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SF pasta carbo load PRE-marathon meal

I guess it's never to early for an October posting.

I am also coming in for the Nike Women's Marathon in October. I'm looking for an italian restaurant to carbo load Saturday night. I will be staying somewhere on the Embarcadero (I think near Fisherman's Wharf) so I would like somewhere in the North Beach/Financial District/Ferry Building area.

Specifically, I am looking for a place that has:

1) homemade pasta
2) excellent ragu for the pasta, or in the alternative, delicious non-cream based sauce for the pasta
3) really good bread.

In Boston, pasta equivalents are La Morra and Sage and Chicago - Merlo's Ristorante.

The one time I ate at Delfina's, I thought it was good but not what I am looking for. Also, it is too far away for the pre-marathon meal.

Thanks so much.

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  1. I can't believe I will be flying out to SF this Thursday. I am still on the quest for a pre-marathon meal. My friend wants to go to Mona Lisa


    I'm not overly enthusiastic about the menu. But, I am a sucker for spaghetti and meatballs. How are Mona Lisa's?

    I was leaning towards Firenze:


    or Antica Trattoria:


    Friend doesn't want a place that is too fussy. I just want excellent pasta.

    Any suggestions?


    1. I know it gets seriously mixed reviews, but I am going to suggest Original Joe's. It's a straight shot down Market from the embarcadero. Maybe a $6 cab ride (and, if you don't know the area, I highly suggest a cab), and has a very old-school vibe. Every time I walk in that place, I have just some odd "only in San Francisco" (in a good way) experience. Huge plates of pasta, charbroiled meats. Tasty food, but really it's the experience and the CARBS! (Many other places I think will be more fatty sauces than carb carb carbs, and when I say the plates are huge... I think I ate 1/4 of my lasagne. But it was tasty.)

      Best of luck on the marathon! (I think my friend, fellow chowhound, Muppet, is running the half!)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chowsmurf

        that is a *REALLY* sketchy area.

        aside from the area, i still would not recommend it. i was there about a year ago. pasta was overcooked, and vegetables were cooked into mush and drowning in margerine.

      2. Believe it or not, Caffe Puccini has really great pasta. Not at all fussy, but very good quality. I loved the papardelle with rabbit. It got a good review in the Chronicle's pasta round-up a few years ago, it ranked in the "best overall" category.


        Caffe Puccini: The Tuscan-born owner of this popular espresso bar added a pasta menu a few years ago and makes all the hearty sauces himself, including a delicious marinara. 411 Columbus Ave. (near Vallejo), (415) 989-7033.

        2 Replies
        1. re: AmySherman

          I love what Original Joe's does with meat, but for lots of pasta for cheap, I'd go with Caffe Puccini too. Here's a discussion from last year and a picture of my pasta plate -
          Good ragu, not homemade pasta though.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I'll third what Melanie said - I carbo-loaded before a race once with Caffe Puccini and wasn't disappointed. No homemade pasta, but good ragu.

            You might also want to make a early visit to Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton) for some of their foccacia for even more carbs before the race.

        2. Thanks for all the advice. I'm going to call Caffe Puccini today. Hopefully, I can get an early reservation. I'll report back next week.

          1 Reply
          1. re: beetlebug

            I will be running Sunday too!! I have a friend that is a cook in SF who recommended a place called "Da Flora" to me for authentic italian with possibly handmade pasta. Ive never been there but she is an amazing chef with high standards. I left a message for reservations today myself. good luck on sunday!

          2. Always Pasta Pomodoro, too--cheap and dependable.

            (And no half-marathon for me this time--good luck!)

            1. SF is pretty small so in a cab you can really get places quick. from embarcadero to noe valley it would be about 15 bucks for a cab and you could go to incanto. i went there alone a few nights back and just got every single pasta they had. i was totally stuffed and supremely happy. i highly reccomend it.

              they always have their great pork ragu with hankerchief pasta.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Lord Griffin

                If the OP says that Delfina is too far away, then surely Incanto is as well. And no, you can't always get anywhere in SF that quickly, particularly if there are a lot of events in town (such as the upcoming Oracle World, just to name one, which will slow down traffic around the Embarcadero/SOM area).

