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Any GREAT Italian Food in SF?

  • k

I thought SF would have tons of great Italian restaurants -- so far been incredibly disappointed by the popular Rose Pistola, Osteria del Forno was above average, as was Fino on Post. Have yet to try Delfina. Any other places?

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  1. Over the years I've heard some nice things about Aquerello (Suzette Gresham/chef). Vivande Restaurante is no longer in business but the Delicatessen/trattoria is still open for lunch and dinner ( I think )...it's worth a try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gordon wing

      Just had a great salmon fillet at Vivande Porta Via, though the cannelini beans with it were rather flat. I do hear the pastas are what are best there.

    2. m
      Melanie Wong

      Oliveto in oakland, across the street from the Rockridge BART station.

      1. j
        JB Leibovitch

        For top shelf Italian in SF, Pane e Vino (Steiner @ Union). I also second the vote for Oliveto in Oakland/Rockridge, just take BART.

        However, there are a ton of neighborhood places in SF for your bread & butter eating. Two of our favorites are Franchino in North Beach and Mescolanza on Clement in the Richmond. Both make great gnocchi,. It's hard to find a bad bowl of pasta in San Francisco!

        1 Reply
        1. re: JB Leibovitch

          Just ate at Mescolanza tonight. The linguine in a lemon cream sauce was fabulous with its light lemony perfume. Next time, I'm going to try the gnocchi.

        2. I agree that L'Osteria del Forno is above average, but I thought that it was a great bargain for the price. I've been to Delfina twice and loved it both times. The food is fantastic - try the grilled calamari salad - and inexpensive for the quality (most expensive entree when I was there - $16!). The only minus is that it's rather loud and trendy though and hard to get in.

          Here's some of the Italian places that I liked (only been to each of them once though):

          Bella on Geary and 3rd Ave - great cinghiale (wild boar), very hospitable service (owners are from Naples) and the kitchen has a tendency to send out free dessert. Bonus - out of the way and less crowded than many other places.

          La Villa Poppi (22nd and Mission) - excellent Tuscan-inspired food (I loved the rabbit and snapper dishes I had there once), dessert was so-so, prix-fixe only with 1-3 options per course (up to 5 courses), intimate and quiet. Tiny place - seats about 20.

          Albona (Francisco and Taylor) - food from the Istrian penninsula (used to be part of Italy) - think of it as a cross between Italian and Hungarian cuisines, delicious fried gnnocchi, stuffed calamari, rabbit, risotto.

          Locanda San Pietro (18th and Clement) - good food, excellent wine service (they decant bottles into wide-based decanters before serving), exceptional service. Can be quiet and out of the way, but I was there on a weekday.

          Other places on my list that I haven't been to but want to try (love to hear someone's opiinion about them):

          Antica Trattoria (Russiann Hill)
          Pane e Vino (Cow Hollow)
          Laghi (near Japantown)

          7 Replies
          1. re: Limster

            We loved Antica where we ate one night on my first and only visit to S.F. Hopefully not to be my last.

            1. re: Limster
              Melanie Wong

              Pane e Vino is always a fun and delicious evening.

              Wondering whether anyone has been to Via Vai on Union, more casual pizzeria and trattoria under the same ownership as P & V or to Baraonda on Russian Hill owned by Bella?

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Via Vai is nothing compared to Pane e Vino in my eyes - much more of a cookie cutter operation. Why go to the weak sister when the real one is just a few blocks away??

                Baraonda (I think they recently changed the name but not ownership) is actually a little more upscale than Bella. More wild game and less family style cooking then Bella, plus a better wine list. I actually like Baraonda (or whatever it is now) a little bit better, but the parking is atrocious which is a huge annoyance.


                1. re: srf1
                  Melanie Wong

                  Thanks a bunch. I can hike up the hill to Baraonda so parking's not a deterrent for me. But maybe I should go to Antico when I'm on that side of Van Ness - what do yo think?

            2. Acquerello. IMO, nothing comes even close. This is not "neighborhood", trattoria-style cuisine. This is haute cuisine, on the order of Charles, La Folie, etc. (yes, those are French, but there aren't any Italian restaurants in that class in SF).

              For more neighborhood style places, I've had excellent meals at Laghi and Bella Trattoria.

