Barvale Brings Elevated Tapas And Great Cocktails to Divisadero
by Jay Barmann
The cuisine of Spain has been having a moment in San Francisco ever since the splashy opening of Michael Chiarello's Coqueta on the Embarcadero five years ago. That was soon followed by the short-lived (but possibly revivable) Aatxe, the ambitious and well received Bellota from the Absinthe Group, and that same group's recent pivot at the old Boxing Room space, Barcino. Now it naturally follows that prolific restaurateur Adriano Paganini's Back of the House restaurant group should have his own take on tapas, and that arrived last month in the form of Barvale.
Barvale inherits the space originally built out for La Urbana three years back at 661 Divisadero, and the focus here is on traditional pintxos and tapas with twists and variations befitting a modern California restaurant, as well as a few heartier options like a paella. As Paganini recently did with the Cal-Med genre at A Mano in Hayes Valley -- and similar to the format at one of his earliest successes, Beretta in the Mission -- the formula here is cocktail-centric with a selection of good, crave-able food at reasonable prices. And, remarkably, at just one month in, Barvale's staff already appears at ease and knowledgable about all aspects of the menu -- a testament to the well-oiled machinery that chugs behind Paganini's now large restaurant empire.
The menu from chef Patricio Duffoo is divided into cold and hot sections, with many of the dishes fairly small in scale. It's the sort of small-plates menu, though, where a satisfying meal can be pieced together without breaking the bank -- cold tapas come 3 for $15, or $6 apiece, and smaller hot items top out at $10, with the most expensive dish being a mid-sized braised oxtail for $17. Highlights include an excellent chicory salad with manchego and an anchovy-and-garlic-rich bagna cauda-style dressing; a dish of delicate, miniature cheese croquetas with bits of ham; a traditional dish of braised octopus with green olives and fingerling potatoes; and some flavorful and lightweight lamb albondigas in a perfectly rich tomato gravy, every last bit of which demanded to be sopped up with grilled bread. (See the full menu here.)
The cocktails I tasted, from Spanish born bar manager Jessica Everett, were all well balanced, unique, and stellar, with the best being a gin-and-tonic variation with grapefruit, lime, and Pedro Ximenez sherry; and one dubbed the Moorish Invasion with Spanish brandy, Fino sherry, pineapple, ancho chile liqueur, and harissa spice.
If there's any slight disappointment on the menu it was the small-scale take on paella -- served here as sort of a half portion with excellently crisped rice but just a few scant shellfish. Telling Eater recently that he thinks paella too often is "expensive" and "a lot of rice," Paganini wanted to de-emphasize the dish on Barvale's menu -- and as one server explained to me, "it's not meant to be the star of the show." This may keep the price down ($16), but it also means that this version gets outshined by nearly everything else.
All told, Barvale looks to be a welcome addition to the Divisadero corridor, which is set to have another major opening later this year, Che Fico and its companion cafe Theorita. And, as with the runaway success of A Mano, this should satisfy San Franciscans' craving for stylish food and drinks at value prices -- without drinks it looks to be pretty easy to get out of Barvale for under $40 a person, which these days counts as cheap.