Semolina-crusted sardines. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Lamb tartare. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Chicken tajine. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Olive oil pound cake and honey ice cream. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Gitane’s outdoor seating area at night. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
It’s the end of April, bringing with it increased odds of heatwaves and balmy nights that sweep through the city for quick two-night jaunts. While ~GITANE~ has always remained top of my list as one of the city’s best date spots, it’s also a prime alfresco dining location. On a recent warm night, my parents, sister, and I managed to snag a table at this Mediterranean number tucked away on Claude Lane, bordering Union Square and the Financial District. The outdoor seating area has a canopy and heat lamps, and the alley location further helps it be protected from the elements. In fact, it doesn’t feel very San Francisco at all (meant in the best sense).
Then again, it’s a shame to miss out on probably the swankiest interior in the city. The downstairs bar is moody and dramatic, with a skilled bar team stirring up creative cocktails spiked with sherries and shrubs. Upstairs on the mezzanine, the vibe is like you just walked in on your friend’s after-hours supper club in Paris, circa 1972—the tables are tight, and the atmosphere is definitely intimate, with a good-looking and mixed crowd.
The two-level space (designed by Charles Doell of Mr. Important) is densely packed with luscious colors, enticing textures and patterns, reflective surfaces that shimmer like lip gloss, and swish eclectic pieces. And then there’s the bathroom, cooler than most peoples’ apartments, and always a talking point after anyone’s first visit.
Executive chef Bridget Batson’s Mediterranean menu (spanning Spain, Morocco, and Southern France) is truly designed to share, with appetizers like semolina-crusted sardines ($12) topped with chopped hearts of palm and green apple. The unexpected star is the lamb tartare ($18), silky pieces of tenderloin that come with a quenelle of eggplant chutney, along with spiced cucumber yogurt and tapenade. Don’t let the thought of raw lamb deter you—the flavor is more mild than “lamby”—it’s a knockout dish.
Bar-friendly bites include a generous platter of jamón Ibérico with golden housemade flatbread ($16/$30); the crowd-pleasing bacon bonbons ($10), little sticky bundles of prunes stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in smoked bacon; and the thick coca ($16) flatbread with mushrooms and goat cheese (I recommend you get ham on it for an extra $2, and a drizzle of the chile oil that comes with it for extra va-va-voom).
Mains include a tajine of chicken breast ($22)—which would normally be the last cut of the bird I’d eat—but it’s well-seasoned and pleasingly juicy in a saffron broth, with almonds, sliced green olives, and couscous. Another pick is the succulent quail ($28), poised on an elegant celery root gratin and stuffed with a chorizo-apple stuffing (some elements in the stuffing were a bit undercooked, but on another visit, it tasted just right). No, it’s not a cheap date (other mains hover in the $24-$27 range), but if you’re sharing dishes, you’ll find satisfaction since many are gutsy and hearty.
I have always enjoyed the wine program here, currently under the direction of Greg Borden—the educated staff can lead you to a number of choice Spanish picks, and excellent sherries. To finish, don’t say no to the olive oil pound cake ($7) with honey ice cream on the side. You’ll also be in good hands for some dessert wine that will end your night with an ooh la la!