Mill Valley: To Gira Polli with love
When I lived in SF the only restaurant that I ate at more than Bizou was Gira Polli. It just was my favorite chicken … baked in a special wood oven imported from Italy; the bird was fragrant with rosemary and citrus with a quarter of orange as the stuffing. The skin was tasty and crispy. I had Gira Polli on speed dial on my cell phone.
The special (1/2 chicken) comes with creamy roasted Palermo potatoes, garlicky Swiss chard, a small green salad with vinaigrette and a hard roll. They also made one of the best cannolis in the Bay Area.
It was a dependable place to have a business dinner and a manager from Mexico always wanted to go there whenever he came to town because he was crazy about the chicken and cannoli.
When I was stuck working for a while in the mainly culinary wasteland of Walnut Creek, the Walnut Creek Gira Polli was a reliable place to eat after a long day.
The Walnut Creek and SF locations closed over the years, leaving only Mill Valley. I’m not that familiar with that area, and so I never made it over there. Then on my way to check out Cici gelato, there was Gira Polli.
The co-owner Norine Ferrante, was taking care of take-out orders and the chef whose name I never learned was busy putting together take-out chicken dinners. It was like seeing old friends.
There are some minor changes. The roll is more of a hard crusty roll instead of the sourdough roll in SF. It isn’t as flavorful, but still serviceable for sopping up the chicken juices.
The cannoli was a little different, but the cannoli often changed in SF. This was a thinner shell but still had a smooth creamy filling with a chocolate chip here and there. It still is an excellent and satisfying cannoli.
There wasn’t another thing that ever stood out for me on the Gira Polli menu except the biscotti della mama which were hand-made by Ferrante’s mother, Kay Bruno a native of Sicily, Didn’t buy them on this visit but the biscotti looked the same. I’m not sure if Bruno is still making them.
However, the chicken was and is the thing here. It wasn’t always perfect. If you went at opening, sometimes it could have used a little more time in the oven. Go at closing and occasionally it was overdone. However, 99.9 percent of the time it was poultry perfection. I ate there at a minimum of once a month for 7-8 years with only an occasional clucker clunker.
The Mill Valley restaurant has a large parking lot. My arrangement at SF was calling on my cell phone and having them run the chicken to the curb when I pulled up, nervously checking for the North Beach parking police.
The Mill Valley restaurant is a nice, casual restaurant with a sun room running along the side. The oven displays the chickens taking a ferris wheel ride over the fire, turning a golden brown.
There are some nice pictures of the restaurant and chicken on this blog
Sometimes you can go home again. I’m glad to be reunited with Gira Polli and expect it to be a frequent detour when I’m near the East Blithedale exit.
My first experience with Gira Polli was probably close to about 18 years ago - I did not live in SF at the time but had lots of reason to be here on a regular basis. Likewise, it was a regular meal at the restaurant or a take out. Your description could not be more perfect regarding the chicken, consistency, etc.
For years, I tried to recreate their chicken, going so far as to cut limbs from an almond tree to use the wood when roasting my chickens outdoors. Never quite worked out exactly the same, but I did lots of experimentation to capture the essence.
In fact, I would also tell you that this experience is largely what lead to my favorite food, my Chowhound handle and contributed to my relocation to SF.