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Basque Cultural Center


Of course I love to eat out, and I enjoy the style and sophistication that is so abundant in the San Francisco dining scene. But variety is the spice of life, and if every meal out were to be highfalutin, it would be a very tedious affair indeed. One of my guilty pleasures is the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, which we had the pleasure to go to on Thursday for a friend’s birthday. (Check out Pengrin’s pics on Flickr!)

It is unfair to imply that the BCC is unstylish or unsophisticated. In fact, it’s the sort of place that I would have been thrilled by in my suburban youth. It is unpretentious yet elegant in an old-school way, like the old woman who still wears cat-eye glasses and A-line skirts and drives a big car with fins … and looks damn fabulous doing it.

It is the antithesis of the San Francisco restaurant scene, with some paradoxical twists. Blue hair (or no hair) caps the heads of roughly 75% of the diners. The bar is well equipped to make your classic cocktails — martinis, manhattans — and is stocked with aperitifs that, until very recently, haven’t seen the light of day since the 1950s. The food is as old-school as it gets, yet featuring a remarkable amount of newly trendy offal, like beef tongue and sweetbreads. What’s old is new again. And baby, the BCC has the old thing down.

Want it or not, soup is served family-style from a big bowl; this time it was butternut squash. It had a pleasantly smooth, bisque-like texture, though I thought it also had a little chalkiness. It was a hair on the sweet side, which is somewhat inveitable with butternut squash; I didn’t mind it.

I had the pork chops basquaise, which came as two pleasantly thin-cut chops lightly grilled with a side of uninspired but nevertheless flavorful vegetables. The winner, though, was the evening’s family-style special, a combo of veal cheeks and chicken cordon bleu. The veal cheeks were fall-apart tender in a rich, dark braise of red wine and mirepoix; the cordon bleu was straight outta the ’50s, perfectly crisp-fried on the exterior with gooey cheese inside. I had a very enjoyable pear tarte for dessert, a nice lift of lightness after the meat.

Ours was not the only party that evening, and in fact the staff struggled to keep up with the demands of large groups in the dining room and in the adjacent rental halls. But our adorable Basque waitress commiserated with us bemoaning the state of affairs when not one but two bottles of wine were unavailable.

I wouldn’t send someone out of San Francisco specifically for the BCC, but it is great if you want a shot of suburban chic and old, old, old-school charm.

Basque Cultural Center
599 Railroad Ave (at Magnolia), So. San Francisco

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. I gotta say, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the BCC when I went there with my family a year or two ago. So much so that I can’t even remember what I had, though I think it may have been a Cornish game hen. It was overrated. But then again, if I’d been more daring and eating something a little less mundane than chicken, maybe I’d have been more impressed.

  2. Sean, I think I’d probably like this place! Thanks for pointing it out. Along the same lines is a weird, cavernous place called El Patio Espanol on Alemany. It’s like a Spanish Cultural Center. I’ve only been for weekend brunch (which was so-so), but I have higher hopes for dinner. Apparently, the King of Spain dined there when he was in town. My Spanish friends say it’s as good as Zarzuela.

  3. Awesome! I’ve never even heard of this place … and I am intrigued. But hey, if it’s good enough for the king of Spain, it’s got to be good enough for me.

  4. Regarding the Basque Cultural Center, for the person who had the cornish hen, don’t go to a Basque restaurant for poultry. The Basques are known for their lamb!! But my personal favorite is the Veal Chop!! It is DEFINITELY NOT ANOTHER ORIGINAL JOES!!! For those who have gone or not, I suggest going one more time and get something completely different than normal and you will be satisfied! For the Union Espanola. The King of Spain visited the restaurant back in the 80’s and only because it is the only Spanish (Spain) Cultural Center with a Members club attached. Try the Basque Cultural Center! Its worth it!

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