Le Comptoir San Rafael – Restaurant Review
Le Comptoir is a new French bistro that opened in early April 2016 in San Rafael at 1301 4th Street, phone 415-454-5454. Given my love for all things French, including French food, wines and cheeses, I decided to try it and ended up returning for dinner four nights in a row! It’s a great addition to the Marin dining scene and worth a visit.
Le Comptoir (“The Counter”) is located at the corner of 4th and C Streets in downtown San Rafael, in the long-shuttered “Sabor of Spain” restaurant location. Owned by Stephen Bouillez and Susannah Dempsey, Le Comptoir features popular French bistro food in a modern, energetic atmosphere. As you enter you will immediately notice the beautiful light fixtures, the long wooden bar, and the bright red metal seating. The restaurant, sister to popular Gamine on Union Street in San Francisco, was packed each night I was there, including a Sunday night, with diners staying late into the evening and pouring out onto the sidewalk to talk as they do in Paris.
Update April 2018: Le Comptoir has just released a new menu… check it out here.
Dishes are classic yet casual French bistro food, including Grilled Flat Iron Steak Au Poivre with French fries, some of the best Beef Bourguignon I have ever had, a spice-crusted salmon and heaping plates of mussels in white wine garlic sauce (see menu below). Prices are reasonable with the 9 oz steak at $25. “I will always provide value for my guests… it is very important” Stephen said when I asked him about the prices. The fries are out of this world, lightly scented with sea salt, rosemary and just a touch of fennel. I would recommend enjoying them as the French do — without ketchup. Desserts were fabulous — with a variety of crepes, tarts and homemade ice creams.
Stephen and his general manager, Alex Prodhomme, move throughout the restaurant at lightning pace, greeting new diners at the door, joking with patrons and servers alike, and making sure everyone is tended to. A wine glass breaks resulting in a mock “tsk tsk” from Alex as he unceremoniously deposits it in the garbage, smiling as he rushes off to check on another patron. The restaurant has only been open a few weeks but already has “regulars” (including me!) and the friendly, gregarious service results in an experience more like a party than a restaurant. You can tell the team has been working together for years — six years in the case of Alex and Stephen.
Perhaps their most notable menu item is their “poulet roti” or Rotisserie Chicken, which, just like the ubiquitous poulet roti in Paris, is roasted on spits over a bed of potatoes cooking in the chicken fat (see video, below). The chicken is moist and flavorful, and the potatoes absolutely decadent. From what I saw while enjoying a glass of wine at the bar, it is already a popular takeout item for commuters who want to bring dinner home for the family. Please click here to see the menu.
Service is excellent, with teams of servers circulating the (very busy) restaurant floor, making sure every table is looked after. One addition the second night I went was water bottles on each table, which is a nice touch for those who like to stay hydrated while enjoying French wines. Noise level is what I would call “energetic” — but not overwhelming. Even when the restaurant was full on Saturday night, we could carry on a conversation without issue.
Speaking of wines, the area over the bar has a huge assortment. The bar was built for full liquor service but that is still awaiting approval, so for now Le Comptoir serves an assortment of wines you won’t find other places and exotic beers on draft. After a few minutes in the restaurant we were happy just to ask Stephen and Alex to recommend wines which they were happy to do. In many cases, Stephen selects wines for his restaurant from friends who own wineries in France and boasts you won’t find them elsewhere. He recommended a Bordeaux that was out of this world and paired nicely with the steak and fries.
In the future, Stephen said he hopes to offer wine & cheese tasting evenings in their epicerie — or small market — in the space next door. The epicerie features long wooden tables and walls lined with shelves of gourmet French items you won’t easily find elsewhere. At the back of the epicerie is a walk-in refrigerator featuring Stephen’s prized collection of rare French cheeses. Stephen is a true French cheese connoisseur and passionate about the curated selection he is offering. According to Stephen, several of them are not available elsewhere in the United States. If you are a cheese fan, there is definitely a treat in store for you at Le Comptoir.
You can feel the passion that the entire team at this restaurant has towards the food and the experience for diners. When I asked Stephen why this location, he said “15 years ago I saw this exact location and said ‘I want to open a restaurant RIGHT HERE one day!!’ and now I have.” Clearly this is a dream come true for Stephen and his happy patrons.
I definitely felt “at home away from home” as their website states and am very happy to have this new dining option here in Marin County. If you decide to visit, reservations are a good idea, and are not yet available online. You can call the restaurant at 415-454-5454 and reserve a table old world style – over the phone! Please tell them Thomas sent you.
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“Le Comptoir is a Bistrot, Rotisserie, and Epicerie inspired by French cuisine traditions and methods. We are the place you go to feel at home, away from home. Unpretentious, open late, dine in or take out. Le Comptoir is what you make of it. Bon appetit!”