Monday, June 12, 2006

Bocadillos: Tasty, Trendy Tapas

I've always been a bit suspect of tapas, or even just small-plates, restaurants. With quick and simple analysis, it's clear that the margins at these places are impressive. Less ingredients, more dishes at growing prices, and social ordering generally add up to big bills. Five years ago, my suspicion is that restauranteurs licked that chops at the emerging fad, and rushed to open a number of ill-conceived venues.

I've since realized that I fixated on this issue of concept and value mostly because I was rarely thoroughly impressed with the food and the overall experience. Granted, I've really enjoyed both
Zarzuela, which serves traditional Spanish fare on Russian Hill, and Isa, where very-talented chef Luke Seng serve French small plates in the Marina. But those two have been the exception and not the rule. Generally I've pictured the owner of the typical small-plates restaurant as grinning feverishly at their good fortune that people actually began to like that format in the first place.

That said, the tapas industry seems to be turning a corner in the past two years in San Francisco. Less places are opening simply because small plates are trendy and financially attractive - the bar has been raised, apparently. And more places, like
Bocadillos where I went on Friday night, are opening because they're conceptually-sound and offering great food at a reasonable price.

(Yes, I know that I'm using "tapas" and "small plates" almost interchangably. I know the difference and I know what I'm doing. So there.)

Bocadillos is a bustling, hiply-designed place that offers a vibrant feel (replete with the wait) upon entrance. While the quarters are cramped and there's not enough room to comfortably have some wine while you wait, it's far from miserable. The general action and people-watching keep you interested.

Once sat (be forewarned - a promised 15 minutes turned into 45), the food was excellent. The menu is segmented into small categories like "marinated", "roasted", "fried", "a la plancha" and even "innard circle". I liked this approach because it both made sense, and it was a departu
re from the standard approach of "hot" and "cold". Highlights included the prawns with garlic flakes and lemon confit from the a la plancha menu and the fried sardines with moscatel and chili vinaigrette. Additionally (right) the chilled prawns in deviled eggs - perhaps a shout out Texarcana and Miller High Life (or perhaps not) - were also great. I guess I point that one out mostly because I found a picture, but none of the dishes we had disappointed. Everything was well-conceived and the quality delivered.

One of the highlights of the meal was the wine. I didn't pick it on this night, but we bought bottles that were offered by the glass and were very satisfied. This a always a great sign to me that the list is well thought-out and that you won't have to break the bank to get a good bottle.

Bocadillos is headed up by chef Gerald Hirigoyen, who also owns Piperade in the same neighborhood. I found it interesting that Hirigoyen walked into the kitchen at Bocadillos and then out the front door at least twice during our meal, insinuating that he's splitting his efforts between the two places. While that seems awfully tough, it's working for him.

I also like and agree with this review, if you're looking for more information.

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