Openings

Spanish Cuisine at Aatxe, Just Opened in Cafe du Nord Building

By Virginia Miller  |  April 23, 2015
Credit: Virginia Miller

April 17 was the opening date of long-awaited Aatxe (pronounced "aah-CHAY") on the dramatically transformed ground floor of the Swedish American Hall and Cafe du Nord (the latter, one of SF's legendary live-music venues, is set to reopen in a month or so, with new decor and menus). Ne Timeas Restaurant Group (Flour + Water, Central Kitchen, etc.) and the Bon Vivants (Trick Dog) are behind this Basque/Spanish restaurant with chef Ryan Pollnow at the helm (formerly at Central Kitchen). Pollnow combines his favorite regional dishes from Spain and Basque Country travels with California ingredients and ethos, so you'll see the likes of salsa verde and avocado with octopus. One of the best initial dishes (pictured top) is one of two larger plates ($24-25 each): morcilla (that's blood sausage to you) and chickpeas, hearty with fall-apart pork cheek, carrots, pine nuts and raisins.

The Bon Vivants' aperitivos ($10) and cocktails ($12 or a $43 carafe for four) do not disappoint, showcasing sherry but also sporting a fantastic flavor-profile graph of gins from Aatxe's extensive collection with a range of tonics to pair with, in keeping with Spain's most popular drink, the G&T, all run by bar manager Tommy Quimby. Wine Directors Sam Bogue and Geno Tomko created a dynamic wine list focused solely on small Spanish producers plus a range of sherry and dry Basque ciders to boot.

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-11 PM; Friday-Saturday, 5:30 PM-12 AM.

2170 Market St.; 415-471-2977

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  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    The G&T (gin & tonic) profile graph categorizes gins under the headings of Floral, Herbal, Soft & Fruity, Classic and Big Guys. Choose a gin, choose a tonic. Or better yet, have the bar staff surprise you with the perfect match.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Start with pintxos ($2.50-3.25 per piece or $11 for all four), a Spanish tradition of bites, ideal with cider, sherry, aperitivos or wine. Each bite is a winner, whether warm fava bean croquettes or a traditional Gilda (here a spear of anchovy, olive, green bean). We also love the cured-duck toast and salt-cod deviled egg. Another ideal starter or snack with drinks is housemade charcuterie, like lomo picante, a cut of whole pork loin cured for three months, and three different kinds of Spanish cheeses.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    The two-room space — designed by Stellah De Ville of Claro Design — already feels lively and glowing, like a cool tapas bar in Spain. There is a marble top bar and communal table as you walk in, then a chef's counter overlooking the action in a sunken kitchen, backed by an intimate dining room gazing out on Market Street.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Don't skip the conservas section, tributing canned or tinned Spanish foods. The mussels escabeche is a beaut, plump mussels soaking up paprika and saffron for four days in a dreamy oil worth sopping up accompanying bread in.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    A striking start to an evening is the Lady of the Mountain aperitivo ($10), clean yet character-rich with SF's own Junipero Gin from Anchor Distilling and the nutty notes of Alvear Fino en Rama sherry, brightened by a housemade preserved lemon cordial.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    These aren't just any patatas bravas ($8.50). While the Spanish fried potato classic can easily be a yawn, Pollnow's double-fried potatoes are fantastic in a tomato sauce, dipped in pimentón (paprika-laced) aïoli. It's almost impossible to not finish them.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Plump, little white gambas (shrimp; $13) arrive in a garlicky oil subtly accented with nora chile — again, scooped up by a slice of bread.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Ireland meets Spain by way of Denver in the Son of Mari ($12) cocktail. Teeling Irish Whiskey gains depth from a touch of thyme, lemon and Leopold Bros. Tart Cherry Liqueur, distilled by brothers in Denver. A crisp Basque cider makes it refreshing.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    For light and clean, try cured trout mojama ($11) with kumquats, beets and farmer's cheese in a black olive crumble.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Spanish fried rice ($14) is a more filling small plate but still easy and airy, though blessedly rich in flavor from diced chorizo and bits of salt-cod tortilla.

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    Served in a long, tall glass over crushed ice, the Sickle ($12) cocktail shows of Campo de Encanto Pisco and the heat of Ancho Reyes Chile liqueur with fresh raspberry and Licor 43 balanced by Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez sherry, lime and pimenton.
     

  • Credit: Virginia Miller

    There is typically one dessert on offer, and one is all you need when it's this silky crema Catalana ($9) with a burnt-sugar top.