99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Church & State

photo by Anne Fishbein

Long before the grungy factory quadrant of downtown became hip, Church & State was drawing food lovers there to dine on outstanding versions of classic dishes, turned out by a series of exceptional chefs. Since Tony Esnault — Loire Valley native, Patina alum, protégé of Alain Ducasse — took over the stoves, the food at this French bistro, always very good, has gotten even better. Esnault has a light touch and a phenomenal mastery of technique, whether he’s making a bouillabaisse, a delicate dish of farmers market vegetables (the man loves vegetables), an Alsatian tart or a towering holiday croquembouche. The wine list is excellent, the breads are from nearby Bread Lounge, and the setting — exposed loft ceiling, open kitchen, strung-up sparkly lights, French scrawled on wall-mounted chalkboards — will make you swear that you’re in a Parisian temple to bistronomie, not a few miles down from San Julian’s skid row. Watch the chefs playing in the tiny kitchen. Don’t forget to order the marrow bone and the escargot.

-- Amy Scattergood