The Restaurant at the Basque Cultural Center

The Restaurant at the Basque Cultural Center

April 13, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

Why would you go to the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco if you are not a Basque and you don’t play pilota (handball game)? Because the food at the restaurant is so good that you would be amazed. Imagine eating home made food in a small village restaurant in the Basque country of France! It’s what you get.

I came to feast on a recent Saturday evening with a group of five friends. We had an early reservation at 5:30 PM. A gracious grandmotherly hostess in an elegant outfit greeted us at the door and led us to a round table with white linens.

The dining room is large and has an old-charm quality to it. It has big tables with a lot of room between the tables, and it is apparently conceived to host an extensive number of people. The restaurant filled up fast. We heard Basque language spoken at nearby tables. We saw faces that reminded us of the Basque country. It is definitely a place for a mature audience.

We ordered two bottles of white and red whine at $26 each and then looked at the menu. Most of my friends came for the rack of lamb. I wanted to try the veal sweetbreads, as I always order sweetbreads if there are any on the menu. All entrees come with soup and a salad, so we didn’t order any first courses.

We started with the soup (potage). I haven’t had such delicious home made soup since my days in France. It was made from leaks and potatoes. You could taste the leeks while the potatoes gave it just the right consistency. The waiter left a big bawl on the table for seconds. The bread was a sort of baguette, but it didn’t taste like a baguette. It was thicker and saltier, perfect for mopping up your soup bawl and enjoying with butter.

After the soup and the salad, we were full before the main courses arrived. The rack of lamb looked masterly done, the portions were generous and my friends were raving. The sweetbreads were tender and cooked in a thick earthy sauce. The dish was satisfying to my palate, and I enjoyed it immensely.

We finished the meal with the traditional Gâteau Basque, which tasted fresh and had the right amount of subtle almond filling. I also tried the chocolate mousse. A touch of liqueur made its fluffiness melt. By the end of the meal the wine was gone, and we were laughing and joking more than usual. The meal was worth the drive.

The Basque Cultural Center is an impressive building with parking situated in a residential neighborhood in South San Francisco. It opened in 1982, thanks to the contributions and efforts of the Basque community. The restaurant is one of the many ways the center gets funded, another being membership. According to the web site, the Basque Cultural Center counts close to 500 members. The Center boasts a pilota court, banquet rooms, and outdoor barbeque areas for festival times, which take place a few times a year and draw Basque expatriates from all over California.

  • Basque Cultural Center 599 Railroad Avenue, South San Francisco
  • Reservations: (650) 583-8091
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Tunnel Top - from Duchamp to Bossa Nova

Tunnel Top – from Duchamp to Bossa Nova

March 19, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

Perched high above the actual tunnel on Stockton Street sits the Tunnel Top, an historic San Francisco institution. As I was crossing Bush Street, the dim lights were tempting me to go in. The original sign, probably from the sixties, still stands, and a massive oak door reads Merci when you get closer.

Welcome to the Tunnel Top, a European bar and lounge infused with the red and orange colors of the south of France, decorated with old antique shutters on the windows, 19th century SNCF (French railroads) lamps illuminating different focal points, and bottle racks in wrought iron (fer forgé). You can’t help but notice the impressive chandelier, a huge bottle rack (séchoir à bouteilles) that is actually an old replica of a Duchamp readymade, the first ordinary object found by Marcel Duchamp in the Bazaar of Paris in 1914 that entered the list of art objects – the readymades, as he called them.

As you climb the stairs to get to the mezzanine, a silent film is playing on the wall. The chandelier appears even grander, and your senses are buzzing. Groups of people are having a great time conversing on leather couches, feeling relaxed by the warmth of the décor. As you gaze at the art on the walls, you might wonder about the cross. This is actually an antique 1823 iron cross, one of many unusual pieces that make this place an artsy heaven.

Back at the bar below, Jean-Michel, the bartender, has a bright smile, busily preparing mojitos. The Tunnel Top offers outstanding cocktails made with fresh and organic ingredients. It has a stellar selection of Belgian beer and good French wine. Happy hour draws an eclectic mix of people, from professionals to strollers.

The bar is open from 5 PM to 2 AM, Monday to Saturday. A DJ, somewhat hidden from view in the mezzanine, plays every night. Mondays are Bossa Nova nights. During the week, the music can vary from Salsa to French musical icons. On Friday and Saturday, the style is Top 40. The weekends are the busiest time for the bar, and with all the action going on, don’t fail to notice all the details and good vibes that make this place a must-see!

  • Tunnel Top, 601 Bush Street, San Francisco 94108
  • (415) 986-8900
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The “New” Café Bastille

March 10, 2011  |  food & drink, san francisco  |  No Comments

If you happened to be in San Francisco on the 14th of July, you have probably heard of Café Bastille. It is in the small alley of Belden Lane, with its European flair and café terraces, that all festivities start and spread to the rest of the city. If something important is happening in France, TV crews head to Café Bastille, sure to find enthusiasts and regulars to offer their reactions. We are in the center of French culture in the city, in a way. As the saying goes, ‘it all begins here.’ A lot of young French restaurant owners, who opened their own restaurants in the city and beyond, started their American dream at Café Bastille.

Olivier, who owns the café, is born and raised in Paris and he feels proud of the history and the continuity of his restaurant, one of the rare bistros to have been around for 20 years. He studied hospitality in France, and when he came to San Francisco, he wanted to create a corner of France, a bistro, just like a typical one in Paris, that offers traditional Bistro fair and has a famous name for party times.

On March 6th The “New” Café Bastille was unveiled with a party, a new chef and a spanking new menu. The lunch menu boasts Bistro favorites such as moules et frites, avocat crevettes, escargots de Bourgogne, truite aux amandes and steak au poivre, while French classics were added to the dinner menu – boudin noir, hachis parmentier, boeuf bourguignon, lapin à la moutarde, and coq au vin.


The décor also marked a new beginning with colorful posters that emphasize the Bistro look. Now, the Café is officially ready to continue with business as usual – regulars stopping by to say hello to Olivier, French music playing in the background amid the Bistro’s hustle and bustle, tourists enjoying the San Francisco sun and ambiance, and Financial District folks grabbing a lunch. “People come to the café,” Olivier says, “because they discover a surprisingly European type of environment where they feel relaxed and happy. It is rare to find cafés with outdoor terraces next to each other in the USA.” And Olivier likes all of it. He feels at home in his French Bistro in America, where French culture lives and is celebrated every day.

  • Café Bastille, 22 Belden Lane, San Francisco
  • Reservations: (415) 986-5673
  • Visit website!


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