              1. Ok, Ok, I've been holding out on you guys. I've sort of been waiting for this question. As you know, united Italy is a fairly recent invention, by their standards. When in Rome, or Florence, or Milan, no one speaks of Italian food -- people of one region barely consider the food of another to be edible.

                So naturally, my response is that I know of the perfect Venetian restaurant in San Francisco. It is so good that I missed it when I was in Venice.

                Da Flora, 701 Columbus Avenue (at the North End), 415/981-4664. What to know before you go:
                This is a destination for the evening, make reservations on the late side (after 7pm)and don't try to catch a show afterwards unless it is LATE. They have the tiniest of kitchens and a six burner stove. It is storefront restauant with quirky, romantic touches. If you order several courses and relax, you will enjoy a great evening. Flora has an idiosyncratic approach to wine (to everything actually) and I've loved every bottle I've had. The food is the main story. It is a small menu that changes daily. You can usually find the sweet potato gnocchi appetizer on the menu -- which elicits an "Oh my G--" response from the chowhounds I've brought there. The other appetizer I love is Bottarga (not always available) which is a pressed tuna caviar that is dried and served in paper thin slices with squeezed lemon. Kind of like what jerky is in heaven.

                Two people with appetizers, entrees, dessert and a bottle of wine will usually spend around $100. I've come to appreciate the comaraderie and astute observations of this board, and would be very pleased if I heard back if any of you go to Da Flora. You can tell her I sent you.

                Cheers, Anne Emry

                3 Replies
                1. re: Anne Emry

                  Thanks for mentioning this place. I just go nuts everytime I pass it--which is usually in the day when they are not open, but prepping. First time I saw it...had that feeling it must be good. I am afraid my usual date won't like the funkiness esp the mismatched chairs that don't look sturdy. I though it charming. Odd little handwritten menu. Was pondering how to order. I look forward to getting there, thanks again.

                    1. re: Anne Emry

                      OK I went there Saturday night. I see why you are keeping quiet about it. They don't seem like they can handle any more traffic, so I am hesitant to write it up. I had some strong impressions, both pro and con. Very unique place. Will think further on a detailed post.

                    2. Just drove down Post and saw the sign for Fino -- it is NOT the place I was thinking of.... Never been to Fino. Can't remember the name of the Italian place I enjoyed by Union Sq. or downtown.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: srf1

                          Good guesses!... but wasn't either of those.

                          I did enjoy Scala's. Need to visit Kuleto's still. The place I'm thinking of was a cozy little-known place maybe 3-8 blocks from Union Sq. Basically, it was only slightly above average, yet very reasonably priced, but still not worthy of my remembering its name, obviously. I'd much rather chowhound out some better finds!!

                      1. j
                        Judith Hurley

                        Actually the best Italian food I've discovered in SF isn't actually in SF, but in South San Francisco (yes, there's a "there" there), and it's Bachannal, which has excellent Tuscan food, and is also notable for it's wine selection. Well worth a trip down 101.

                        1. And for a different slice of Italian life in the Bay Area, here's a link to a prior discussion on the General Topics board.

                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          1. I know this comment is not helpful for those looking for GREAT Italian food...but those days are long gone. Todays diners are too "health" conscious to make great Italian dining profitable. In the fifties, there was Oreste's (later became Orsi's, downtown). a GREAT Italian restaurant...with one of world's finest chefs as owner/chef. We would have dinner twice a month. Our favorite was Breast of Capon and Boneless Squab in cherry sauce. Dinner included salad, soup, antipasti (cracked crab, pate, tuna in oil, and the usual olives, peppers, etc.), entre and dessert (including fried cream). Price...as I recall, $7.50.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Jim H.

                              I tended to think of some of the old departed places like Doro's and Blue Fox as "continental" rather than Italian. Oreste's family is still in the biz in Novato (link below). If you knew the old Oreste's then I think you'll enjoy reading Dan Berger's review on the site from the July 98 IJ. Haven't tried it myself, but if you do, please let us know how you like it.

