The Restaurant at the Basque Cultural Center
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