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Aug 16, 2003 05:03 AM

Spanish food restaurants in East Bay

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Can anybody reccommend unpretentious good traditional spanish restaurants or tapas bars for this weekend?

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  1. Nope. Sadly there seems to be very little authentic spanish food at all in the bay area. Ceasar in berkeley is "California Spanish" at best. Esperpento in the city is the closest I have had in California to real tapas. Everything here seems to be dumbed down Cali versions of stuff. Even sillier, many restaurants that taut themselves as Tapas Bars put any old latin cuisine on a small plate and call it a tapa.

    If you are inclined to cooking, your best bet is to head over to the Spanish Table in Berkeley on San Pablo near University. You can pick up a bunch of good stuff and do it yourself. Excellent wines, meat, cheese, pimenton, anchoa stuffed olives, etc. mmmm. All it takes to make Gambas al Ajillo is srimp, fresh garlic, pimenton, a few piquin(sp?) peppers, olive oil and sea salt. broil for about 4 minutes. Just like Barcelona!

    On the Spanish note-does anyone know of a good Basque place that is less than an hour away from the bay area?


    10 Replies
    1. re: michelle

      I know there is the Basque Center in South San Francisco, I don't have the exact directions right now, but you might look it up in the phone book unless somebody from this board has been there already & can give you further info re-this place.

      1. re: michelle

        What about Piperade in San Francisco?

        I haven't been there, but I really enjoyed Hirigoyen's cooking at Pastis (the restaurant previously in the space that Piperade now occupies), and have sampled his wonderful classic basque dishes in a cooking class.


        1. re: lmswartz

          big 2nd thumbs up on piperade. finally got to try it on fri and thought it was a solid experience all around. Hiroygen is a real presence and decor is so nice. there is a large center table that seats 8 comfortably that looks like a great place to have a big group meal.

          although not a small plates place, you could easily make a meal of the 15 or so starters. Be sure to try the warm sheeps milk cheese and ham terraine (9.50). The chilled mussel and bread salad with red wine vinaigrette had great potential (good vinaigrette) but the mussels were sandy and the bread overly oiled.

          They have one Basque special (Euskaldun) per night (all $17) - same each week. On Fridays, it is a seafood and shellfish soup "ttoro" - think Bouillabaise. It was tasty although didn't blow me away. They were nice enough to split it for us without us asking.

          I really want to go back on a Thursday, when the special is braised rabbit "Irouleguy" with dried plums. Mondays feature braised veal sweetbreads with maderia.

          Dessert was an apple tart (fantastic) and something else not so memorable. The apple tart goes v. well with a glass of 20 yr Taylor Fladgate tawny ($12.50). Skip the 10 yr Graham's tawny-it's worth spending only $2.50 more for the older.

          Wines focus on Basque, which is completely foreign to me-although basically riojas predominated. We asked for a fuller wine and the waiter kindly brought over a few tastes before we settled on one (name escapes me). Plenty of options in the $30-$50 range.

          1. re: laurie

            wow. I had a totally different experience at Piperade. I had a terrible time. Bad service and overpriced, bland, not very Spanish food. Maybe it was an off night but I felt ripped off. Nothing worse than having to pay for something you didnt enjoy.

            1. re: laurie

              The Alavesa region of Rioja is in the Basque homelands. The wines from this growing region are spicier, warmer and riper with fuller body than from the cooler Rioja Alta region which the Basques consider too effeminate. (g)

          2. re: michelle

            Hey, Michelle! With the current small plates craze, all kinds of things are being called "tapas". I've been offered Asian tapas!

            The late Pintxos in SF had imported a chef from Barcelona. But he got fed up with having his authentic food sent back to the kitchen, returned to El Raco Can Febes and the restaurant folded.

            There's a newish Basque restaurant in Hollister. It's pretty authentic, just not very good, so I wouldn't suggest a special trip. Piperade's cooking is from the French side of the border but is closer to European than California Basque cooking. Basque Cultural Center in SoSF is rooted in the boarding house style of cooking that used to exist in SF and probably not what you're looking for.

            Be sure to sign up for the picnic!


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Wasn't Lorca originally on 16th street? I cant remember the food though so I'm assuming I didn't love it.

              What did happen with the Basque Hotel and Des Alps in SF? I miss them. My childhood Basque experience is lost!
              :( sad times.

              1. re: michelle

                I'm wondering whether anyone has been to Lorca since the change in chefs and introduction of the tasting menu. Unterman's review linked below sounds terrific.

                Ah, so it's the Des Alpes kind of Basque you're longing for. I thought you wanted an Old World experience more like you'd have in San Sebastian. So, now you should go to the Basque Cultural Center in South SF. When the last of the dining halls closed in SF, the Basque community felt they needed to preserve this tradition of Basque culture in Calif. and opened their own restaurant. It has the kind of dishes you remember from your childhood.


                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie:)-youre awesome. Just like a food practitioner. I'd love recommendations for Old World Basque too if you have any local ones you like! I just had an awful experience in Chino CA at Centro Basqo (SP?) that was nowhere near the old SF family style establishmnets...

                  1. re: michelle

                    The irony is that Old World Basque is now famous for ultra-modern cooking. (g) One friend likes Guernica in Sausalito, not too much about it on this board. I haven't tried it.

          3. It's not in the East Bay, but Alegria's, on Lombard at Webster in the Marina, has excellent Spanish food. They were doing tapas years before it became a fad, and their other spanish dishes (paellas, other main dishes) rival the best I've had in Spain. It's a small, unpretentious, family run place (owners are Spanish and Argentinian), few yuppies, great food -- my kind of heaven.


            2 Replies
            1. re: lmswartz

              I agree. Alegrias serves good, authentic Spanish food (although not in the East Bay).
              Gotta try their Tripas a la Madrilena (Spanish version of stewed tripe in tomato sauce), gambas ajillo (prawns in olive oil and garlic sauce) and the skewered pork.

              1. re: rcc

                I totally forgot about that place. I havent been there in at least 6/7 years. It was good from what I remember! Awesome, thanks!