Bocadillos Tapas and Wine Bar: San Francisco vs. Spain
Spanish tapas (“tops” or “covers”) were originally designed as little plates with olives, jamón, or Manchego to cover a beer glass from flies in a bar. Over the years, they evolved into a culinary cult, especially in gourmet-heavy places such as San Francisco, where the sheer volume of enticing offerings in any given restaurant creates a problem of choice for its patrons.
Having several different small bites instead of one solid meal appeals to many contemporary diners. Tasting and nibbling satisfies their cravings and curiosity and, at the same time, precludes overeating (or presumably so).
Bocadillos Tapas and Wine Bar in the heart of Jackson Square neighborhood is one of those places that can proudly compete with the tapas of Spain because it takes the art of small plates to a higher level of quality and creativity.
The owner, San Francisco celebrity chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Gerald Hirigoyen (of Fringale and Piperade fame), recently appointed James LaLonde as the restaurant’s new chef, and the first few months of LaLonde’s leadership have proven to be extremely successful.
“I saw in chef LaLonde the ideal combination of culinary sophistication, professional experience, and personal passion to enhance our menu, and I gave him the chance to take the lead,” said Hirigoyen.
Chef LaLonde promptly introduced some unusual tapas, such as the silkiest chicken liver mousse with sherry, strawberry compote, and watercress, and seasonal mushrooms (maitake) roasted with garlic and herbs. Traditional all-time favorites shine anew at Bocadillos.
Head-on grilled prawns, sprinkled with chili flakes, fresh parsley, crushed garlic, and lemon zest confit, maintain the aroma of seawater.
Patatas bravas with house-made romesco sauce are crispy on the outside, delightfully crumbly on the inside, and positively addictive.
As for the genuine, no-frills bocadillos (“sandwiches”), they are made gourmet with 24-month Serrano ham on a bun, saturated with tomato the way it’s done in Spain, or with a mini lamb burger topped with aioli, shallot, and tomato on a sesame roll.
The bar at Bocadillos is not just for a sleek look. A good selection of California, Basque, Spanish, and French wines by sommelier/wine-buyer Brian Burke is complemented with Spanish, Belgian, German, and California beers, Basque cider, and several kinds of sherry.
In a witty design twist, wine bottles are incorporated in a floor detail at the entrance.
Red-painted brick walls with black high-table/bar-stool seating for two, red and orange light fixtures, a large communal table, and cozy nooks by the bar create an ambiance equally romantic and open to socializing. It’s easy to share tapas recommendations and friendly remarks with fellow diners waiting for dessert.
“Arm of gypsy” cake is made with hazelnut mousse and whole, peeled hazelnuts. Moist and airy, this might be the best version of sponge cake known to the cake-savvy American diners.
A seemingly simple kefir yogurt dessert is unbelievably creamy and drowned in strawberry compote, stewed in cava, and sweetened with honey. It is sprinkled with cacao nibs for added crunch.
Both desserts pair heavenly with fine sherry La Guita Manzanilla—sweet and golden, and, just like everything on the menu, moderately priced.
In addition to the evening tapas menu, Bocadillos is open at 7 a.m. on weekdays, serving Spanish-inspired breakfast including Catalan sausage hash and poached eggs with ventresca salad. Lunch options include an array of small sandwiches that can be mixed and matched and a to-go menu of soups, sandwiches, and special carryout items. Happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. features various tasting flights.
Bocadillos is located at 710 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Limited advance reservations are newly available, and walk-in guests are always welcome. Contact manager Luke McKinley (luke @ bocasf.com—remove the spaces) to arrange private events, a specialty of the house. For more information, call (415) 982-BOCA (2622).