Food: Gitane showcases elegant, eclectic Iberian fare

When Bridget Batson took over the kitchen at Gitane, the Iberian restaurant tucked away in a downtown alley off Bush street, I had to find her.

Batson, who spent 10 years at Hawthorne Lane and then at Two with David Gingrass, is a consummate professional. The rhythms and rituals that make restaurants run smoothly are in her bones. She’s been working in them since she was 15.

What I didn’t know is that Batson is an inspired Spanish cook, adept at layering Catalan and Basque flavors, weaving in the soulfulness of Portugal, the scents of Morocco and a soupcon of French Mediterranean. Heading her own kitchen has released a wellspring of creativity.

Her dishes at Gitane are complex and polished yet earthy; frankly, this is some of the most exciting and luscious food in town.

The very first thing I tasted, calamares ($12) from the wood-fired oven, knocked me over; it’s a mini-paella of tender squid, stuffed with a smooth, buttery forcemeat of bacon, in a haunting, tart green sauce textured with ground almonds.

Piquillos ($9) also emerges from the wood oven, a cazuela of sweet, red Spanish peppers filled with ground veal and nestled into a sofrito, a long cooked, vegetable-enriched sauce scented with celery leaves.

Another stuffed dish, caille ($22), a roasted quail plump with spicy chorizo, split lengthwise and served on a crisp potato gallete smothered in a ragout of corn, also explores the very nature of succulence and texture. Batson’s cooking is all about complexity and depth, not fussiness and confusion.

The intriguing menu, small in both physical size and number of choices, delivers plenty of treats, starting with appetizers.

In sardinas ($12), boned, splayed, fried sardines in a crisp semolina coating are laid over a cubed salad and a  bright, creamy, verjus creme fraiche dressing.

A mini-bastilla ($12), a dome of crackling filo pastry with a juicy mousse of chicken, fragrant with Moroccan spices inside, is delightful.

In  ovo frito ($12), the yolk of deep-fried, crumb crusted Eatwell Farm egg runs onto a caesar-like salad of little gem lettuces, shaved manchego cheese and Spanish anchovies.

Her unique sensibility extends to desserts like plum empanadas ($7), warm, flaky, plum-filled crescents, with a side parfait of marcona almond ice cream and plum sorbet.

She creates these wonders in a tiny kitchen hidden in a corner of a small, multistory brick building decorated with gigantic necklace chandeliers, a flea market aisle of couches, tables, chairs and oversized lamps, and  an antiqued, mirrored disappearing ceiling.

Drinkers at the downstairs bar, always full on my visits, sip before two dramatic, Caravaggio-esque tapestries. Those without reservations sit outdoors, European-style, under an awning.

Gitane is meant to be a raffish place, Dali-esque in mood, but sophisticated and old world in spirit. Batson’s cooking nails its role it in this theatrical setting.

With a user-friendly wine list heavy with Spanish and Portuguese bottles, a big collection of sherries, madeiras and sweet wines curated to go with desserts and a full bar, patrons can settle in for an evening.

Intelligent, personable service makes everyone feel right at home. But it’s Bridget Batson’s cooking that sends Gitane over the top. This eccentric, romantic place found a poet for its kitchen.

Patricia Unterman is the author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Gitane

Location: 6 Claude Lane, San Francisco

Contact: (415) 788-6686; www.gitanerestaurant.com

Hours: 5:30 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 5:30 p.m. to midnight Thursdays-Saturdays

Price range: $9 to $26

Recommended dishes: Fried sardines, stuffed quail, calamares, stuffed piquillo peppers, sole with raisin coulis and chard, grilled yellow tail with peas and harissa vinaigrette, black plum empanadas

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

 

→ Follow Patricia Unterman on Twitter: @SFExaminerFood!

entertainmentFeaturesFood & DrinkFood and Wine

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A cyclist heads past an artistic sign onto Page Street, a Slow Street, at Stanyan Street near Golden Gate Park on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Push to make street closures permanent meets with resistance

Hastily thrown together during the pandemic, Slow Streets program now struggles to build support

Agnes Liang, who will be a senior at Mission High School, is running for one of the two student representative seats on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Turbulent year on school board leaves student delegates undeterred

Around this time last year, Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza were… Continue reading

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Three people killed in SF shootings in less than 24 hours

San Francisco police were scrambling Saturday to respond to a series of… Continue reading

Muni operator Angel Carvajal drives the popular boat tram following a news conference celebrating the return of the historic F-line and subway service on Friday, May 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Mayor, transit officials celebrate return of Muni service

Mayor London Breed and city transit officials gathered Friday to welcome the… Continue reading

San Francisco police investigated the scene of a police shooting near Varney Place and Third Street on May 7. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD shooting may prompt new body camera rules for plainclothes cops

Police chief says incident ‘should not have happened’

Most Read