Those with “a gypsy soul” are said to be wandering spirits, incapable of settling down. And Gitane’s Iberian-centric cuisine is a culinary homage to those plagued with wanderlust.
Chef Bridget Batson, who heads the tiny kitchen at this romantic, colorful Financial District eatery, calls her menu “a gypsy’s journey.”
Gitane, which means gypsy in French, focuses on the sultry foods of the Iberian Peninsula. For those needing a geography refresher course, the Iberian Peninsula includes southern France, Spain and Portugal. And Batson, as a gypsy might, also drifts down into neighboring Morocco when creating the “simple and fun” dishes on her menu.
And why did Gitane’s gypsy opt to travel through the Iberian Peninsula?
“We wanted to steer clear of the word ‘Mediterranean,’ ” Batson explains. “We felt it was a bit overdone. We wanted to be more specific to a particular region.”
Mindful of Gitane’s highly chromatic and eccentric — in the best possible sense of the word — décor, Batson focuses on flavor over fuss.
“I don’t want to fight with the dining room,” she says. “I want [the food] to be noticed in the dining room without overpowering anything or being overpowered as well.”
Batson need not worry about her food holding its own against the boldly decorated Gitane. Frankly, she had me — and my large group of friends, old and new — from the start with her bacon bonbons ($10). This crowd-pleasing appetizer features smoky bacon-wrapped sweet prunes stuffed with mildly salty goat cheese in a spiced port glaze.
Other notable aperitius (Catalan for snacks) include Moroccan-inspired bastilla ($13). Bastilla is one of my all-time fave dishes. And Batson does a wonderful take on this sweet-savory pastry dish. (Embarrassingly enough, my notes on this dish say “yummy!”) She fills her ultra-buttery crust with chicken and crunchy cinnamon-spiced almonds and serves it with an apricot-fennel salad.
Moving a bit outside my comfort zone, I also sampled sardinas ($12), a quintessentially Iberian tapa. Indeed, the lightly breaded sardines were a bit fishy, but not overwhelmingly so. And I appreciated the cool and clean flavors of the accompanying fresh grapes, hearts of palm and merjus crème fraiche. The dish paired perfectly with a cold and crisp palate-cleansing glass of Spanish sherry.
Batson also offers a small selection of horno de leña, or wood-fired dishes. The Husband, who loves squid, picked calamares ($16), from which he graciously gave me a taste. Served with a garlicky pesto (or pistou), the oven-grilled squid were stuffed with a lively blend of bacon, onion, manzanilla olives, cherry tomatoes and heirloom potatoes.
Like most Bay Area chefs, Batson is committed to using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and she tweaks her menu regularly, so a few of the entrées we sampled during our early spring visit have said adiós, adieu and adeus.
Among those remaining, however, is a traditional Moroccan tajine ($20), a couscous-based dish served in colorful clay pots. Batson’s version blends spicy chicken breast with briny green olives, cauliflower and almonds in a saffron-spiked tomato broth.
Peix roca ($23) showcases bass-like rockfish. Pan roasting gives the light and firm fish a terrific crisp finish, and Batson presents it with a mildly hot chickpea stew, eggplant yogurt, broccoli rabe and herb salad.
Sampled and gone (but hopefully returning one day) were rabada ($26), or beefy braised oxtail accompanied with celery root “noodles” and pickled baby carrots, and espadon ($26), a nicely grilled swordfish plated with honey-roasted squash, salty and crisp kale, and pumpkin seed pesto.
Pastry chef Drew Hash’s desserts were a wonderful end to our caravan’s journey. Our group shared dense hot date cake ($7) with medjool dates, honey crème fraiche toffee, and port glaze. The suggested pairing with sparkling Spanish espumoso de muscatel was spot on. Chocolate soufflé ($10) with orange blossom cream, blood orange sorbet and an unconventional olive oil gelato satisfied the chocolate lovers in our group. But the big hit was decadent, hot-out-of-the-fryer beignets ($7) served with melted chocolate, seasonal fruit preserves (kumquat and honey, during our visit) and — pardon the expression — orgasmic “naughty cream” (essentially liquid crème brulee).
Speaking on behalf of our group, our meal at Gitane — aperitius to desserts — rocked our gypsy souls.
6 Claude Lane
San Francisco, California 94108