Inside Look: Bellota, San Francisco

The newest project from San Francisco’s Absinthe Group (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, Boxing Room, Comstock Saloon) is a beauty. Named after the acorns fed to free-range Iberian Pigs—yes, the ones that eventually provide us with the delicacy of Spanish Jamón—Bellota (pronounced bay-YO-ta) brings a taste of Spain to the Bay Area with food and drink offerings inspired by the country’s many regions.

“The idea for Bellota was taken from both a restaurant I visited in Barcelona—it was elegant and warm and welcoming—and Rick’s from the movie Casablanca,” says proprietor Bill Russell-Shapiro. Located in the former National Carbon Company building (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) the team worked with Hayes Valley firm Sagan Piechota Architecture, Kendall Wilkinson Design and Revolver Design to create an atmosphere that feels modern with a Meditteranean edge. California Bay Laurel tabletops and counters, saffron-­tufted leather walls, Moorish light pendants and brass oil lamps are a few of the design elements that help establish the tone in the restaurant, while Spanish cement tile and a sherry barrel display define the central bar area.

Not unusually, paella is the star of the food menu, with half the kitchen dedicated to production of the traditional rice dish ands its iterations, but just as Spanish food is much more diverse than just paella and sangria, executive chef Ryan McIlwraith (Coqueta) says they aim to offer a variety of other options in addition to the staple. “The ability to showcase dishes from Asturias or Galicia that no one has heard of is fun for both the guest and our kitchen,” he says. “As we learn and experience dishes for the first time that have been around for centuries, it captivates us all.”

Absinthe Group director of bars Jonny Raglin (co-founder of Comstock Saloon) designed one of the most comprehensive Spanish-influenced drink programs out there. “We are offering virtually any iconic Spanish drink we can think of, from dry sherry and Asturian cider to Basque vermouth, sangria, Gin Tonics, and what I hope will eventually be the largest collections of Spanish brandies stateside,” he says.

The wine list offers only Spanish wines, and the extensive sherry program is poised to be impressive, riding on the wave of American bars beginning to focus on the style. “The one thing that I, sometimes selfishly, will continue to push is the fact that dry sherry is wine and should be consumed as such,” Raglin says. “One of our greatest successes is introducing full-bodied, dry sherry like Palo Cortado as a pairing to roasted lamb and pork. It is an uphill battle but it is something I care about.”

The day-to-day bar activities are left to bar manager Collin Nicholas, who says he’s also proud of the cocktail offerings, which will feature traditional Spanish ingredients in addition to a playful Gin & Tonic program. “There is a huge Gin & Tonic culture in Spain, so we’ve introduced a Gin & Tonic menu that allows guests to select an expression of gin that will be prepared with an elaborate garnish,” he says.

Raglin says despite the attention to tradition found in the food and drink menus, the overall goal is to also be creative with both, using Spanish culture as a guideline. “Our intention with Bellota as a Spanish concept was purely to offer our guests in San Francisco a unique experience that draws from one of the most dynamic dining cultures of the world; not to be indelibly authentic, but to be inspired and pass that along.”

Scroll through the photos above for peek inside the space.