Food & Drink: French connections

Le Comptoir is no bistro of burden

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The char-grilled asparagus is the stalk of the town. Photo courtesy of Le Comptoir.

By Tanya Henry

When I learned that husband-and-wife team Stephen Bouillez and Susannah Dempsey had owned Gamine, a French bistro in San Francisco for 10 years before they opened Le Comptoir—I was relieved. With the risky nature of restaurants, it’s reassuring to know the couple behind the sparkly new (four-month-old) Le Comptoir are industry veterans.

For as long as Sabor of Spain occupied this prime space on Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael, it never seemed like it quite fit. Conversely, this cheery bistro with plenty of bright red accents, a few outdoor tables and an inviting storefront seems to not only fit in—but its lively vibe has infused new life into the entire block.

Le Comptoir translates to “the counter” and so it makes sense that the space offers plenty of counter options—including 13 seats at the bar and several high-tops that are kept open for walk-ins. Though reservations are taken for table seating, the owners are intent on making their bistro accessible, in terms of cost and seating availability.

Look for classic bistro fare including moules mariniere, poulet roti, escargot and Le Burger, that is, of course, served with pommes frites. For an extra $2.50, an egg can be added to the bacon, Emmental cheese, and caramelized onion–filled Parisian-style bun. Both a charcuterie platter and lightly fried camembert are popular hors d’oeuvres that pair easily with the over 160 wine selections (about 20 by the glass)—of which the majority are French.

Along with the sit-down bistro option, folks can also browse the adjoining epicerie, or retail store, that specializes in—you guessed it—French specialty food items. Truffle oil, vinegars, desserts and over 70 different cheeses are on hand. And there is another cool tie-in—select ingredients used in the kitchen are also available for purchase in the store.

The San Rafael–based restaurateurs are thrilled with the location of their newest venture. It is their hope to not only bring their beloved cuisine to the downtown neighborhood, but to also share their love and knowledge of all things French with their customers.

Given that I tried to walk into Le Comptoir on a Saturday night without a reservation and there wasn’t a seat in the house—I’d say Marinites are more than willing and eager to experience a taste of France on Fourth Street.

Le Comptoir, 1301 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415/454-5454; lecomptoirsr.com.

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