Chez Maman, San Francisco
Flat-iron Steak Frites
A friend was enthused to take me to get steak frites at Chez Maman, the legendary Potrero Hill grill and one of San Francisco’s tiniest restaurants. Because capacity is maybe 14 or so people, there’s always a wait and the warm kitchen sizzles heighten the anticipation. Supposedly, many people warrant Chez Maman to have the best steak frites in town. For me, that’s a tall ladder to climb as there are many other French and Belgian restaurants (and other restaurants) who dole out a mean steak frites. So I went with low expectations, a good policy when approaching anything with its own hype parade.
The meat for Chez Maman is the flatiron steak, which is a lower-end cut of beef that’s great for searing and serving up simply with fries or a simple veggie side. It’s perfectly seared with “X” or 45-degree angle sear markings and comes out on the plate beautifully juicy. The French fries are excellent, and the green peppercorn sauce is marvelous. My flatiron steak was rare–I don’t like overcooked beef–and it was savory, juicy and satisfying. Not surprisingly, though, it didn’t live up to the ‘best ever’ level of mythology that preceded it like a Roman Emperor’s red cape and dragoon squad. Despite that, it’s a very good steak, not a bad deal at $19 (for this city), and Chez Maman is a really fun experience. Just be prepared to wait for it.
The Vibe: Chez Maman
Chez Maman has a small grill and, appropriately, use old flatirons to sear the beef, about 3 feet away from you if you get the right seat at the long, narrow counter. Good exhibition, good olfactory and aural teasing, a cool little gem of a place, and a good place to get in from the cold if you like to be near kitchen heat. For San Francisco, it works.
The Grade: Very Good
The Damage: $19
The Skinny: Chez Maman