Cheat Sheet: Beso Hits the Castro
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The Gist: Last week, the Bisou Group of the Castro's Bisou (French for kiss) opened their second restaurant, Beso (Spanish for the same), a Spanish bistro featuring Catalan dishes and tapas, Spanish cheeses and meats, with much of the produce hand-selected from their farm, Napa Kitchen Garden, and their own selection of excellent coffee. Executive chef and co-owner Nicolas Ronan worked with consulting chef and partner Anthony Lemortellec of Boqueria in New York City on a lively tapas menu reflecting the cuisine of Northeastern Spain with California ingredients.
Pan con tomate and cheese and charcuteria platters [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
The Vibe: Amid wood, brick and warm browns, the long narrow space is centered by an open kitchen, with a small front patio where local expats from Spain and a European-chic crowd wait for tables.
Eat This: A hearty paella de pescado ($34) is ideal to share, its addictive nature coming from sticky bomba rice cooked in sofrito and saffron-redolent lobster broth. The paella is packed with plump shrimp, baby squid, Manila clams and mussels — a lively snapshot of the sea. Seared octopus (pulpo a la plancha, $18) is perked up with piquillo pepper, sweet paprika, citrus yogurt, kale chips and orange zest. We went for the fat-flecked, tender slices of chorizo con tinto ($11) marked by sunchoke puree and red wine reduction with baby bell peppers adding color. Using their own farm for produce, vegetables can be a standout here, as in the case of ensalada de zanahorias ($12, pictured below), a "salad" of roasted cumin baby carrots, avocado and Marcona almonds drizzled with yogurt and citrus vinaigrette.
They excel in Spanish purity. Pan con tomate ($5, pictured above), fresh tomato, garlic and olive oil, is smeared on rustic, toasted bread, transporting us straight back to Spain. This simple snack is perfection with a glass of wine. To accompany it, we ordered charcuteria ($6-22), with choice of meats ranging from jamon serrano to Iberico paleta (acorn-fed pork shoulder), and cheeses ($5-6), like a soft, subtle, herbal Basque garrotxa ($6) made from goat's milk, and a hard, nutty white cow's milk aged mahon ($5). Finish with pastry chef Jasmine Howell's centro citron ($8), a moist orange olive oil sponge cake in honey paprika glaze with surprising funk from a touch of Valdeon blue cheese whipped cream. They only serve espresso and you won't want any other coffee drink. Made from their own sourced beans, their smooth yet robust espresso is a revelation.
Drink This: Co-owner and general manager Damien Chabaud-Arnault compiled a list of Spanish and California wines. On the white side, we love a tropical, crisp glass of white Rioja, a 2010 Vetiver de Ontanon Viura ($11 a glass). For a red, we took to a glass ($10) of fruity-yet-acidic 2012 Viernes Godelia Mencia from Bierzo, Spain.
Carrot ensalada [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
The Damage: While the paella for two is $34, the menu runs affordably under $20 for tapas, cheese and meat platters, with many items falling in the $5-13 range.
The Verdict: There is a (welcome) glut of Spanish restaurants opening lately and this one feels particularly authentic in a transported-to-Spain way and less "California" despite the local farm-sourced ingredients. The Euro-Castro crowd keeps the space sexy and bustling on a weekend night, already feeling like a neighborhood watering hole.
4058 A 18th St., 415-801-5392
Prior Cheat Sheet coverage on Zagat San Francisco:
The Tradesman, Mission, SF
Red Hill Station, Bernal Heights, SF
Lure+Till, Palo Alto
Captain & Corset, Oakland
Piattini, The Mission, SF
Kaiju Eats, The Richmond, SF
Gashead Tavern, The Mission, SF