In the span of a year, restaurateur Adriano Paganini and his team at Back of the House will have managed to open four restaurants serving everything from Italian to fried chicken to Mexican. Now he’s poised to launch his latest restaurant on Divisadero: BarVale, a Spanish tapas bar that’s set to open December 7.
Paganini says he’s been mulling on a Spanish restaurant for years, biding his time until the right space, chef, and moment, arose. Now executive chef Patricio (Pato) Duffoo will lead the kitchen that was formerly La Urbana, bringing in his experience from restaurants like Bocadillos, Coqueta, and Teleferic to create a menu of tapas, pintxos, and paellas that are both representative of Spain and California.
The making of a vibe
Tapas bars in Spain — at least the ones that Paganini wants to emulate — are boisterous, and informal, a gathering place where one can eat a wide range of small bites with a gin and tonic in hand, elbow-to-elbow at the bar. Like them, BarVale’s concept, and success, will be based not just on food, but on that intangible component known as the “vibe.”
The ability to create a “certain feeling” is something that Paganini has perfected throughout his many restaurants, from Beretta to Super Duper Burgers. The right location, pricing, design, food: It really is about the sum of its parts, says Paganini. He and his team have gone through this exercise many times by now, working through the details over and over again.
“It’s often simplified by people who may not understand how complicated it is. ‘Oh they stuck in another fast and casual restaurant!’” said Paganini. “But, it’s not that easy. We spent a lot of time on it, then we were thinking i wonder if we should have spent less time on it. It’s always hard to to say how important any of the different elements are.”
Though Paganini, Duffoo, and his team are focusing on creating the right feeling for BarVale, Paganani says “It’s really not just the vibe. At the end of the day we’re chefs and we geek out about the food.” Two tastings a week for three months has yielded a solid proving ground for Duffoo’s dishes, a process that the Back of the House team goes through for each of its new restaurants.
“We are trying to capture the essence of what we get when we go to restaurants, or tapas bars in Spain,” says Paganini. “What has been opening here in SF are fine-dining restaurants that serve tapas and paella — at the end of the day, they charge fine-dining prices. They’re not approachable, or affordable.”
Pricing has been one of Paganini’s concerns as he opens more restaurants in a city that’s already bursting at the seams with fine-dining (and three-Michelin-starred) restaurants. Opening A Mano, a full-service restaurant that skews fast-casual in Hayes Valley, was undoubtedly a success, with lines forming for approachable pasta and pizza at all hours. Like A Mano, BarVale won’t take reservations for parties under six people, which Paganini hopes will encourage people to drop in for a drink and a bite spontaneously.
Eating like Spaniards in San Francisco
At BarVale, the menu will focus on traditional tapas like patatas bravas and gambas al ajo, and pintxos (small bites that are often skewered) like the classic gildas (white anchovies, piparra peppers and an olive). “I love the pintxos that you see in bars in Spain,” says Paganini. “But here [in SF] they become too precious, and expensive. We want to make them simple enough that we can charge less, and people can order and taste more of them. I want to walk in and see the bar covered with pintxos.”
That philosophy extends to the paella as well. At BarVale, there’s no commitment required — rather than having diners devote their meal to a pricey pan of rice with a 45 minute lead time, diners can order the classic dish by the single serving. Paellas will be cooked large format and come out of the oven regularly, featuring traditional elements like shrimp, clams, squid, mussels, chorizo, and aioli. “A lot of times you don’t order paella because of the commitment,” says Paganini. “It’s expensive, and it’s a lot of rice.”
In the same vein, the bar menu is a slimmer than many other Spanish restaurants in town. Rather than a complicated process of selecting a gin and a tonic from a huge list, as was the case at the now-closed Aatxe, there will be four set flavor combinations. Paganini says he wants to cut out the lengthy explanation, and get right to the point. “If it requires a big explanation, that’s not capturing the essence of the tapas bar,” said Paganini “It’s too complicated.” Bar director Jessica Everett has also created a list of cocktails featuring Spanish sherries and vermouth, plus sangria and kalimotxo, the improbable pairing of red wine and cola.
As for the space itself, Hannah Collins Designs (The Riddler, Media Noche) has given the former La Urbana space a colorful remodel. The 65-seat space will offer a standing tapas bar, a main dining room with communal tables, and The Pintxo Room, a moody, all-red private dining room.