Appetite: Three reasons to visit Gitane

Pub date March 5, 2011
SectionFood & Drink

Sexy, sultry Gitane had me at “hello” when it opened over two years ago. There is no other place in SF with quite its seductive charm. (In the neighboring alley to Gitane’s Claude Lane, Irish Bank is a festive, beer-soaked hang-out.) Gitane lures you into its tiny space with sherry cocktails and Spanish-Moroccan food. 

With a chef (Bridget Batson) and bar manager (Alex Smith) change months back, Gitane blossoms into further radiance. Still evoking romance with a bold, modern spirit, its charged with new tastes that should draw you back if you’re already a fan, or bring you in if you have never been. Do yourself a favor and make a reservation or pull up to the bar for dinner soon… 

P.S. Reservations often need to be made weeks ahead for prime hours as tables are few, and don’t forget to check out what is one of the more fascinating bathrooms around. 

1. Alex Smith’s Cocktails

If you subscribe to my Perfect Spot newsletter, you’ve been hearing me rave about Smith’s sophisticated cocktails over the past month. Sip the increasingly meaty, much-lauded La Convivencia ($12), made of Four Roses bourbon, East India sherry, sweet vermouth, Nocino, and Smith’s house-made chorizo bitters (vegetarian version also available). Or try the light, luscious La Tardor ($13): No. 209 gin, ruby port, cherry heering and lime, soft with honey and egg white, with sweet, earthy nuance from vanilla bean and white peppercorn. Ask for the off-menu Autumn Flip ($11), creamy with whole egg, Laird’s bonded apple brandy, bitter cinnamon cordial and salted maple syrup. You won’t even need dessert. Cocktail aficionados will marvel at the complex layers of Martyr of Cordoba ($14): Copper Fox‘ white rye, Dry Sack sherry, Dimmi, absinthe, apricot liqueur, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters. There’s just a hint of each element. When you think you are about to call out the ingredients, they slip away, elusive and intriguing.

Lamb Tatare at Gitane. Photo by Virginia Miller

2. Lamb Tartare

Order this dish. Do not fear the raw lamb. Do not expect gaminess. Rather, prepare for fresh, succulent meat to rival the better beef tartares you’ve had. Chef Batson’s lamb tartare ($18) is an unexpected surprise of silky meat, bright with flavor. The added bonus is three dollops of worthy spreads, from an eggplant compote to a mix of pomegranate, walnut, red pepper. There’s currently no other dish like it in town. 

3. Grilled (and stuffed) Calamari

After two recent visits to Gitane, I violate my usual policy of always ordering something different to re-order grilled calamari ($16) stuffed with bacon and onion in a cast-iron skillet. Swimming in an addictive, buttery garlic and herb broth, dotted with Manzanilla olives, cherry tomatoes and heirloom potatoes, I sop up the broth with grilled toasts, my breath happily redolent of garlic. It’s a hefty portion and works as dinner on it’s own. 

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