It is mid-June, and for me, June means my busiest work month of the year, and specifically, the obligation to plan a series of business dinners. We always need locations near Union Square that can handle a diverse group of about 15 to 20 persons, but that arent very expensive. Finding spots is always a challenge, especially since it seems that every year the boss always ends up nixing my idea of having a Chinese banquet (perhaps because he will be in attendance and isnt fond of Chinese, and it probably goes without saying that he isnt a Chowhound).
The boss does love Italian, however, and thus I had posted on the board a while back specifically asking about Zingari as a location for one of those dinners. Zingari is Northern Italian, located just a few blocks off of Union Square in the Donatello Hotel (on Post Street).
Anyway, I got no responses to my inquiry. However, Zingari appealed for several reasons: first of all, the menu is varied enough that those who wanted to spend more than our too-low per diem certainly could, but that those who really couldnt afford more could order pasta or other items from the lower end of the menu. Even better, Zingari offers a nightly prix fixe menu of three courses for $32.95 (which unfortunately is still above our dinner per diem, but not by much), and there are a number of choices for each course from options on the regular menu. Moreover, it is true that generally anyone can find something they like at an Italian restaurant. And finally, the location is ideal: only two blocks from our meeting hotel (The Monaco) and thus a very easy walk after a long meeting day, for folks who will be tired and jet lagged (most of the group comes from the east coast).
All reasons why Zingari was a top choice for one of our dinners: but there was just one problem: I had no idea if the food was any good, and reviews on other websites werent helpful. I found almost no mention on CH at all, and no posts at all more recent than about two years old. There was no way I was going to take my guests into the unknown, so there was only one thing to do: take hubby on a reconnaissance visit.
First bonus: Zingari offers two hours of free parking in the hotel for those dining at the restaurant. We were a bit early, and enjoyed drinks in the quiet, cozy adjoining bar with a view from the second floor overlooking the hotel lobby. There was a piano player, quite pleasant. Apparently some nights they have a full jazz combo, but not on the weekday evening we were there.
After drinks, we crossed the foyer to the restaurant, and were seated promptly at a nice, well-spaced table in the front room. The front room is the one shown in the picture on the website. It looks a bit claustrophobic in the photo, but is actually quite pleasant, not at all noisy and feels roomy, partially because of the windows overlooking the street and mirrors on the opposite wall that maximize the space. The photo doesnt do it justice. There is also a back room, with no windows but with soft murals, which wasnt even being used the night we were there, but which would be a good choice for a group. (and which is where our group will end up as it turns out).
Service was friendly, mostly professional, and prompt. No complaints there at all, except that our server didnt know the wine list. The list, which is longer than the sample shown on the website, has a good selection of wines by the glass, and a fair number of Italian wines, along with mostly standard California choices. The markup is perhaps a bit high, but not unusually so. We asked our server a question about two of the Italian reds on the menu, he couldnt answer, said he would go get the wine guy, but came back to repeat in somewhat vague terms what he said he had been told to him. So, we pretty much blindly picked a Barbera (and of course I forgot to take notes), which turned out to be fine.
Food: I had been on an oyster binge for a few days before we were there, and kept it going with oysters on the half shell, which were quite fresh and good, properly shucked. Hubby had the beet salad with goat cheese and mint; which he pronounced quite decadent: the roasted beets were piled on a delicious goat cheese base, which meant more cheese than beets, not that he was complaining.
We also shared an order of fritto misto, which, somewhat to my surprise, was as expertly prepared as any Ive had in recent memory: perfectly tender calamari and a light and greaseless batter. Definitely a winner.
I wanted to see how the pasta measured up, so I ordered a special of the evening, which was a mushroom ravioli in a brown butter/sage sauce. The portion was ample, and served properly al dente. After one bite of this very well prepared pasta I knew this was a place Id be comfortable taking my group. Hubby had veal, which he said was good, though I never managed to taste it (and I am not a veal fan in any case). The veal came with grilled asparagus and potatoes.
We did split a dessert, which apparently wasnt memorable, because all I can remember is that the strawberries that garnished it were filled with flavor. I remember seeing tiramisu going to a neighboring table.
The cappuccino and espresso to end the meal were excellent.
Bottom line: with restaurants like La Ciccia, Bacco, and Incanto all in my neighborhood, there really isnt much motivation for me to head downtown or even to North Beach to eat in an Italian restaurant. However, I was quite happy with our dinner, and would return if I had reason to be downtown and needed a tasty but soothing spot. It struck me as an excellent option for a business dinner or for someone staying near Union Square who needed a fairly unadventurous semi-upscale choice and who didnt want to go far afield. (If it were totally up to me Id advise tourists to walk over to Chinatown and try something like Great Eastern). Given the location, it is also a good choice for pre-theater or post-shopping, and while we didnt order the price fix it appears to be good value.
Indeed, I will be back, because weve scheduled one of our group dinners there. Based on my visit, I am not longer worried that it wont be a success, but of course will report back with an update.