The dining room at the month-old Aatxe.

The dining room at the month-old Aatxe.

Pintxos flight ($13) serves up four items: white anchovy egg, pintxo gilda, chocolate and chorizo toast, and morel and ramp coqueta.

Pintxos flight ($13) serves up four items: white anchovy egg, pintxo gilda, chocolate and chorizo toast, and morel and ramp coqueta.

The story: Aatxe is the latest restaurant from the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, which brought to San Francisco such popular restaurants as Flour + Water and Central Kitchen. But this latest venture, which opened last month in the Swedish American Hall building on Market Street on the way to the Castro neighborhood, has a Spanish twist because Chef Ryan Pollnow spent some time in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain.

Why I went: I’d suggested Aatxe as the latest spot for my food blogger gang to check out since I’ve enjoyed my trips to Spain. Joining me this time was the always adventurous Brenda of Bites and Bourbon and always-hungry-but-with-a-small-appetite Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging. We ended up sitting at the chef’s counter, which is a high counter so those chefs working in front of you are working in a sunken floor, giving a bit more of a bird’s-eye view of the stove tops.

2010 Mas Candi, Xarello ($11) is my way to start dinner

2010 Mas Candi, Xarello ($11) is my way to start dinner

Clam escabeche verde ($12) is raw clams cured by lime juice and served in a mason jar.

Clam escabeche verde ($12) is clams marinaded in what seemed like lime juice and olive oil and served in a mason jar.

The vibe: You won’t spot the restaurant from the outside, with its darken windows and little signage. But when you walk inside, it’s surprisingly large with three distinctive spots: 1) the large bar with communal table in the back, 2) the chef’s counter where all the action is, and 3) the dining room with a Spanish cafe feel. While the feel has some Spanish touches, the sometimes loud pulsating music gives the place more of a lounge vibe.

Gambas al Ajillo ($13) were simple shrimp with garlic and nora chili.

Gambas al Ajillo ($13) were simple shrimp with garlic and nora chili.

Definitely need to ask for bread to soak up the sauces.

Definitely need to ask for bread to soak up the sauces.

The menu: Emphasizing Spanish tapas, the limited menu are all about the small plates and pintxos (or snacks, typically served on a toothpick), but there are also a few cheese and charcuterie selections. For people wanting more, there are two large plates offerings. While there are some recognizable Spanish classics such as the patatas bravas ($8.50) and coqueta (this version made with ramp and morel for $3.50), you seem some unusual dishes, probably California-inspired, such as the octopus salad ($12) with kohlrabi and avocado, and the Spanish fried rice ($14) with chorizo, sofrito, and salt cod tortilla.

Smoked salmon buneolos ($7) were deep-fried puffs with seaweed and horseradish but I barely tasted the smoked salmon flavor.

Smoked salmon buneolos ($7) were deep-fried puffs with seaweed and horseradish but I barely tasted the smoked salmon flavor.

Trumpet mushrooms a la plancha ($14.50) with squash, Mahon, potato migas

Trumpet mushrooms a la plancha ($14.50) with squash, Mahon, potato migas

Spanish fried rice ($14) with chorizo, sofrito, and salt cod tortilla

Spanish fried rice ($14) with chorizo, sofrito, and salt cod tortilla (I loved the bowl)

The booze: There’s a nice listing of wine and beer and four specialty cocktails (developed by the Bon Vivants), so there’s a lot of options to pair your tapas with your drinks. But for me, I can never start a Spanish meal without a nice glass of cava, Spain’s version of sparkling wine. (Aatxe just had one glass for $11, a 2010 Mas Candi.)

My favorite dish: Unfortunately, Sandy and Brenda’s favorite bite of the night was the one I didn’t try, the ramp and morel coqueta (because I generally avoid deep-fried food). And while a lot of other dishes were nice, none stood out or necessarily wowed me. But if I had to name a favorite, I might side with the Spanish fried rice because it was one of the few dishes that packed a lot of flavor. Plus, how can you turn down the golden saffron color served in a beautiful blue bowl?

Dishes ready to find a home

Dishes waiting to find a home

The large plate of Lamb Albondigas (meatballs), $26, with saffron, fava beans, yogurt, and a poached egg. The lamb had a soft texture but lack much lamb flavor. It tasted more like pork.

The large plate of Lamb Albondigas (meatballs), $26, with saffron, fava beans, yogurt, and a poached egg. The lamb had a soft texture but lack much lamb flavor. It tasted more like pork.

Insider tip: If you request to sit at the chef’s counter, try to get the seats right at the corner because you’ll get to watch the parade of plates getting their final touches before heading to the tables. We sat closer to the wall, so a bit tucked away and shielded from the action.

The last bite: Just a month old, Chef Pollnow (formerly chef de cuisine at Central Kitchen) seems to be a bit cautious coming out of the block as opposed to making a big splash. Everything was good but feels like the kitchen is holding back to not offend everyone’s taste bud. But I’d like to see more assertiveness and more lively dishes because that’s the spirit of Spain I remember.

Flan for dessert ($9). The flan itself was ok, but I loved the fruits and candied flowers that garnished the plate.

Flan for dessert ($9). The flan itself was ok, but I loved the fruits and edible flowers that garnished the plate.

Arroz con leche ($9) was like rice pudding but I felt the rice had an undercooked texture, which spoiled the overall dish for me.

Arroz con leche ($9) was like rice pudding but I felt the rice had an undercooked texture, which spoiled the overall dish for me.

The chef's counter at Aatxe

The chef’s counter at Aatxe

The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

2.5snaps

 

 

The deets: Aatxe, 2174 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 415.471.2977. Open daily from 5:30 to 11 p.m. (till midnight on Friday and Saturday). Reservations accepted for parties of up to six guests. Major credit cards accepted. www.aatxesf.com

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One Response to A Review of Tapas at Aatxe in San Francisco

  1. Cynthia says:

    Yesss, the spanish fried rice was also one of my favs here! And you have lovely pictures!