On Friday April 17th, AATXE (say “aah-CHAY”) opened on the ground floor of the Swedish American Hall and Cafe du Nord, a project in conjunction with the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and the Bon Vivants. This Spanish- and Basque-inspired restaurant has chef Ryan Pollnow at the helm (he was previously the chef de cuisine at Central Kitchen), and you can expect some Cali flair and ingredients to be integrated in the dishes. Pollnow has traveled and cooked in the Basque Country and is inspired to re-create the region’s convivial feeling around food.
The space is designed to be communal and energetic and is divided into two areas. First there’s the bar, with a marble top and comfortable stools in cordovan with bent cane backs, where you will find some of the Bon Vivants magic, sporting a selection of aperitivos ($10) and cocktails ($12, or $43 in a carafe for your party of four). The Rooster’s Song (Lustau gran reserva brandy, Cappelletti, Byrrh, and tomato tincture) was a deep vermilion, and about as spiritous as a Negroni—a beautiful start. There’s a Big gin and tonic on tap, and wait until you see the back of the menu with the color wheel of gins available. Drink up and make Nick and Nora proud.
There’s a communal table in the back, with tile on the walls that give it the old-world vibe of some of the cool spaces I saw in Lisbon. The second room is where you’ll see the open kitchen, surrounded with eight stools, and then there’s a 50-seat dining room with its classic and handsome look (a white oak herringbone-patterned floor, banquettes, classic bistro chairs, copper-topped tables, and chic trapezoidal light fixtures). Throughout the space you’ll find some ledges where you can stand (and wait). The design is by Claro Design/Stellah De Ville. It took me a little bit to figure out where all this ground-floor space came from: it was formerly the café, and the bar area was where some offices were. Hopefully this helps you feeling less puzzled than I was when you first walk in.
Pollnow’s menu starts with an array of pintxos like borage leaf croquettes and a classic gilda (a spear of anchovy, olive, and a green bean in this case)—you can get all four for $11. (I’d love it if the kitchen sent out platters of them to the bar area for spontaneous snacking.) I’d recommend a sherry for these dishes, and there are also some conservas (mussels escabeche, etc.) that would also play nicely with the aperitivos. There’s housemade charcuterie, like the spicy lomo and a chorizo dark with guajillo chile, and a few Spanish cheeses.
Tapas-sized plates include tender gambas (shrimp) in garlicky oil ($13) and double-fried patatas bravas ($8.50), which turned me around on a dish I have long ago stopped ordering. Pollnow’s version completely rocks. And the Spanish fried rice ($14) shows the kitchen’s playfulness in a dish that is going to become my new late-night craving: diced chorizo, rapini, and salt cod tortilla are mixed into this rice, and it had great texture, almost like a paella’s socarrat. There are some larger cazuelas (lamb albondigas and pork cheek with morcilla chickpeas), $22-$24. There will also be a dessert each night (we had a very pretty crema Catalana) or you can go for their Spanish coffee with rum and cream.
The varied wine selections include a number of smaller Spanish producers, with lots of whites, and range from the delicate to the bold. You’ll be in good hands for pairings.
Dinner Sun-Thu 5:30pm-11pm and Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am. Reservations and walk-ins welcome. 2170 Market St. at Sanchez, 415-471-2977.
Just a quick note: I hear the downstairs Cafe du Nord space is coming along, and they hope to open the bar in a month or so. There will be a different menu than Aatxe, more American in style—we’ll have details on it all soon.
The dining room at Aatxe. Photo: Charlie Villyard.