Grilled Anchovies, Shrimp Adobo, Sea bass with Leeks, Potatoes, Corn and Smoked Bacon
Occupation: In-House Council for Steamship Company
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: B44 Catalan Bistro
Reviewed B44 Catalan Bistro: Thursday July 19, 2007
B44 is a Catalan restaurant located in Belden Place, San Francisco. Belden Place is an alley behind the Bank of America building with a number of wonderful restaurants, out-door seating, and a terrific European style. An evening in Belden Place generally, and B44 specifically, is like a quick trip to Barcelona (especially when it is warm and you can sit outside). The crowd is cosmopolitan, including some tourists, but mostly travel-starved locals and European expats, looking for a taste of home.
Thursday nights at Belden Place are busy, so there was a lot of activity along the alleyway. Reservations are recommended.
Service at B44 is professional, efficient and discreet. Our table was ready when we arrived. The restaurant’s claim to fame is their excellent paellas and fideua, traditional Catalan specialties. Although everything on the menu is well prepared, visitors unfamiliar with Catalan cooking specifically, or Spanish cooking in general, should try the seafood dishes and especially the seafood paellas. The menu varies somewhat depending on the availability of ingredients.
The wine list is long and presents a whole world of unfamiliar Spanish and Catalan wines. The waiter wasn’t particularly helpful in choosing a wine, but the restaurant manager and other staff can assist in making the selection. We enjoyed the Campillo Rioja very much. We had a delicious white port with dessert. Many of the wines are expensive, but there are affordable choices on the list as well.
The appetizers are varied and appealing. The pile of fried anchovies, served with aioli is a special treat -- flavorful, served hot, and not at all fishy. The Spanish cheese selection presents a cross section of cheese styles, and is served with little toasts. The lamb brochette is perfectly cooked, with a Moroccan-style seasoning. We enjoyed the crab-stuffed peppers, but the crab taste was a little overwhelmed by the peppers and paprika.
My favorite main dish at B44 is the Paella Fideua Negre, which is a paella made with rice, squid, clams, sepia (cuttlefish), peas, and onions. It is flavored with squid ink, which is black (hence the name of the dish), and provides a wonderful briny taste to the rice. This paella is served with a potent aioli sauce, which is a garlicky mayonnaise.
The roast rabbit a la Catalana was well prepared. The hazelnut sauce is very rich and filling.
The Paella a la Cacadora is a perfect choice for people who don’t like seafood. The Fideua are also well made and very filling.
The dessert selection is somewhat limited, but the desserts we tried were very good. We enjoyed the café y copa, which is a little cake. The crema Catalana had too much cinnamon, but was otherwise well-made.
B44 is not cheap. However, compared to the cost of roundtrip airfare to Barcelona, the cost is a steal.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sodini's Bertolucci's Ristorante
Reviewed B44 Catalan Bistro: Saturday July 14, 2007
B44 restaurant sits between a few other cafe-style restaurants. It is located in the financial district of San Francisco. B44 is on a small alley that runs perpendicular to Bush Street. I believe the name (B44) is an acronym for the address 44 Belden Place. I would categorize this Catalan (Spanish) restaurant as an upscale eatery with al fresco dining. The restaurant is quite European, which means, expect cigarette smokers hovering about.
I dined at B44 on Bastille Day, some kind of French holiday. All the restaurants on Belden were filled to capacity, a great party atmosphere. My partner and I were quickly seated at one of the highly coveted outside tables. The outside tables are arranged banquet-style, so if you need to tell secrets during your meal, opt for the inside dining area which can, unfortunately, be very loud.
Now, I know that if you are trying a new restaurant, it is usually not a good idea to go when the place is packed, but...I kinda wanted to see the alley filled with people and have this augment my dining experience. With that being said, I judged B44 with a very lenient gavel, (I guess that's the correct word/phrase).
Service was great. Our waiter, Mario, was running at full speed, juggling a slew of orders and drink requests. We knew we had to get our order in with the drinks or orget about it. We started our meal with a couple of glasses of Rioja (Spanish red wine). The busboy brought us a small bucket filled with a sliced European-style baguette and a side of olive oil and vinegar, (probably balsamic), used as a dipping sauce. Our appetizer was Shrimp Adobo, a cast iron skillet filled with sizzling prawn-sized "shrimp" sautéed in olive oil with large chunks of garlic and flavored with an adobo seasoning. We used the flavored oil in the skillet to dip our bread in (delicious). I then received my salad, a medley of heirloom tomatoes, covered in cold goat cheese, and drizzled with olive oil.
