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Nov 26, 2007 08:47 AM

Why so few SPANISH restaurants in the BAY AREA?

i am a californian born chef living and working in barcelona for the last 5 years...
recently i have been contemplating a move to the bay area to open a spanish fine dining restaurant...
it seems that mediterranean food and spanish cuisine are quite popular in the american media however, there are very few Spanish restaurants to reflect this popularity...
so i bring this question to the all seem to know the ins and outs of this culture...can someone explain why the dearth of spanish fare?
thank you hound community...hope to see you soon.

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  1. Most Bay Area spanish restaurants are tapas-oriented. The following spring immediately to mind:

    Bar Cesar-Berkeley
    Bar Cesar-Piedmont
    Thirsty Bear

    More dinner oriented on the Basque side -Piperade

    Having spent a fair amount of time in Spain eating, I want to encourage you in your plan. I would love to see a Spanish restaurant doing dinners as opposed to tapas.

    Fideua negro, pato con peras, sepia en su tinta, habas con jamon! If only you could bring in jamon jabugo...

    Also consider the house-made charcuterie/salumi trend—what about house-made sobrasada, fuet, chorizo, butifarra?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Armoise

      B44 may be known as a tapas place but it has a fairly wide selection of secondos... a glance at their menu online shows about a dozen (this is in addition to their paellas and arroces). Food here is excellent in my opinion, especially the arroz negro.

      Laiola in the Marina has a handful as well in addition to their tapas selection.
      Zarzuela at Hyde & Union does too - like rabo de toro for example. Both are admittedly more tapas-oriented however. I can only vouch for quality at Laiola.

      There is a lot more Spanish food out there in the Bay Area but isn't strictly at "Spanish" restaurants... rather, there is a palpable Spanish influence at the ingredient driven Californian places.

      The most traditional (e.g. they have tapas at the bar but won't serve it in the dining room, and it's strictly Spanish without the South/Central American bent many U.S. "tapas" places have...) is probably Iberia in Menlo Park. But the service there is fairly horrendous. In terms of quality, it reminds me of a serviceable neighborhood restaurant in Madrid. Good, nothing spectacular.

      In any case, I'd always happily welcome another Spanish option, so good luck with your endeavor.

      1. re: Pincho

        I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Iberia on my last couple of visits. They seem to have heard the complaints about the service and added wait staff. The service is still a bit amateurish but at least you get service now. I'd say Iberia is back on the "okay to visit" list.

        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          It was never not on _my_ "okay to visit" and I wouldn't purport to be the arbiter of any such list for others - I'm glad you had a better experience, that's encouraging. I visited less than a month ago and the service was inept to the point of comical. I've never had rude or offensive service there, which would keep me from going back. As is, it made for some funny conversation with our companions. And the food though not stellar is pretty authentic in a "restaurante tipico" way - comfort food for my Madrilena wife.

          1. re: Pincho

            I did the dining room once and found the service to be better than the bar area. I think it helped that we were able to speak Spanish with the staff so they engaged us a little more than they might have otherwise and they suggested some of their favorite dishes. That all being fine, I though the dining experience was a little overpriced for the quality. And the dining room was very quiet (only two other tables seated), so it was a little boring.

            Much prefer the bar area, the tapas and wines are all good. Some of the tapas are "tipico" as you say, but none have ever been bad. The service is more casual in that area, but has definitely improved. That bar is such a cozy space it's worth visiting.

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          1. You might check out the Spanish Cultural Center in SF and their restaurant:

            1. re: ML8000

              Have you had dinner there, and if so how was it? I have not and have heard mixed reviews. The menu looked to be "tipico" - maybe a little like Iberia, and I imagine dinner is better than their buffet Sunday brunch which I have tried.

              Brunch was a very odd experience. For example, they had two meat & cheese platters. One was a mix of good quality Spanish chorizo and slices of lousy block ameri-cheddar. The other was decent-quality manchego along with some kind of lousy deli ham. The paella was just average. The house red wine was surprisingly good. I thought the bill (if I remember correctly it was about $30 per person) was a bit steep for what was on hand. Not really a buffet fan to begin with anyway...

              I attended a wedding reception at the Basque Cultural Center in SSF and the food was excellent, especially for a wedding. Have also heard similar mixed reviews about meals at the restaurant, however.

              1. re: Pincho

                I had dinner at the Spanish Cultural Center, but it was like in 1999. It was good as far as I can remember. I recall having lamb but don't recall much else how the place looked. I though the paella was only for 4+ people or special order (???). Any way, I have no idea how strong the SCC is or what really happens there but it seems like a place to check out for several reasons.

                Re: Iberia, I've wanted to check it out for awhile but the reviews on the service make me wonder if it's worth the trouble.

                As far as Spanish food goes in the Bay Area, I've had some really great food at Zarzuela. To me it has a home cooked and subtle (not over salted or prepped) taste and feel to it. How it compares to Spanish food as a whole, I have no idea. The table service and physical environment seemed more European, less the prototypical rustic Spanish feel/bar.

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