Bistro Central Parc Serves Homey Parisian Brunch in NOPA

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Bistro Central Parc occupies a sunny corner on a largely non-commercial stretch of NOPA, at Central and Grove. So quiet, in fact, that you may start to doubt your sense of direction -- that is, until you see the restaurant's bold, vaguely familiar black and white striped awning (it looks exactly like the ones at every Ambiance boutique in the city). But here, in this context, it feels a little like Paris. 

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The awning covers a smattering of round bistro tables outside, protected by a thick curtain of plastic. But even with the sun shining San Francisco isn't suited for outdoor dining this time of year, so only one woman sits out there, warming up with a mug of coffee and a book.

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Inside, the restaurant isn't exactly cozy, but it is warm. A low humming of chatter fills the air, while casually dressed, smiling wait staff bus mimosas and Benedicts to unadorned wooden tables. The space is bright and simple. Light pours in through rectangular windows, and there's one poster on the wall: a cartoon depiction from an old French movie very unlike the dramatic, floor-to-ceiling vintage booze posters popular in other brasseries. The term "unpretentious" gets thrown around in the dining scene, but Bistro Central Parc keeps fake flowers in the bathroom.

The effect is homey and endearing and, in a way, so is the food. It's true bistro fare, from the escargots ($9.50) to the Steak Frites ($19.50), staples of the brunch and dinner menus. The brunch menu is divided into oeufs (eggs), déjeuner (lunch) and specialtiés de la maison, all classic preparations with reasonable price tags.

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Bistro Central Parc's cappuccino

In typical French fashion, the beverage selection consists of primarily of wine and coffee. Mimosas, predictably, are popular at brunch, as is basic black coffee, served in a mug printed with the restaurant's name but that otherwise looks just like one you'd have in your cupboard. The cappuccino ($3) is a treat, loaded with thick foam and dusted on top with sweetened cocoa powder, which is torched to caramelize it before serving. The house squeezed orange juice ($5) is another standout.

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The Eggs Florentine, served with potatoes and greens

The egg dishes aren't fancy, but they are well prepared, and the chefs don't skimp on ingredients. The Eggs Florentine ($12.50) offers a perfectly poached egg and sautéed spinach over English muffins, all doused with plenty of Hollandaise.

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Omelet with Swiss cheese, spinach and mushrooms

The Omelet ($9) is a build-your-own style, with a sampling of fillings to choose from: spinach, swiss cheese, mushrooms, grilled onions, ham and smoked salmon. And oddly, chorizo -- a house daily special that's out of its element on this menu. The omelets are satisfying, loaded with veggies and mild, stringy cheese. Potatoes and greens come alongside all of the egg dishes, served almost naked -- the potatoes, roasted, and the greens, lightly dressed with a shallot vinaigrette. It's a far cry from the deep fried hash browns with heavy, in-your-face seasonings prized at so many other brunches. Leave it to the French to let a potato just be a potato.

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French Onion Soup

On the lunch menu, it's impossible to go wrong with the onion soup ($9), especially since the restaurant cannot be faulted for us burning our tongues on the impossibly savory (and hot) broth. Silky onions, soaked bread and delicate herbs star in this dish -- along with the thick layer of broiled cheese on top, of course.

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The Croque Madame, topped with a sunny-side up egg and served with cornichons

The Croque Madame ($12.50) is made with sweeter pain de mie bread instead of the crusty type, making for a soft and gentle sandwich. Ham, béchamel and more Swiss cheese fill the middle, while a sunny-side up egg sits on top. Naturally it's rich, as Croques usually are, but the bistro continues its trend of seasoning with a light hand here.

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French toast with creme fraiche and fresh fruit

The same fluffy bread forms the basis of the French Toast ($12), flavorful and not too sweet (until drizzled with syrup). The restaurant offers pure maple syrup for an additional $1.50, and it's worth the splurge. A dollop of creme fraiche comes on the plate, along with a pile of fresh fruit, which includes not just boring melon but strawberries, too.

On a Sunday, the after church crowd steps in to look for a table, and parties of two and four are seated immediately. The bar is unoccupied aside from a ponytailed man scribbling on a notepad in between bites of his Croque Monsieur. Some are in sweatpants, some in demure dresses and flats, but they all look comfortable -- the true sign of a neighborhood gem.  

In a sense, Bistro Central Parc is similar to so many cafes in Paris. It may not be the place you gush to your friends about the next day,  but it's the one you return to time and time again.


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Bistro Central Parc

560 Central, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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