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Jul 1, 2008 03:46 PM

On The Haunt for Great Italian Places in San Francisco and Beyond

I am compiling a list of all original Italian restaurants in the Bay Area. I have most of the big names (Perbacco, Incant, A16, La Ciccia, Quattro, Farina, etc), and some smaller places (Ristorante Milano, La Pizzeria, La Strada, E' Tutto Qua, etc). Now I am looking for off the beaten path recommendations, neighborhood places that serve a true Italian fare.
General "requirements": Someone in the kitchen or in the management team is from Italy (usually an indication of modern Italian fare as opposed to Italian-American cuisine); menu doesn't include Alfredo sauce or chicken on pasta; place is generally pleasant.
Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!

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  1. Pazzia.

    Pazzia Restaurant
    337 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

    1. Noe Valley Ristorante Bacco on Diamond Street is one of my favorites.

      1. If you limited yourself to places with Italians on staff, you'd miss much of the best Italian food in the area. And some of the Italian-run places are pretty mediocre.

        Antica Trattoria
        Da Flora

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I think you're right, I haven't been clear enough when I say that someone should be from Italy- I just use it as a reference point for "modern" Italian cuisine, as opposed to Italian-American. A lot of establishments in the city don't have people from Italy on staff, but people who either trained there, lived there, or something to that extent.
          So, that's what I am looking for, thanks Robert for pointing out my poor phrasing!

        2. Although Chef Craig Stoller is not Italian, I believe he worked in a restaurant in Tuscany, so I'd add Delfina to this list.

          4 Replies
          1. re: farmersdaughter

            Delfina is emphatically not Italian. Beyond that, it's just plain bad.

            1. re: allsouls

              Like the place or not, Delfina makes some very traditional Italian dishes, particularly among the antipasti, pastas, and soups.

              They also make some what you might call New American dishes, particularly among the "secondi." The same is true of various other good Italian places, including Oliveto and Pizzaiolo.

              1. re: allsouls

                Well, I disagree with allsouls completely on both counts, but you are entitled to your opinion that Delfina is not good. However, I would venture to say that a vast majority of people who have eaten there will flat out disagree with you. Why do you think it's bad?

                In fact, to respond to your assertion that it's "emphatically not Italian", let's take a look at tonight's menu (just the antipasti, pasta/soup and secondi) and decide what's Italian:


                Grilled fresh calamari with warm white bean salad
                Baked Bellwether Jersey ricotta with zucchini Napoletana and tomato crostino
                California bluefin tuna crudo with grated cucumber and citrus salt
                Salt cod mantecato with walnut oil and fennel seed flatbread

                Spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and peperoncini
                Sonoma lamb and beet green ravioli
                Mint tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms
                Paccheri and bluenosed sea bass all' Amalfitana
                Tripe alla Fiorentina
                Pasta fagioli

                Berkshire pork belly with sepia, cockles and ceci in zimino

                NOT ITALIAN

                All the rest, i.e.:
                Northern halibut with melted leeks, binjte potatoes and tarragon-caper butter
                Roasted Fulton Valley chicken with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and royal trumpet mushrooms
                Sonoma Liberty duck with black mission figs and Anson Mill's polenta
                Strawberry Mountain Ranch hanger steak and French fries

                From Delfina's own website:

                "The food is Italian in spirit— elemental, seasonal cooking whose simple appearance belies its depth of flavor. It’s the kind of food you might find if a great Italian cook were lifted out of Italy and placed in California. Inspired by trattorias found throughout Italy, the menu changes daily, driven by the offerings of local producers."

                1. re: farmersdaughter

                  I think it's bad because everything I and SWMBO had there was either just fine (salads), excessively bland (her fish, my pork shoulder) or actively bad (profiteroles, "panna" cotta). I realize I'm in the minority on this, but that was our experience.

                  OP was looking for authentic Italian, which Delfina themselves don't claim to be. It's very much Cal-influenced. Looking at your list above, e.g., under the pastas you have "mint tagliatelle" listed. If I interpret that as mint in the actual pasta dough (I could be wrong), then I would classify that as much more Cal than Italian -- I've never seen that in Italy. Similarly, I refer above to "panna" cotta. The "panna" is in quotes because, for some odd reason, they felt the need to use buttermilk in place of cream. I love buttermilk. But panna cotta without cream is, well, not panna cotta. Why mess with something that is classic for a reason?

                  Maybe I just hit Delfina on an off night or picked the wrong menu items to order. *shrug* The problem is that I don't tend to give places I disliked this much a second chance, especially when they're in this price range. And their menu has way too much tinkering and tweaks to, IMO, be called classic Italian (which, again, is what the OP was after). Why send someone in search of actual Italian to Delfina when literally just down the road is La Ciccia, which is as authentic as you get?

                  Now how I'm going to survive La Ciccia's 3 week vacation, I just don't know...

            2. Da Flora 701 Columbus @ Filbert is lovely interior, marvelous Italian wines and Venetian influenced menu. Moderately expensive. Owner is not a native of Italy, but lived in Venice many years.