                              Link: http://www.orsis.com/

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                I know Orsi's in Novato (actually Ignacio). I live about a mile away...in fact, had lunch there today. It is very good, but as I was suggesting, there are no more Great Italian restaurants because they were TOO great. Adriano Orsi has commented that he couldn't put on the spread his father did...there is no longer a market for it. Admittedly, as we get older, we can't handle that kind of eating...I can recall having to loosen my belt to get out of Orsi. As for Dan Berger...I really wonder about these guys. He has given 4 star reviews to two of the most mediocre newer restaurants in Marin...Alfy's and Jackson-Fillmore. Our entire parties at both places shared our disappointment. I know, I know. Go back for seconds...but I have better things to do. I have been eating and cooking for over 50 years, and I think by this time I know dreck when I taste it. About the only places that haven't disappointed lately are Hawthorn Lane and Il Davide in San Rafael. I was interested in an earlier post on Hang Ah...some very close friends of ours (now deceased) had an uncle who was the cook there in the 50's...my wife had her first and last duck's feet there. I go into SF so seldom for tea lunch, but the place that took the old Kuo Wah location (Grand Palace?) is pretty good. Please keep us informed, and try Orsi's...in nice weather, the deck is great!

                                1. re: Jim H.

                                  So, you're a regular, I'm much more interested in trying it now. The lunch menu looks like a pretty good deal. How's the canneloni?

                                  That style of dinner house was dying out by the time I moved to San Francisco. I did have one tasting menu dinner at Amelio's with the signature woven pasta not long before it closed.

                                  I've not been impressed with Jackson-Fillmore in SF, why compound the problem by reproducing? Hawthorne Lane has been super each time I've been there. I'd like to hear how the chef change and divorce are affecting things. Don't know Il Davide - please tell us about it.

                                  Do you mean Grand Palace on Grant Ave.? An acquaintance took me there about 10 years ago and I think I liked the dim sum but some how have never been back. I noticed that Kan's, another oldtimer, is serving dim sum now. Handing out discount coupons on the street isn't a good sign though.

                                  Keep in touch!

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Other than Orignal Joe's on Taylor St, Il Davide is the best lunch buy in the Bay Area. Check thier lunch menu online (www.ildavide.com)...pastas all for 8.95, with a generous salad. The smoked chicken ravioli in cream sauce w/artichoke hearts is superb. It is on the menu as an appetizer at night. Ample portions, good service and an outstanding house cabernet at a REASONABLE price. I have sent many people there, and nothing but raves. No, I am not a part owner or a daily customer

                                    1. re: Jim H.

                                      You sound like my friend Joe, the crazy Croatian. His favorites are Original Joe's and Tadich Grill because he's weary of trendiness. He has a favorite waiter at both. Plus I think there's a Croatian connection in there somewhere.

                                      Thanks for the info on Il Davide, sounds really good.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        While Tadich (not nearly as good as Sam's Grill on Bush) is definitely of Serbo-Croatian origin (The Buich family), OJ's is strictly Italian. Your friend sounds like me...fed up with cute and trendy. There is more to good food than seeing how high you can pile the cute stuff. We actually insulted the waiter at Roy's Grill on Kauai when we insisted our plate be "leveled out" so we could enjoy pushing the food around. Joe's lunch specials must be the best food bargain in the Bay Area. Polo's used to be just as good, but closed several years ago. You might, however, find George the former owner of Polo's part time as host at Joe's. The neighborhood is lousy, but they do have very reasonable valet parking. Joe's is a true SF classic...one of a kind.

                                        1. re: Jim H.

                                          Was going to introduce you to my friend Joe, but Sam's better than Tadich? Them's fighting words! At the very leasty you'd have to shake (the dice cups, that is) for it.

                                          I had nearly the same impression at Roy's on Kauai, although I did enjoy the food. I was entertaining a physician from Italy and his family. When the plates were put in front of them, they were embarassed and then asked in haltin English how one goes about eating such a thing!

                                      2. re: Jim H.

                                        I agree wholeheartedly with Jim. I treated my (work) team to lunch at Il Davide recently, and everyone was floored by the quality of the food and service. The waitress even brought us all some of the Insalata Davide (their "house" salad) so that "nobody would feel left out" (since a couple of us had ordered it with our meals). Everything from the Seafood Ravioli (in a cream sauce, topped with caviar) to a daily special "Caesar Combo" with scallops, prawns, and a garlic aioli sauce was flawless. The whole experience was augmented by our Chardonnay choices from their deep wine list (ours included a '98 Beringer Sbragia Limited Reserve and a Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay).