If you still think Gitane is a Moroccan restaurant on Claude Lane, it is time for a revisit. Cafe Claude's Franck Le Clerc expanded his empire when he opened Gitane back in 2008. At the time, chef Lisa Eyherabide made a strong impact with a menu of tajines, bacon bon bons, bastilla, and Moroccan flatbread "pizzas." There was also a forward-thinking, sherry-based bar program from then-bartender Dominic Venegas, and a stunning boho-luxurious decor a la Mr. Important.
Fast forward four years, and—amazingly—the interior's vintage French chandeliers, painterly tapestries, reptilian wallpaper, and lush damask curtains still feel ahead-of-the-curve. I'm told the "bon bons" are still available as a "secret menu item," but the kitchen and bar programs have tossed almost everything else from the original menu. New chef Patrick Kelly admits it's a risk to drop everything that earned your restaurant a loyal following, but after tasting through many of the new dishes, I don't think there will be much of a problem.
Kelly comes by way of Angele in Napa, joining his wife, existing chef Bridget Batson, in the kitchen. The two have forged a new path inspired by a trip to Andalusia, Spain earlier this year. Now there is a Valencia-inspired tasting menu, a totally new a la carte dinner menu, and a list of bar bites including rich braised rabbit croquetas ($8) and crispy suckling pig confit with orange marmelade and black olive ($16).
Last night, I went in to see what the five-course tasting menu is all about. We started off with cooked baby beets and persimmons on swaths of salty tart yogurt and olive oil; then, we wandered through Dungeness crab atop rafts of pineapple and sea urchin sauce; next, on to winey pork cheeks with meaty matsutake mushrooms. We finished up with a light pumpkin creme caramel.
One hundred and ten dollars later (with wine pairings), I can attest that Kelly and Batson can pull-off the tricky stunt of mixing bold flavor and refined technique. This is also one of the more well-paced and well-portioned tasting menus in the city. And I would like to have a pint of that sea urchin sauce in my refrigerator at home, please.
If you're going a la carte, there's a crusty scallop with a crispy fried sweetbread ($16) that tastes like Popeye's chicken, all grown up. There's "Arroz Vegetariano" ($22) bursting with paprika seasoning and seared into a cake on the plancha. And even escargot-haters should try the roasted rabbit sadle with snails ($32). The kitchen braises the mollusks in soffrito, rendering them tender and mild. Promise.
Former Prospect manager Sarah Knoefler is making changes behind the bar too: The wine list is more affordable, several local and European draft beers have been added, and the cocktail list is more concise. Try the Doblon ($12) with Yamazaki whiskey, fino sherry and honey.
Cocktail in hand, Gitane's jaw-dropping decor always puts me in a trance. Thank goodness their menus are also as relevant now as they were four years ago.
Carolyn Alburger is the Editor of Eater SF.