Gitane is located on quiet Claude Lane between the Financial District and Union Square. Gitane has eclectic yet comfortable furnishings that create a romantic dining experience. The menu focuses on the range of cuisines from the Iberian Peninsula, which stretches from southern France through Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. In addition to the foods of Iberia, the bar at Gitane has made a specialty of the Sherries of Spain and Portugal. The staff is well-versed in both the food and spirits of the region and Gitane is a relaxing choice for a taste of Iberia in an eclectic and festive space.Read More ...
Gitane is located on Claude Lane, which sits between Bush and Kearny streets in downtown San Francisco, within very easy walking distance to public parking. Claude Lane serves the Financial District as well as the Union Square area and Gitane (which means “gypsy woman”), and is a surprising slice of bohemia in this interesting neighborhood.
The chef, Bridget Batson, spent ten years at Hawthorne Lane and has just recently taken over at Gitane to guide its Iberia-influenced menu. The Iberian Peninsula includes southern France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. These are old cuisines and any chef must be confident of her skills and flexible in her approach when taking the diner on a tour of Iberia.
My dining companion and I approach Claude Lane on a dark, blustery, and rainy night that fosters a romantic mood for exploring the food of Gitane. The big awning over the entrance is well lit and sheltering; we feel immediately welcomed. The foyer of Gitane is intentionally dark and it takes a moment to get our bearings. Gitane’s interior is thoughtfully eclectic in that it may appear to be an informal dining room transplanted from Morocco, but its design has been carefully planned and executed. The maitre d’ station stands beside a wall covered by a metal screen and has a view down into the generous and active bar.
Guests can descend half a flight of stairs and walk through the bar area with its exotic tapestries, oversized lights, and happy customers. The full-service bar specializes in Sherries, Madeiras, and Spanish and Portuguese wines. If you do not have a dinner reservation, you may wait in the bar or sit outdoors under an awning on Claude Lane.
The dining area is a flight of stairs up from the bar and overlooks the bar activity. The conversation from the bar combines with the music in the dining room to create background noise that is reminiscent of a souk. The walls are dark red, the ceiling lights are recessed and provide muted lighting, and the clientele is primarily relaxed and nicely dressed. There are large and dramatic flower arrangements, mirrored walls, lit and glass enclosed brick walls, and small votive candles on each table. The banquet seating is upholstered in contemporary fabric and the freestanding dining tables are generously sized and fantastically shaped.
The interior is a clever combination of French collage wallpaper, small black and white tiles, swap meet oddities, dark flooring, Turkish artifacts, and modern finishes that encapsulate the restaurant-as-theater environment. As we are seated, the dim lighting, comfortable space, and spices that float from the kitchen relax us for the dinner ahead.
The dinner menu, water carafe, and glasses are brought to the table quickly. The food menu is fairly concise and is composed of five to six selections from each group of appetizers, entrees, vegetable side dishes, and flatbreads from the wood burning oven. The wine menu offers red and white selections mainly from Spain, Portugal, and France, with a small selection from California. The staff is very well trained to help you navigate both the dinner menu and the wine list and they are happy to answer all the questions you may have.
We make our wine selections and they are delivered quickly and efficiently. My French white Limoux arrives cold and crisp, and my dining partner’s red Saint Chinian, also from France, is light and uncomplicated. Our wines are set before us just as a flight of Sherries arrive for the diners at the table next to us. Gitane highlights thirty Sherries and we had listened to the staff describe them and help the couple at the next table choose an appropriate flight. As three small glasses are lined up on the table, the whole concept looks so unique and smells so wonderful that we decide that it would be a fun thing to try with dessert.
But first, we choose our appetizers. I have a weakness for sardines and can rarely pass them up, so I don’t. Gitane’s Sardinas arrive hot and delicious. They are cut in half, coated with semolina, and sautéed until crisp. They are served over a neutral bed of diced hearts of palm and diced apple with cream fraiche.
The Calamares is a generous portion of squid stuffed with bacon and onions. The rich sauce contains olives, tomatoes, and potatoes, and is served on a platter with warm flat bread to soak up the flavorful sauce. It is a large portion that could easily slip over onto the entrée list of the menu.
The Chicken Tajine does not arrive in a tall, conical Tajine baking dish as I expect; instead, the couscous arrives in one baking dish and the chicken arrives in a second baker encouraging me to build my own entrée. I spoon a chicken leg and a combination of cauliflower, almonds, and preserved lemon sauce onto the couscous, helping myself twice to the sauce that provides the chicken with its Iberian accent. This is a filling dish on a cold and rainy night.
The substantial portion of Agneau has two lamb components – two roasted Sonoma lamb chops and a braised lamb shoulder. The lamb chops are cooked medium-rare, as requested, and are tender and flavorful. The mild lamb shoulder gets its flavor from the peppers and mushrooms that it is braised in. The sweet potato puree that accompanies the lamb is light in texture and melts on the tongue. Pomegranate juice that has been concentrated into thick, tart syrup accompanies the lamb as a traditional seasoning of this region.
Desserts this evening include the Valrhona Chocolate Trio consisting of the espresso torte, chocolate ganache with orange gelato, and chocolate molten cake. Perhaps this decadent chocolate trio should also slide over onto the entrée side of the menu: the rich smell of chocolate enveloped us and we duel with our spoons for the first bite.
Traditionally, Beignets (pronounced “ben-yays”) are small, air-filled, deep-fried puffs of dough covered with confectioner’s sugar. They are also usually served at breakfast. Gitane’s take on Beignets is to serve them for dessert by making them a bit larger and more cake-like than those served in, for example, New Orleans. Gitane covers their beignets with chocolate sauce and a scoop of fruit preserves.
The Gitane experience is romantic and cozy. The food ranges from comfort cuisine to the more exotic flavors of the Iberian region without overwhelming the diner. The serving staff is very well-trained and can easily come to the aid of the diner who may puzzle over the culinary riches of the Iberian Peninsula.
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