The owners of Fringale recently opened Piperade, a Basque-influenced restaurant, on the corner of Union and Battery, one block from the SF Ferry Plaza Market.
If you like Fringale, you will like Piperade with the bonus of plenty of street parking in the evening and a larger, roomier restaurant. There is also a small outdoor patio overlooking Battery that can be pleasant on a warm night like tonight.
Two disclaimers. I know nothing about Basque food and I am not a fan of Fringale. In a discussion of Basque food someone mentioned that there is the older, heartier, peasant Basque food and today's modern Basque. I would guess Piperarde leans toward the current Basque dining scene.
I did have one MMMMM moment at desert however.
The website is not up yet, but I'll put the link in for future reference.
There is a nightly "Basque Classique" on the menu (all $17). They are currently;
Monday: Braised veal sweetbreads with Madeira
Tuesday: Stuffed calamari in ink sauce "txipiroa"
Wednesday: Yellow fin tuna and potato stew "marmitako"
Thursday: Rack of pork with roasted apple and cider jus
Friday: Seafood and Shellfish soup "ttoro"
Saturdays: Veal stew "axoa" braised with peppers
One of the best things about the restaurant was the friendly and helpful hostess. Very nice bus staff, too.
The decor is rather stark, like the rest of the service. Brick walls, wood floors, exposed unfinished beams. A huge square rustic table with benches is in the center of the room. The room is somewhat softened by the candles in hollowed out stones and the low lighting. It is coldly sophisticated.
A plus for me was that there were salt and pepper shakers on the table. A minus was that one dish was over salted.
The service while not really warm wasn't intimidating, but the real problem is that the waiter was not familiar with the wines or menu. At this time, I would not let the waiters guide you through the meal.
There are a number of Basque wines on the menu. The wine list is interesting and reasonable with some wines at $20 a bottle. Per glass the wine is also well priced. The two Basque wines available by the glass were $6.
White: Vega Sindoa Chardonnay Navarra - very sweet and almost Riesling like
Red: Sierra Cataberra Temparnillo Roja - I liked this wine. It is full of flavor and smoke. I might look it up in a wine store and try it at home.
However, the least interesting Basque wines were offered by the glass. It would be nice if the restaurant made some of the other Basque wines available by the glass on a rotating basis.
OK, the food. It was Wednesday, so I went with the tuna.
I asked the server to recommend a appetizer to complement the dinner and he made the worst selection possible - Sautéed calamari a la plancha ($8). It almost mirrored the main entree with the only difference being the fish.
Then he compounded the error, when I asked to recommend one of the Basque wines, he said, "What would you like? Red or white?" When I asked him for his opinion, he said, either one. So, I thought I would try the white and move on to the red. BAD, BAD, choice and one the waiter should have known. For the first time ever in a restaurant, I had to put the wine aside to drink later and order the red.
It severely influenced the tip which was barely over 15%. I just rounded it up for my convenience. When dining alone, I have gone as high as 30% with top notch service.
The calamari tubes in a lemon-butter garlic sauce was a disaster with the sweet chardonnay. It did pair nicely with the red. That was one good butter sauce and I used the rustic bread to sop up every bit. The calamari, while fine, were just an excuse to eat the sauce.
The chardonnay did go well with the tuna. I bit into a delicious potato and tried to think what this reminded me of. The taste was very familiar. Then I had a piece of the tender tuna and it hit me - tuna casserole.
Heck, I have been eating Basque food since I was a child and never knew it. Yes it was top quality ingredients, not canned chicken of the sea and russet potatoes, but tuna casserole it was.
I like tuna casserole. I like fancy tuna casserole. I'm just not sure if I want to spend $17 for tuna casserole. The sauce was similar to the calamari, but a little creamier. This dish needed the salt toned down. Never the less, I did use more rustic bread to sop up even more buttery sauce. My mouth is still salty, as i write this.
I had a glass of the sparkling wine for dessert. Did not catch the name, but it was not as spectacular as the description.
I did a MMMMM when I took my first bite of the gateau Basque with peach preserves. A buttery slice of cake, topped with powdered sugar. There was marzipan in the batter, but in a good way. The marzipan was incorporated into the yellow buttery cake. A very successful marriage. The pool of peach preserves was ok. The unripe fresh fig did not belong on the plate. It was not on the menu and, not being ripe, took away from the dish.
The hostess treated me wonderfully. She saw me scribbling wine notes madly and asked if I'd like a larger sheet of paper to write on. She gave me some menus and business cards to take with me and answered a number of questions. She was very warm, helpful and friendly.
While I might try Piperade in the future, I think I'll wait until the service gets worked out and the waiters get more familiar with the wines and menu.
Other different dishes on the menu include:
warm sheeps milk cheese and ham terrine
Potato and salt cod salad
garlic soup with rock shrimp, bread, and egg
Selection of Basque cheese with cherry preserves and quince paste
Soup of the day - wait, I never did learn the soup of the day. Was never mentioned.
piperade with sautéed Serrano ham and poached egg
Sautéed Monterey squid with raisins, fois gras and fingerlings
Steak, pork, chicken lamb chops and more fish dishes were also on the menu.
Orange blossom Beignets (that sounds so nice)
Almond macaroons with honey ice cream
chocolate cake, Basque crème Brule (koka), apple tart
All desserts $6.50
Basque wines by the bottle:
Txomin Etxamoiz, Txakolina Getarai ($27)
Remelurri Rioja ($48)
Domaine Arretxea cuvee Haitza, Irouleguy (45)
Allende Rioja (29)
San Vincente Rioja 1998
Remirez De Ganuza Reserve Roja (75)
Then there was a page of global Basque wines. I was not inebriated when writing the above, although it looks like it. However, given the low lights, I had trouble reading some of my notes, so some of the spelling might be slightly off. However, there were even comments on the wine list that the wine names were tongue twisters.
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