We conclude our Wine Bar Week here at BarFlySF with Aquitane, the latest wine bar opened earlier this month in FiDi by the C&L Partners team of Laurent Manrique and Christopher Condy. They have have a long history together at C&L; as Executive Chef, Manrique Chef was responsible for bringing Michelin Stars to San Francisco with Aqua (2006-2008) and Fifth Floor (2008). Together, they are the group behind the more casual Café de la Presse bistro and a couple of downtown wine bars: Blanc et Rouge and Rouge et Blanc. Andrew Fidelman, who was the General Manager and wine connoisseur at Blanc et Rouge, is now a part-owner at Aquitane. What differentiates Aquitane from their other wine bars, is that they built out a small kitchen so that specialty dishes from the region could be served along with the wine. In other words, they have a menu that offers more than cheese and charcuterie, befitting our Wine Bar Week theme.
Aquitane is named after the Southwest region of France bordered by Spain, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountains. This also happens to be the area that Manrique is from, hence the focus of this wine bar. Aquitane contains the French Basque area and the city and wine region of Bordeaux. There is a very helpful map posted by the wine bar for reference:
We like our French and Basque wines, so we thought this might be a good opportunity to learn more about this area’s varietals beyond the more common Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc. Next to the map, they helpfully provide all of the names of the wine varietals that are grown in the Aquitane region:
Below is a view of the ground floor, which has plenty of seats in addition to the bar. They also have a retail component: wines can be purchased for consumption offsite at a discount from the prices listed in their wine menu:
With about 25 wines on their list available by the glass, we started our Aquitane wine education by ordering a glass of 2012 Negrette Rosé from Château du Cèdre in Cahors and a glass of a 2011 Ugni Blanc by Domaine de Rieux from Gascogne. A very nice touch is that they pour the wine in a small carafe prior to pouring it into a glass. Psychological or not, it just makes it seem like a better value when you see that you have wine in a glass and even more in a separate carafe:
Executive Chef Patrick Colson worked with Manrique to come up with the Southwest French (Gascony) menu that contains about five snacks that can be ordered all day, comprised of duck popcorn, bacon strips, deviled eggs and cheese. 16 larger plates are available in the evening, including White Almond Gazpacho, Rabbit Rilletes, Oysters and several preparations of Duck (prosciutto, drumstick confit to a Magret of duck roasted on the bone for two).
We decided to order the Deviled Eggs served with crackers and topped with tasty bits of smoked duck bacon. Maybe our taste buds have gone into overdrive, but the egg filling was overly seasoned with salt. The eggs were listed on the snack menu, so perhaps it was meant to make us drink more wine:
We moved on and ordered the Oysters topped with a cold Bordelaise Sausage Salad which easily turned out to be our favorite bites of the evening. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we put the order in, but the raw bi-valves arrived topped with the sausage with a wine reduction sauce. Theses were excellently decadent:
Partner-Owner Andrew was on site the evening we came and highly suggested that we get the Escouton Landais dish, which he described as Gascogne’s version of polenta. Topped with baked cherry tomatoes, the fine-milled corn flour porridge was mixed with plenty of gooey Pyrenees cheese, fried parsley and lightly flavored with rosemary. We once read a quote from Bobby Flay that the difference between polenta and corn grits is that you can charge more for polenta. At $16 for this plate, the Escouton was truly delicious with a texture that is all at once airier, gooier and finer than other polenta or grit dishes we have had. Apart from the cheese, we can only guess that there must have been a lot of butter or cream in there as well:
We joke that we only drink Cabernet Sauvignon under three conditions: it must be French, at least 30 years old, and paid for by someone else. As you can imagine, we rarely drink Cabernet Sauvignons. So we thought this would be a good opportunity to try out some other red varietals from the region. We enjoyed the Negrette Rosé a lot, so we thought we would try a glass of the 2011 Negrette (Red) made by Château Le Roc from Fronton, and it turned out to be very good. We were also curious about the Tannat grape since it was one of the more expensive wines on their bottle list. They offered the 2006 Château Montus Tannat from the Pyreenees city of Madiran, so we went for it even at $20 a glass. Consider us educated on this grape: the best we could say is that is highly tanninc and “inky.” Certainly not our preference, but we could see how others would enjoy it. Or maybe it needs another 25 years in the bottle:
We felt like having Steak-Frites with our glasses of red wine, so we ordered the Olivier’s Onglet Steak which comes served on top of toasted baguette slice. The pre-sliced rare steak came smothered with a walnut and Roquefort blue cheese relish and inexplicably stabbed with several bamboo picks (there is no way to pick up those walnut with the picks.) We returned to the snacks menu and ordered the Pommes Frites to accompany the meat, served with a creamy and tart Sauce Ravigote. Charmingly served in a wooden clog, we would have preferred to have them be more crispy:
They offer a few desserts in addition to cheese, and we opted to get the Chocolate Cake. The rich and tasty pieces of cake were served with orange supremes and Lilet sauce:
To pair with the cake, Andrew kindly provided us with a taste of this Ambre des Rivesaltes which not only paired well with the cake, but was a great dessert wine on its own — not overly sweet at all:
Taking over the former John Walker liquor store near the Crocker Galleria, the 30+ seat wine bar is bi-level with the kitchen and wine bar upstairs and a cozy lounge area with couches downstairs. Here’s a skewed view of the kitchen on the right and a lit arrow beckoning all to the comfortable lounge downstairs:
Usually crowds always migrate to the newly opened places and we were surprised that it wasn’t the case with Aquitane, especially given the credentials behind the ownership. Other than a few people in the lounge and one friend of the staff, we were the only ones dining at the wine bar on what we thought would be a busy opening weekend evening. Considering the location in the FiDi, we would expect that they will likely attract a very large post-work crowd, so Saturday night may remain a great opportunity to try wines not commonly found and get your own education.