              2. I had a great pre-race meal at Incanto last year -- had the hankerchief pasta and beat my previous half-marathon time by 30 seconds per mile!

                2 Replies
                1. re: stonefruit

                  I thought carbo loading was supposed to be 100% semolina pasta with a low-fat sauce?

                  I love Incanto in general and that handkerchief pasta in particular, but it's more about pork-fat loading.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I'm also running the Marathon on Sunday and I have to agree that a pasta with braised pork would not be my meal of choice before a race. I guess people know what they can handle and what will give them energy but for me, anything with meat sauce or copious cheese is out of the question. I'd be up all night digesting and stressing out because of it.

                    That being said I had a really satisfying pasta dish after a 22 mile training run at Park Chow. It was a spaghetti with miso broth, tofu and veggies and it was totally flavorful and satisfying. I'm thinking I may go there for dinner before the race if I don't cook at home. I know it's not home made pasta or anything but I'd save the rich pastas a la Incanto for Sunday night after the race...with a couple well deserved glasses of wine.

                    I know that's not what the OP was really looking for nor is it in North Beach. I figured I'd just throw that out there for anyone looking for a lighter carbo load experience.

                    Good luck to beetlebug!

                2. I really like Panta Rei at North Beach for pasta. My favorite is pasta with duck ragu. It offers a good variety ofpasta choices as well as really good calzones. Prices are very reasonable.


                  1. Thanks for all the additional suggestions and the well wishes. Funny, I run well on pasta with meat sauce, but not meatballs. The meat sauce is usually less meat and more flavor. If it's too heavy, it's bad. I don't run well on asian carbs for dinner. I don't know why, since grew up on Chinese food.

                    So, here is my rough eating plan - because I have to maximize the eatins in SF part.

                    Friday - breakfast at Canteen, lunch in the Ferry Bldg (Hog Island for oyster, chowder and bread, no cowgirl creamery cheese until post-marathon :-( ), dinner at Delfina.

                    Saturday - breakfast in C-town in one of the random bakeries. I want rice porridge and dumplings, lunch unknown and dinner at Caffe Puccini. They don't take reservations but the woman was very nice and said that they could push a couple of tables together for us. I'm going to push for Ferry Bldg for lunch at the farmer's market. Plus, I really need some Blue Bottle Coffee.

                    Sunday - I don't know what I am eating post race yet. But it will be protein of some sort. Probably a burger, steak or sushi. I might have to visit with in-laws. In that case, food is out of my hands.

                    Monday - still unclear, but I always have a list of food in my possession.

                    I do know before I leave, I will be hitting North Beach truffles, Ferry Bldg for acme bread, cowgirl cheese, Golden Gate for egg custards, coconut custards and almond cookies.

                    Good luck also to fine wino for optimal running conditions. At the very least, it looks like perfect weather for us.

                    I can't wait and I will report back once I get back to the East Coast.

                    1. i am coming from the east coast also for the race! im doing the 1/2, and walking it like last year. i will be going to the ferry building saturday morning, i am staying in a hotel very close. i am doing: BIX friday night with 5 other girls, saturday morning at the ferry building alone, lunch in east bay with friends, dinner take-out burma superstar saturday night and then sunday after the race big group dinner somewhere in north beach. I CANNOT WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!

                      1. This is a SF trip report, not just the pre-marathon dinner.

                        I love coming to San Francisco. The trips are always too short and I never get to eat as much as I want.

