiter was familiar with gluten-free dining, and double-checked everything I was interested in ordering with the chef. I started with the Banh Cuon, an appetizer of steamed rice noodles stuffed with ground chicken and shredded mushrooms, topped off with bean sprouts and chilies. My main dish was Ca Chien Sup Tom Hum, a pan-fried filet of striped bass served atop a rich ragout of lobster, mushrooms, and peas in a hot and sour lobster broth. I was also able to sample the main dish Ca Ri Tom So Diep, shrimp and scallops in a coconut curry sauce with potato, mango, eggplant and basil. That was the entrÃ©e my husband ordered, and as luck would have it, it was gluten free as well. I miss the days when I was able to taste food from his plate, so my visit to Le Colonial was particularly delicious. (I wonder if my husband shares that opinion…)
Le Colonial [address] 20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco, CA 94109 [tel] 415-931-3600 [web] www.lecolonialsf.com