Observations on Food in the Bay Area
Da Flora again
At Columbus and Filbert in SF's North Beach.
What can I say? When it's my favorite Italian restaurant in the City, I'm gonna go back a few times. Here's the prior review for reference.
Just because if it's true enough to say once, it's true enough to say again, this is a wonderful tiny restaurant. It has all of perhaps 8 or 10 tables in a tiny little slice of Venice, artfully decorated with Venitian touches and with a large chunk of one wall taken up by their significant collection of unique Italian wines. It's got a fantastic atmosphere that puts you in Italy and is perfectly romantic. On to the food.
We started (big suprise) with a couple orders of the unforgettable sweet potato gnocchi. Wonderfully smoothly textured and melt-in-your-mouth perfection, the sweet potato is not at all overpowering, and only adds an interesting hint of sweetness and unexpected flavor to what is traditionally a regular potato dish. The thich sherry cream sauce is pleasantly rich, and makes a perfect companion to the thick, olive-oil soaked focaccia which shares the table when you're out of gnocchi. And of course, the utterly fantastic smoked, salted pancetta simply sends the dish over the top. I could eat that pig all day long; it's better than any bacon you've ever had.
Thoughout all this we had a Albino Armani Foja Tonda red wine, the first of 2 bottles recommended by the astoundingly knowledgeable hostess who can not only describe the flavor characteristics of each of their wines, but can even relate to you any unusual details of the regions in which they are grown. It was very smooth and round in the mouth; soft and fairly mild with no tannins whatsoever, and yet of a remarkable deep red color. Medium bodied, this would be a great pairing with their lighter seafood dishes, which was the plan when we ordered it, but it disappeared before the main courses arrived, necessitating a new bottle.
For the second bottle, we wanted something a little bigger and spicier (yet which hopefully wouldn't completely overwhelm the crab). For this, she recommended an Ottomarzo '00 Valpolicella Classico Superiore 'Grola.' What a wonderful wine! Full of earthy and oaky spice and far more complex in both aroma and flavor than the Foja Tonda. This bottle was not as smooth in the mouth, and less round and coating in character, but far more interesting with lots of front of palate spice and brighter, red berry flavors. It also had no tannins to speak of, with a nice finish.
- Mussels in some sort of spicy sauce - my girlfriend proclaimed them to be fantastic, but as I'm not a particular fan of mussels, I didn't sample them.
- Fennel pork shoulder in a honey sauce over split rice, pearl onions, and pomegranite seeds - WOW! You could smell the aroma wafting off this one the moment it hit the table; a mouth-watering mix of roast pork and the sweet, slightly caramelized aroma of honey, all blended with the spicy, herbal aroma of fennel. The pork was flawlessly cooked, and required nothing more than a fork as it simply fell apart. At first bite, the rich sweetness of the honey fills your mouth, and as it blends away, you're left with the rich, hearty flavor of the pork. The citrusy pomegranite makes for a great and suprising contrast with the sweet, rich honey. Everyone agreed this was just fantastic.
- Tagliatelle with Dungeness crab - I've had this before, so didn't sample it again, but my recollection from times past was that the light cream sauce allows the sweet flavor of the crab to come through nicely, and there are good-sized chunks of crab meat.
- Cavatappi with pork bolognese - Rich!! Wow, the sauce was astoundingly rich and flavorful over the tubular corkscrew pasta. Rave reviews from everyone. Unfortunately, I only got a smallish bite, but the richness of its flavor is what I recall most.
Then, the dessert...
- Creme brulee with cookies - I believe the cookies were pistachio, but don't quite recall; they were very thin, and fairly soft. The creme brulee was of nearly perfect consistency, except that it was cold - I believe they had been premade, and as such the top was not as crispy as it perhaps could have been (had started to soften with time), but the custard was wonderfully rich and flavorful, and not nearly watery or runny at all, which I've encountered at other restaurants to my distaste.
- Ruby grapefruit granita with pomegranite seeds - just like eating frozen grapefruit. Very refreshing, and great flavor.
- Pear something-or-other - Can you tell I didn't order this one? I had a small taste, and it was quite good; something like half pear, half shortbread.
All-in-all another marvelous meal. Came to a total of about $300 (after tip) for the 4 of us, which is not bad considering the 2 bottles of wine. And I cannot recommend enough asking for suggestions on the wine; I've never gone wrong.