After reading a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a Tapas Tour of the City, Laura and I got excited to try that one for ourselves! As you’ll see by reading thru the blow-by-blow that follows, this turned out to be a fabulous adventure and ranks as probably the best overall culinary experience we’ve had in San Francisco!
The San Francisco Chronicle article that started it all, accessible at SF Chronicle Tapas walk, describes a tour by Kevin Hogan that showcases San Francisco’s Spanish offerings. You can read Kevin’s blog first hand at www.salondelvino.wordpress.com.
Essentially, Tapas are Spanish appetizers, which are typically simple preparations such as marinated olives, sausage, or fried sardines. The idea, as it’s implemented in Spain, is to serve a simple snack that is combined with the social event of wandering from bar to bar. There’s a great book by Polly Evans, “It’s Not About the Tapas”, that offers a wonderful sense of the Tapas experience in Spain.
Laura and I frequent San Francisco semi-regularly, but we’ve certainly never attempted to eat at more than one restaurant in a single evening, so the thought of eating at four or five was pretty daunting. Regardless, using my project manager skills, I printed a map of Financial and North Beach districts of SF and set to work mapping out the restaurants described in Janet’s article.
First, we decided to pull this one off on a Saturday, so we holed up for the night at the Serrano Hotel on Taylor, between Geary & O’Farrell. From there, the restaurant list looked like this:
Our plan was to start at 6pm from the Serrano Hotel (405 Taylor), and walk to Gitane (0.6 miles to 6 Claude Lane), followed by a short hike to B44 (0.1 miles to 44 Belden Place), and another short jaunt to Bocadillos (0.4 miles to 710 Montgomery St.). Then, we would work our way up Columbus to 15 Romolo (0.3 miles to 15 Romolo Place), followed by a stroll down Broadway to Lalola (0.5 miles to 1358 Mason St.) Finally, we hoped we’d catch a cab back to the hotel. But failing that, an energetic dash up Mason would get us back to the hotel (0.8 miles). That’s five restaurants and 2.7 miles!
I’d never been to any of these restaurants, so I wasn’t sure what kind of reception we’d get by showing up (sans reservations) and ordering one drink each and a single small plate of food, then rushing off to our “next engagement”. San Francisco is a pretty laid back place and true to form, we were welcomed energetically at all of these restaurants and there were no apparent hard feelings when we moved on to our next destination after a single plate.
We started out with Gitane, a restaurant that is less than a year old and is located a few blocks off of Union Square in a narrow, easily missed alley. We ordered the stuffed Monterey Squid (very good) and a couple of house special Cocktails (very strong) and the trendy atmosphere made us feel like we were in New York City.
Next was B44, also located in a quiet alley, and the restaurant highest on our list for a return visit. B44 is very welcoming, has a big bar, lots of seating, a friendly and relaxed staff, and great food. We ordered a pair of Sangrias and the warm marinated octopus, which was simply wonderful.
From B44 we moved on to Bocadillos, located in the North Beach area of the City adjacent to the FinancialDistrict. Bocadillos is small, but comfortable and the service is attentive. We had a spicy snapper ceviche, which was really good, along with a glass each of a big red wine from Spain.
From Bocadillos, we followed our map to an interesting part of town which includes the Hustler Club, the Condor Club and a bunch of shops that sell all kinds of “interesting stuff”, if you know what I mean. While potentially not for the faint of heart, it’s a pretty safe part of town and very busy, even late at night.
We arrived at 15 Romolo, a bar located in the Basque Hotel just steps away from the Condor and which clearly does not belong on the list of “good Spanish restaurants in San Francisco.” However, it turns out this place has a unique collection of sherries, they make a mean sangria, and serve up mighty fine marinated olives and a unique jambalini, which is a deep fried ball of “jambalaya” rice.
Saying our goodbyes to the kind folks at 15 Romolo (and the homeless folks just outside), we marched off to Lalola, a true neighborhood establishment at Mason between Pacific & Broadway. There was a unique and pleasant cross-section of locals filling Lalola at 10:30pm, and we enjoyed reflecting on our evening, now 4 plus hours since it started, over a final round of sangrias. Of course, we sampled the stuffed piquillo pepper, a thin pork loin crostini, and a lovely bean (actually, lentil) and sausage soup to pass the time!
And so ended our “Tapas Crawl” of San Francisco. A truly memorable, and worthy of a repeat, tour of some of the best SF has to offer.