Observations on Food in the Bay Area
reviews - Located at Columbus and Filbert in SF's North Beach, this tiny Venitian restaurant has rapidly become my favorite source of Italian food in the city. The location, a real hole-in-the-wall comprised of perhaps 8 tables, and full of candles, dark red walls, and all sorts of Venitian decor, is quite the romantic spot. The wine list, which is quite extensive (over 6 pages now, I believe), is comprised entirely of Italian wines, and unless you're really up on your Italian vineyards, you likely won't recognize any of them. Lucky for you, the owner knows every wine on the list like the back of her hand (and likely better; how well do you know the back of your hand?), and she can describe them in astounding and mouth-watering detail. The menu changes on a regular basis, and is small and hand-written.
First off, a few notes of warning:
(1) Make reservations. The place is tiny, and if you want a seat, walking up isn't recommended.
(2) They prefer cash. Not required, but a good way to ingratiate yourself because...
(3) The service has often been described as 'brusque' at best. Personally, I've never experienced anything but good, and often great service. They have character, and lots of it, and that's part of the charm. It's not a big touristy restaurant, so they don't worry about being nice to tourists. Think of it more like you're going to someone's house for dinner. Be nice to them, and they'll be nice to you.
That said, on to why it's so wonderful:
Sweet-potato gnocchi, in a sherry cream sauce with pancetta. Oh My God. This dish is the definition of an orgasm on a plate. This is the best gnocchi I've ever had, bar none. It's astounding. Melts in your mouth, and the flavors are beyond compare. It also comes with some fantastic focaccia to mop up the remaining sauce. This is the one constant item on the menu. I get this every time I go. Sometimes twice. A friend and I once joked that we might just have to get an entire meal worth of nothing but orders of gnocchi. Worth every penny.
Other things we had:
Heirloom tomato salad - wonderful, thick, fresh, flavorful slices of tomato with light olive-oil & vinegar, and a few other toppings. Fantastic.
Caesar salad - real caesar, complete with anchovies in the dressing. I can't stand the stuff, but my dad proclaimed it fantastic.
(hmm... I'm forgetting the main courses. should have done this sooner)
A liver dish, which I wasn't a fan of, but my mom proclaimed to be fantastic. It was certainly very flavorful.
Pasta in a spicy marinara sauce - very good. Great flavor, and indeed suprisingly spicy, of the late-arriving heat variety.
Tagliatelle pasta with sweet potato blossoms, and various other fresh veggies in a light cream sauce. Wonderful. Light, yet very flavorful, the sauce allowed the flavor of the fresh veggies to shine through. Very nice.
With the main courses we enjoyed a bottle of Albino Armani Corvara '98, one of the best wines I've had in a long time. This had a crazy intense though not huge nose, and was rich and astoundingly smooth, with intense red and dark fruit flavors, and a massive long finish. Really truly fantastic. Strong enough to match the pate, yet it didn't overpower my tagliatelle. This bottle was recommended by our hostess as one which she really enjoyed to match our entire meal, and her description was perfectly accurate.
Wine Enthusiast listed it for $28; in the restaurant I believe it was $36 - a very reasonable markup.
We finished with a fantastic fallen chocolate cake covered in ganache. Rich!
Yet another fantastic evening. I can't recommend it enough. Just remember my tips above!