TThe alluring space is one of the key factors that separate La Bande from other tapas / wine / aperitif bars. Conceived by Kelly wearstlerThe triangular corner is both elevated and intimate, considering the tables stretched out under a long sidewalk tent, glowing with lights and heat lamps. The 1908 Beaux-Arts Flatiron Building is an architectural style of the 1800s, although the atmosphere is more 1920s Art Deco, reminiscent of the best of New York, SF, LA and Chicago during this era. Wearstler’s eye gives it a fresh feel while respecting its history with green marble and tile, brass, black and white stripes, dim lighting, and Iberian ham on the counter when available (he is difficult to get hold of at the moment, like so many things). Sherry, Madeira, Spanish wines and vermouth line shelves above and behind the bar / kitchen counter. This space is so much like Spain, but really SF and America. It’s a sensual combination.
Hot and cold tapas, pinxtos (bites), grilled a la plancha, homemade bread, Galician conservas (canned seafood), cold meats and cheeses: everything is there, with essential Spanish imports alongside local cultivated and fodder vegetables. Whether it’s salted cod croquettes, cold comforting potato tortillas (aka Spanish omelet), or the simple, garlic pan con tomate perfection (tomato toast), these are dishes worthy of Spain. From silky mortadella to Rioja chorizo or rabbit terrine, the charcuterie is waiting for you. Ditto for the cheeses, from the lush Andazul blue goat cheese to the smoked Etxegarai sheep cheese.
Californian / modern touches come in mini avocado toast with smoked salmon or roasted pumpkin and Jerusalem artichoke. The grilled dishes include calamari or mini-sandwiches with truffle ham and cheese (ideal meal to drink). While white beans and pork shoulder are a bigger shared plate, my number one dish over several visits was the equally bulky bowl of spinach, chickpeas and blood sausage. This sweet and savory dish contrasts with the spicy salty and sweet, the crumbled blood sausage mingling with the salty and the vegetal. All three desserts are winners, especially the Spanish almond cake, balancing sweetness and nutty.
As with other Proper SF restaurants, Josh Harris’ BVHospitality created the cocktail and drink menu. When it comes to cocktails, it’s simple, whether it’s a Nitro Negroni or a Fiero Spritz. There are two versions each – white and red – of a classic Negroni, Americano or Sbagliato (Sparkling Negroni). Although there is a Gin & Tonic service for 4-6 people, with toppings and an expensive German Monkey 47 gin, the only Gin & Tonic on the menu was just a basic G&T in a tall glass compared to the goblet / stemware and toppings ubiquitous in Spain. Drinks go well with food and although common, they are well prepared. Rather than offering Spanish vermouth (an exciting world on its own), the vermouth list includes just four offerings, all from Italy or France, but served just like in Spain: over ice with a touch of olive and citrus.
I’m more into the wine list (there are also seven European and local beers on tap), especially with Spanish dishes like a 2019 Viñátigo Tenerife Islas Canarias Listan Blanco from one of my favorite wine regions in Spain, the Canary Islands. The acidic and chalky ease of a 2020 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina sings with seafood dishes, while a long-standing Spanish cider (cider) of mine, crunchy-punchy Isastegi Sagardo Naturala goes well with many dishes (there are also two French ciders on offer).
The real highlight of the drink was the vintage Madeira from Oliveira with the La Bande collection dating from the 1930s. Certainly Madeira originates from Portugal / Madeira Island. But as Spain’s close neighbor, fortified wine pairs beautifully with food (just like Spanish sherry). After dinner, we sampled Madeira from 1994, 1989, 1987 and 1973, spanning the gamut from nutty complexity to rich raisins. Everyone was wowed (especially the ’73 with its welcome mold and age), further warming a chilly night already warmed up with gracious service, heartwarming tapas, conversation and a drink.
Savoring old Madeira has linked the building’s unique history with its new inhabitant. In its striking yet comfortable space, La Bande marries Spain with San Francisco, as it unites New and Old World, tapas and traditional Spanish bites with modern freshness and ease. If we were to have another Spanish restaurant, I’m grateful it’s the one that brings something original to the equation in a space as beautiful as this. Mola!
// 1100 market street, www.properhotel.com/san-francisco/restaurants-bars/la-bande