First Bite: The French Take on Tacos at Papito


I live in Potrero, where Jocelyn Buelow reigns and tacos are hard to find. So the entire neighborhood's been abuzz about Papito, Buelow's little "organic Mexican bistro" on Connecticut, just around the corner from his Chez Maman and Chez Papa on 18th. Its cute windowfront and cheery signage appeared way back in spring, but it remained closed due to permit issues until a few weeks ago and, true to form, last night there were people waiting to sit down at one of only two dozen seats.

I have to admit that, for a diner like me—who loves all peasant food with a passion and who wanted to scream like a madwoman last month while eating an $800 dinner at Guy Savoy that had all the atmosphere and charm of a bishop's funeral—the thought of a French operation taking on carnitas, carne asada, papas con chorizo and (gasp!) burritos is deeply satisfying. Papito's host speaks in a smooth Gallic accent, but he is dressed casually and his smile is wide. Its executive chef, Rodolfo Castellanos Reyes, has manned the stove not only at Chez Papa but also at La Mar and Jardiniere. The combo just feels ... right. Deep technique meets masa.

So what's the verdict? Not surprisingly, it's good, very good. It won't knock your socks off or anything, but the Baja taco was delish—the rock cod deep-fried in Negro Modelo batter, topped with purple cabbage and chipotle remoulade. The ceviche's fat shrimps were studded with limey bits of mango, and the best of the three salsas that accompany the meal was an addictive mango-cucumber concoction. But let's face it, this is San Francisco, and you can get good Mexican anywhere—be it lard-based or local-and-organic. What you're coming to Papito for are the duck confit tacos: slightly sweet, intensely flavorful duck shredded carnitas-style and tucked into two corn tortillas with housemade pickles, habaneros, mint, cilantro, chipotle and tamarind. Or the duck confit quesadillas— the same combo spread into flour tortillas with the added depth of cheese. Rich, toothsome and soulfully satisfying, washed down with a glass of sangria, it's like a little multi-ethnic lovefest on the tongue.

For dessert, I wanted what our neighboring table had: a quartet of sugar-sequined mini-churros balanced geometrically and drizzled with chocolate, and a deep cup of pasilla chocolate mousse, but they had run out of both. Just when the French have me seduced, they yank away the carrot.

317 Connecticut St. @ 18th, (415) 695-0147

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