Northside SF  

Newly Notable: Gitane
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

It’s tough to impress me with decor – first, because I eat out for a living; and second, because I’m not one of those critics who likes to spend three quarters of a review talking about the faux ostrich fabric on the banquettes, or from where in Pakistan the chandeliers were imported. I think the food should come first; that is, after all, the main reason most people frequent particular restaurants. But I have to admit, the interior of the new downtown hot spot, Gitane, blew me away. It also impressed my friend Kevin, who spent many years in the restaurant business before becoming a successful realtor. It would be fair to say he is jaded, but his face lit up like a kid getting a puppy. Fortunately, there’s more to Gitane than meets the eye.

Walking up the dark staircase to the funky, eclectic bistro upstairs feels a bit like entering Disney’s Haunted House if a tornado blew it into Liberace’s bedroom. The brick walls are encased in tempered glass and uplit; the glossy ceilings reflect everything going on below – dishes clattering, candles glowing, diners chowing and chatting, servers dancing gracefully around each other. The crowd is as eclectic as the Euro/hippie/Studio 54-blinged-out design – young and old, couples and friends, business partners and families. The decor, by Mr. Important Design, incorporates artwork from Turkey and England, photographs by Nazif Topçuoglu (with a decidedly Goya moodiness), and sumptuous hand-printed wallpapers by Deborah Bowness that add a vintage Parisian touch. The pretty postcard-sized menus, which mirror the wallpaper, cleverly unfold to display the wine list.
Chef Lisa Eyherabide’s appealing nouvelle Basque cuisine is an excellent match for the enticing space, incorporating lighter takes on traditional dishes tinged with exotic spices. Appetizers ($9-$12) are perfectly portioned for sharing, highlighted by bacon bonbons (goat cheese-stuffed sautéed prunes wrapped in smoky bacon), sweet and savory bastilla (crispy pastry with duck, chicken, raisins, almonds, and Moroccan spices) and chipirones (grilled Monterey squid stuffed with Portobello mushrooms, garlic and onions served on a bed of perfectly al dente lentils with a shallot confit vinaigrette).

The Hill Natural baby back ribs come in two sizes, which I always appreciate; they glisten in a honey-soy glaze atop a bed of silky parsnip puree, flanked with Brussels sprout leaves and crisped bits of Serrano ham ($12/$23). The grilled rack of natural Australian lamb arrives medium rare in a sherry demi-glace with toasted walnuts, baked polenta and garlic broccolini ($27). Eyherabide visits Portugal for a hearty cataplana (named for the hammered copper clamshell-style vessel in which it is cooked), a stew of monkfish, Manila clams, fingerling potatoes, and mild chorizo with white wine and lobster bisque ($24).

Desserts ($7-$8) range from a light Tempranillo-braised seckel pear with caramelized vanilla pound cake to decadently warm sugar-covered beignets served with three dipping sauces (caramel, cherry and spiced chocolate).

Gitane also boasts a lively bar on the first floor with a repertoire of ubiquitous specialty cocktails and a more interesting (and fairly extensive) list of sherries, cavas, Madeira, Spanish brandies, scotches, and wines from Spain, France and Portugal. Like the bistro upstairs, the bar is spectacular; wrapped in warm patterned wood with a background of huge flowing banners emblazoned with those moody photos, all lit by funky globe chandeliers. Beside the host stand, an ornate ironwork cage glows intriguingly cobalt blue and also hides the only restroom, a single unisex. Judging from the line, that single restroom might come back to haunt both patrons and proprietors nearly as much as Topçuoglu’s imagery. Once you make it in, though, it is, of course, fabulous, with imported Italian tile mosaic, three-dimensional artwork, more beautiful wallpaper, and a sparkling crystal chandelier.
Gitane: 6 Claude Lane (near Kearny), 415-788-6686,

– S. D. Reynolds

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