If you’ve ever thought (as I have, many times) that fine dining in the Castro could be summed up as “Frances, Starbelly, and meh,” the almost two-month-old Beso will get you to reconsider. It’s a Basque-California alliance that works. As a concept, small plates might be a little past their sell date, but since tapas are what started it, you simply cannot err by going back to the roots.
[jump] First off, Beso is a new project from the team behind Bisou, around the block. It’s romantic but not so dim that you can’t appreciate the presentation, and the wine list plants one foot solidly on the Iberian Peninsula. That other less-than-universally-adored trend, a communal table, is also present, but since Beso has 54 seats, you won’t necessarily be getting elbowed. (There are lots of two-tops.) And the check is presented in a stylish wooden prism with slots for multiple cards.
I can’t resist myself from going overboard when presented with any tapas menu, but with some helpful candor from the patient server I managed to keep our order within the confines of good taste. Among the cheese and charcuterie, the acorn-fed salchichón ibérico and a rosemary manchego were particularly complementary, but the cojonudo (hot Palacio chorizo and quail egg on toast points) made the best hors d’oeuvres-like bite.
A plate of setas (roasted wild mushrooms, shaved manchego, egg yolk, thyme, cherry vinegar and lemon zest) might have been slight overkill but the textures were flawless. And since paella is common enough, the real test of a kitchen’s chops might be pulpo a la plancha. This version, stacked on a smear of yogurt sauce, was perfectly tender and smartly presented. (The radial symmetry of the plate draws the eye away from the fact that you’re eating tentacles, and everyone loves their kale.)
If Beso should ever get a full liquor license, it will be truly unstoppable, but just the opportunity to vary up date night in the Castro is a gift.
Beso, 4058A 18th St., 801-5392.