                        Thursday night - flew in to Oakland Airport. I was starving when I got off the plane. I never had an In and out Burger before and the car rental guy directed me to one near the exit to go into SF. I was very excited because I had always wanted to try one of these burgers but never was able to fit it in. And, it tasted great. I got the single cheeseburger with special sauce (russian dressing?), ketchup, mustard and onions. I wasn't impressed with the fries. They were undersalted and underfried. I did like how they were pushed the potato fry maker prior to frying. The wait for these burgers seemed to last forever. Not the fastest of fast foods.

                        Friday breakfast - Canteen - This was great. I had the scrambled eggs with chorizo. I'm not a bean person so I asked for it without. The chef put on huge chunks of avocado instead. Boy, was this tasty. Perfectly flavored. I usually add hot sauce to my eggs, but the flavor from the chorizo was so great that I didn't need it. Peppery (chorizo), sweet (avocados) and mushy (eggs) were a great combo. I realized halfway through the meal I had no carbs with the protein. It didn't come with toast and I hadn't ordered it. It was a little strange to me because I'm used to having the toast appearing with my eggs.

                        Snack after breakfast - Golden Gate Bakery. I had a lot of time to kill post breakfast, pre-number pick up. I thought the perfect way would be to hit my favorite bakery. It was shortly after opening so not all the pastries were ready. But the pastry ladies called down to the basement and the goods gradually worked their way up. I bought egg custards, coconut cakes, vanilla cream pies and custard napoleans. My plan was to also hit this place on Sunday to carry stuff on the plane for home. It just never happened, but I did have some custard napoleons and vanilla cream pies yesterday. Still tasted fine. FYI, even though I smushed the eggs custards, they still tasted delicious. They sure looked funny though.

                        Lunch - Ferry Building. Alas, no Hog Island Oysters for me on this trip. My friend didn't eat seafood. We went to the mexican place and it was fine. A bit overpriced for what I got.... but it hit the spot. I ordered two tacos (one carnitas and one carne asada). Although, in fairness, each individual taco could have been two tacos because there were double tortillas and a lot of meat. What was a very pleasant surprise was that the jalapeno/carrot relish actually had some heat to it.

                        Dinner - Delfina. The food was lovely but the service was poor. Started off with the Insalata del campo – Bitter greens, pancetta, walnuts, parmigiano and balsamic vinaigrette. This was delicious. Perfectly dressed with a great melding of flavors. I gravitate towards the bitter greens so I was extremely happy with my salad. Main course, I had the mint tagliatelle with the porcini mushrooms. The was also very good but not what I expected. I thought the mint would be incorporated into the pasta dough. Instead, it was mixed in to the sauce so the pasta was coated with it. Upon reflection, this was probably better because the mint taste came out without being overpowering.

                        The service was not good though. There is a fine line between leisurely dining and slow service. Delfina crossed the line. The drinks took a long time to come. So did the salads. But the entrees were on top of the apps. When we ordered second glasses of wine (during our salads) they didn't come until well after the pastas. We had to ask the waitress for them. Moreover, we had the waitress recommend a glass of wine to go with the entree. She chose a lovely wine, but didn't give us a taste of wine prior to serving (understandable because not all places do this) but what was not ok was that she never asked us if we even liked the wine after we were served it. It's too bad because the service did mar our experience.

                        Saturday - Dim Sum at Yank Sing. Excellent dim sum. The soup dumplings were excellent but only warm, not piping hot. There also seemed like there was less of a selection of dumplings then the last time I was there. I have memories of excellent veggie dumplings that I never saw this time around. I do love that cold cabbage salad. So refreshing. We showed restraint because we were going to the Ferry Building to the Farmer's Market afterwards. I was with a different friend who loves oysters so the plan was to hit Hog Island.

                        Ferry Building snack - ok, so it was less than an hour since I had dim sum. But, I didn't gorge at dim sum and I was running long the next day. Once again though, I was denied my oysters. The line was crazy at Hog Island and I had to meet people in an hour. I did get pre-shucked oysters at one of the seafood stands. They were juicy, just not as sweet as Hog Island ones. I did pick up Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery as well as a pain epi from Acme Bread Company. I was actually planning ahead for my flight home. I also picked up Blue Bottle Coffee and McEvoy Olive Oil. I love BBCoffee and was happy that they sold beans at the market. I didn't have time on this trip to go out to Oakland.