Here's a footnote: If you don't like olive oil or garlic, stay away from Spanish and Italian restaurants, but if you do...come on in, the water is fine. The main course arrived, a traditional Spanish cooking pan filled with the Paella Barceloneta. I shared this dish with my friend, and we both enjoyed it. The rice was a Spanish import (montsia), that had a chewy texture similar to arborio, its Italian cousin. The mussels and clams in the paella were fresh and tasty. The squid was not over-cooked and the chunks of monkfish were generous. We ended our meal with more Rioja wine, although my partner had to order the Estrella beer, (a Spanish import that he found enjoyable), out of curiosity. We thanked Mario, our waiter, for doing a commendable job under tough conditions and adjourned to the bar a few steps away to ponder our meal.
If you are looking for an authentic taste of Catalan Spain, this is the place. The atmosphere is great, loud, and very European. The food is what you expect -- they are not re-inventing the wheel as most places try to do. I definitely recommend B44 as a great place to eat and enjoy the Euro-like surroundings, but bring your wallet, because they're not giving the food away.
Occupation: Social Worker
Favorite Restaurant: Holy Land
Reviewed B44 Catalan Bistro: Wednesday July 18, 2007
For as much money as we spent, this restaurant was only OK. The food was good (most of it) but not great, although the desserts were fantastic and saved me from saying the food was OK. Overall, I was not impressed with the restaurant. All the staff was cordial, but were not attentive enough. I think there is a challenging balance to be struck between being cloyingly attentive and ignoring your guests; B44 was more towards the latter. For example, we had to wait nearly 15 minutes from the time our dessert dishes were cleared to when we got the bill, and that was only because we asked for it.
Our appetizer was mushy and bland; the piquillo peppers being neither sweet nor spicy but plain. This made it so the crab was just the same: bland and mushy; not picking up any of the flavor of the peppers (which truly had none). To top it all off was watercress, which just further added to the dullness of the dish. The only true flavor -- mild at that -- was a smoky flavor, which was in the sauce and perhaps a remnant of the smoking process for the peppers.
Our main entrees were served very hot and were, for the most part, good. However, an interesting thing happened with both of our dishes: the paella was most flavorful and well-balanced while hot, and similarly the sea bass dish initially was mostly very distinct flavors. As the dish cooled down, the flavors really coalesced, resulting in a delicately rich and balanced flavor. The paella flavor, on the other hand, became more disparate as it cooled. The sea bass was cooked perfectly, and the whole dish was saved from blandness by the smoked bacon.
Fortunately the best was last in the form of the desserts: creamy, perfectly rich, and absolutely delectable! The Crema Catalana is heaven: a light crème-brûlée infused perfectly with cinnamon. One of the best I’ve ever eaten!
Even though we brought our own Spanish wine, I was a bit disappointed that the waiter did not even offer us any of the wines sold by the restaurant. He did say that he hadn’t seen that wine in 17 years since he used to work at a restaurant in Barcelona. I figured this would have been a perfect opportunity to sell some wine or at least display his knowledge of other Spanish wines.
The décor of the restaurant was nice and not overly pretentious or trendy, which can often happen with restaurants in the Union Square area. Because the restaurant is on one of those little alleys, there is seating outside, giving the restaurant a more traditional European feel. I do have two major complaints with the restaurant layout/décor: the space in between most of the tables inside is SO small that anyone who doesn’t look like Kate Moss could have an embarrassing time of passing between to go to the bathroom (I damn near lit my butt on fire with the tealight!) and the small TV screen in the bathrooms running a loop of some footage in Spain is rather creepy and too “Big Brother” for my tastes. I think they work in the hallway when you’re waiting for the bathrooms but inside is unnecessary.
This is definitely a restaurant that is geared for tourists, if not because of proximity alone. I think the prices are somewhat inflated for what you get the level of sophistication in food and service. I wanted food with a bit more salt and heartiness, which is what I expected in Castilian food. Lastly this does not seem like a kid-friendly establishment, although I did not bring my kid, so I can’t say that I gave them a chance. I might go back again if someone else was paying for it and they REALLY wanted to go, but given all the super restaurants in SF, it isn’t on the top of my list. If I did go back, I would definitely try dishes that had some Spanish cheese and/or a meat dish, hoping that I would get less blandness.