Gypsy Spirit Is Alive & Well at Gitane

Looking up from a bar stool at the seductive Gitane

Chris Hannah’s Jenibre Smash

GITANE, Financial District (6 Claude Lane between Bush & Sutter Streets, 415-788-6686)

While I miss the sophisticated, out-of-the-box cocktails of former bar managers Carlo Splendorini and Alex Smith at Gitane (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 to 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-ceiling 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.

Bright, meaty Citrics Salad

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 (see my Guardian review one year ago). 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.

Gitane’s sexy space

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 my favorite coca 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.
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Hidestsugu Ueno’s Bamboo

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 gypsy-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 (aka a vinegar-based syrup), sour, vibrant, and palate-cleansing. I’m taken with Tokyo bartending legend Hidetsugu Ueno’s (of Bar High Five) dry, refined Bamboo, combining dry vermouth, amontillado sherry, and two 1890’s bitters recipes created by Louis Eppinger at the Yokohama Grand Hotel.

Nepove’s Caiprinha Con Moras

On a warmer day, I’d gravitate toward David Nepove’s (formerly of Enrico’s, USBG national president) Caipirinha Con Moras. 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 New Orleans’ Chris Hannah (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. Their sherry list is impressive, with plenty of Madeira, Port, brandies, and after dinner sips. An interesting companion to the hearty quail/chorizo entrée is a 2008 Domaine des Ouled Thaleb Benslimane Zenata ($12 glass/$35 carafe/$48 bottle), a 100% Syrah from Morocco.

Ham, pear, Manchego Coca

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, salty caramel Charleston Sercial Madeira ($15 glass), and Gutierrez Colosia Moscatel Soleado Sherry ($10 glass).

My favorite cocktail on the new menu is the oldest recipe from 1800’s San Francisco bartending legend, Cocktail Bill Boothby (who our educational spirits hub, The Boothby Center, is named after). 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.