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Brunch, Tapas, and $3 Bloody Marys

I have a friend who refuses to make brunch plans. His staunch aversion to brunch is annoying, but he's right: long lines, noisy crowds and the interminable wait for a plate of prettied-up eggs will ruin a weekend day. But, what to do when Eggs Benedict calls, friends are in town and, well, you just have to go and get brunch somewhere? Especially in the Mission, it's hard to find serenity and a Bloody Mary that's less than 8 bucks. Enter Ramblas - that little tapas place on Valencia between 16th and 17th.

Owned by the ThirstyBear people, Ron Silberstein and Ragnhild Lorentzen, Ramblas opened a few years ago to serve microbrews, decent Spanish tapas, pomegranate margaritas and cheap, fabulous wines, but they just started serving brunch. Before brunching at Ramblas, I would have recommended it more for its ambience, location, and bar offerings than for the menu. However, a recent brunch at Ramblas changed my mind.

First, the daytime setting is incredibly pleasant. The dining room is sleek and peaceful, the staff and owners are friendly, flamenco music pipes in gently, and the Bloody Marys, flavored with dill, are only 3 smacks. The menu is varied and delicious, hitting the mark for the most part.

Our table loved the Eggs Charles V ($9), a variation on the Benedict with jamon Serrano, spinach, lightly pimenton hollandaise, and fried onions: one of the best Benedicts of my life, no joke. Although we didn't fall in love with another dish, the deep-fried eggs ($7), it's a cool idea. The eggs are poached then iced down to stop the cooking, then they're battered and deep-fried (but still runny inside), served with spinach and tomato-chorizo sauce and a hint of - strangely enough -- cinnamon. Since you can order from the tapas menu, we eschewed the popular Spanish toast fritters ($7) and the asparagus-manchego soufflé ($7) for a roasted quail stuffed with jamon and green onions with cranberry sauce ($9). It was good, but the ham chunks were too huge and chewy for the delicate quail. We had a Zarzuela of shellfish and sea bass in a tomato-almond-saffron sauce ($9) as well, which was more successful. We did try a dessert, a Galician almond torte with raspberry sauce and orange sherbet ($5). It was toothsome and perfect! Too full to go for the boquerones ($6) or paella ($12-$15), we decided to come back for dinner in the future, when new ThirstyBear chef Trish Tracy (Helios) will have revamped the tapas menu. As of Fall 2003, Shan Kenner plays trippy flamenco jazz guitar, and Tuesday evenings, Carlos Nagin plays flamenco guitar. Check it out sometime.