                        Dinner - Caffee Puccini - this was a perfect place to carbo load up. Thank you so much for the recommendations. Without CH, I wouldn't have found this place. North Beach was hopping. Between the Oracle Convention and the marathon, it was a wonder I got into any place at all. I had the papparedelle pasta with rabbit. THis was scrumptious. The pasta tasted homemade. It had the right consistency. The rabbit was out of this world. Just the right amount of sauce/meat ratio too.

                        Sunday - lunch - I had another in and out burger. It totally hit the spot. This time, I had a double double with sauce and other stuff. I don't remember but it was tasty. The fries were still underdone so I think that is how they cook it.

                        Dinner - Andale in the Marina (Chestnut Street?) - the one meal that I had no plans for. We didn't want to go that far from the hotel and this was close. It also hit the spot. I wanted salt and meat. So, I got the platter with a carne asada enchilada and chile relleno. The carne asade was not best showcased in the enchilada. Whatever subtlies in the flavoring were lost to the sauce. The chile relleno had a nice flavor but the pomplano pepper was undercooked. I especially liked the chips, salsa and guac. The salsa could have used more heat. But I think that of most everything. I wanted to try the pozole but I knew that was too much food for me. I was also too tired to really comment on the specifics of the food.

                        As for the entire trip, the weather was spectacular. I was worried about Friday and Saturday's weather. It was sunny, hot and in the mid-80s. Great for tourism but bad for runners. Marathon Sunday turned out to be beautiful running weather. The course was spectacularly gorgeous. As we came out of the Presido, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge was something out of a picture book - a majestic red bridge with fog rolled around it. Other than Lake Merced (miles 18-23) which was ungodly hot and unforgiveably long, the rest of the course had perfect cool running temperatures. Have to love the SF fog - it's a runner's dream. Saw the bison in Golden Gate Park as well as waterfalls and still water. The ocean (what little I could see of it) was rugged and all around, that lovely fog. It was especially refreshing after finally leaving Lake Merced. Unfortunately, I couldn't partake in the Ghiradelli chocolates or the animal crackers - too sweet after all the gatorade. But some very nice woman had a huge bag of pretzels which were a life saver. So thanks to her and to all of SF for being patient with the Sunday road closures.

                        So, to sum up... I ate like a pig but ran like a girl. What more could I want?

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: beetlebug

                          Thanks for the report, and congrats on the marathon! I, too, run like a girl, although I didn't run with the other girls on Sunday. You really lucked out, weather-wise: two perfectly warm days, and then presto! The fog pours in like magic. :)

                          1. re: beetlebug

                            Thanks for the post! I also ran on Sunday, but I had take-out Indian from Pakwan. It was delicious, but I don't know what I was thinking about having that as my pre-run meal!!!

                            1. re: beetlebug

                              I'd say you ate like a marathoner! Thanks for the great report and congratulations!

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                Great report! Congrats on your accomplishments (running and eating).

                                Yes, the fries at In-N-Out are like that. Sorta limp and soft; I don't care for them so much. The "secret" is that you can ask for them "twice-fried", but that doesn't work for me either.

                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  If I had only known about the double fried fries. Although, the first night, I was so hungry that I couldn't have waited any longer. And, on Sunday, someone was nice enough to bring me the double double after the race. Can't beat service like that...

                                  I'm ready for some home cooked meals again. Unfortunately, headed right back out of town. Will return when it's time to start cooking Mexican.

                                  1. re: beetlebug

                                    You can order the fries "crispy" or "well-done" and they'll leave 'em in the fryer longer, but don't believe the true twice-frying method is possible.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Yea, you're right. Twice-fried would be too good to be true. Now I remember asking for "well-done", but I guess it's been a good while since I've eaten at In-N-Out.