APPETITE While I miss the sophisticated, out-of-the-box cocktails of former bar managers Carlo Splendorini and Alex Smith (they both continue to craft excellent drinks, Splendorini at Michael Mina, Smith at Honor Bar), I am pleased to say Gitane, one of the sexiest spots in all of SF, is still a drink-worthy location. I’d be remiss not to likewise return to the Moroccan and Spanish-influenced menu that chef Bridget Batson has been rocking for years.
Sitting at Gitane’s bar under massive chandeliers and deep red tapestries, in a narrow, high-ceilinged space, one feels tucked away in some secret European bordello. The tiny, upstairs dining room is equally seductive and intimate, with a view over the bar. Perched on velvety bar stool, I find an ideal locale for drinks, food and chatting with fellow diners.
Batson’s grilled calamari ($16) stuffed with bacon and onion, and her unparalleled lamb tartare ($18) with three spreads remain top dishes on the menu. Bastilla ($13) and chicken breast tajine ($22) are still Moroccan highlights. Bright and wintery, a citrics salad ($12) is tangerines, cara cara and blood oranges vivid on chicories with Serrano ham in a pumpkin seed pesto.
On the entrée front, Caille ($28) is a hearty quail overflowing with chorizo apple stuffing over celery root gratin in pool of cider jus. I can’t imagine doing much better for a simple meal than a coca (Catalan flatbread, $15–$16) and a cocktail. The coca bread bubbles not unlike a blistered Neapolitan pizza crust. Go the vegetarian route topped with wild mushroom, drunken goat cheese, and oregano, or with my favorite, layered with Serrano ham, Bosc pears, manchego cheese, and thyme.
Keeping food pairing ever in mind, the current bar menu focuses on low alcohol cocktails. The bar is now helmed by Ramon Garcia who worked with both former bar managers. He maintains Gitane’s ethos, its continued sherry focus, its gypsy spirit (Gitane means gypsy, after all). Ramon assembled a new menu with spirits expert and Yamazaki Japanese whiskey brand ambassador Neyah White, who, even after all this time, I still miss behind the bar at Nopa.
There’s a lovely nod to cocktails created here in the past: two classic Gitane recipes are rotated regularly on the menu. The bulk of the new menu goes global, wandering Romany-like with various bartenders from around the world, featuring their best sherry cocktails. In keeping with the gypsy theme, the bar will feature a different spirit every couple months from their extensive collection, showcasing cocktails and traditional serving preparations, like Italian amaro on the rocks in the summer.
From the cocktail list, one of Neyah’s Nopa greats, a Sherry Shrub, is a mix of merely two ingredients: barbadillo manzanilla sherry and a seasonal fruit based shrub (a vinegar-based syrup): sour, vibrant, and palate-cleansing. I’m taken with the Bamboo, by Tokyo bartending legend Hidetsugu Ueno, of Bar High Five: dry and refined, combining dry vermouth, amontillado sherry, and two 1890s bitters recipes created by Louis Eppinger at the Yokohoma Grand Hotel.
On a warmer day, I’d gravitate toward the Caipirinha Con Moras by David Nepove, formerly of Enrico’s, and US Bartenders Guild national president. Fruit will change seasonally, but his take on Brazil’s national cocktail mixes Pedro Ximenez sherry and shaved nutmeg with cachaca (sugar cane rum). Another refresher is the Jenibre Smash from Chris Hannah of New Orleans’ French 75 Bar: Dry Sack sherry, Canton ginger liqueur, lemon, sugar, and mint are served over crushed ice. It’s delicately bright and minty, going down all too easy.
Gitane boasts an Iberian (Spain, Portugal, France) heavy wine list, although California is nicely represented. The sherry list is impressive, with plenty of Madeira, Port, brandies, and after dinner sips. An interesting companion to the hearty quail and chorizo entrée is a 2008 Domaine des Ouled Thaleb Benslimane Zenata ($12 glass, $35 carafe, $48 bottle), a 100 percent Syrah from Morocco. It’s big and bold in keeping with warm Moroccan temperatures, but maintains just enough acidity to pair with food. It’s welcome given the strong Moroccan food influence. After dinner pleasures were strongest in an earthy Charleston Sercial Madeira ($15 glass) from Rare Wine Co., and Gutierrez Colosia Moscatel Soleado Sherry from El Puerto ($10 glass).
My favorite cocktail on the new menu is the oldest recipe from 1800’s San Francisco bartending legend, Cocktail Bill Boothby, after whom our local educational spirits hub, The Boothby Center, is named. The Boothby is essentially a Manhattan (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters) topped with sparkling wine. It’s lush, sexy, and full bodied… not at all unlike Gitane.
6 Claude Lane, SF
Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com