HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Best spaghetti carbonara?

alina555 Jul 5, 2009 04:20 PM

Came back recently from a visit to Rome, where I tried spaghetti carbonara for the first time. It was the best meal of my entire multi-country European excursion - something about the al dente pasta and the texture of the dry egg, cheese, and pepper made my taste buds tingle! Now that I am back in CA, I have since ordered it whenever I've seen it on a menu but have been extremely disappointed - every place seems to make it with cream, making an incredibly oily and heavy dish. Are there any locations in the Bay that make spaghetti carbonara the way they do it in Rome?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. b
    Brandon Nelson RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 04:45 PM


    If you are a capable home cook this recipe will leave you happy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Brandon Nelson
      david kaplan RE: Brandon Nelson Jul 5, 2009 05:02 PM

      Perhaps that recipe won't make the OP happy because it has cream and onions. But I agree that making carbonara at home is easier than finding a consistently good restaurant version.

      Find a recipe that calls for eggs, guanciale (cured hog jowl), and pecorino romano cheese -- no cream, onions, Parmesan, or peas. Guanciale can be hard to find, but Lucca's on Valencia stocks it now, and some of the artisan curers (Fatted Calf, Boccalone) have it as well. Guanciale and grated romano cheese both freeze well, so stock up and you'll always be able to make carbonara at home on short notice.

      Among local restaurants, I can think of two Roman places: SPQR and Chiaroscuro. In my one visit there long ago, and some others' experiences, pastas were SPQR's weak point. I haven't been to Chiaroscuro, but their online menu says they use pancetta in carbonara which would rule it out for me. Oddly, they use guanciale in amatriciana, so why not also use it in carbonara?

      Lucca Ravioli
      1100 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    2. wolfe RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 04:53 PM

      Do they make it with pancetta or guanciale?

      1. Ruth Lafler RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 05:04 PM

        SPQR and Ideale are the two Roman restaurants (that I know of) in San Francisco. Have you tried them?

        1. pikawicca RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 05:13 PM

          This is one of those dishes that I never order at a restaurant. It's so easy to make at home to your own taste. Restaurants tend to add all sorts of odd things to carbonara that are totally uncalled for.

          1. pastryqueen RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 05:19 PM

            the closest to the carbonara I had in Rome is Marcella Hazan's version in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - no cream, no butter. It is incredibly good. . more so if you use guanciale, the best spaghetti and the best eggs possibly. Freshly grated cheese is a must as well. It is really very, very delicious and will transport you back to Rome. :)

            3 Replies
            1. re: pastryqueen
              dlglidden RE: pastryqueen Jul 6, 2009 12:05 AM

              I've made Marcella's carbonara sauce several times (except I've never made it with salted pork jowl). It's very good, but frankly I prefer the sauce "American style" with cream (as it is prepared in almost all of Italy except for Rome). I recommend (to everyone except the OP) trying the version at Venezia in Berkeley, especially for lunch when the price is extremely reasonable.

              1. re: pastryqueen
                grampart RE: pastryqueen Jul 6, 2009 09:09 AM

                Carbonara without butter is just plain wrong.

                1. re: pastryqueen
                  Prabhakar Ragde RE: pastryqueen Jul 9, 2009 06:39 PM

                  I second the recommendation of Marcella's recipe. It really is not difficult to make at home, and it's hard to find a restaurant on this continent whose offering rivals the taste of the homemade version. (Marcella dislikes using bacon, but try it with some of the artisanal bacon available in the Bay Area...!)

                2. a
                  alina555 RE: alina555 Jul 5, 2009 10:52 PM

                  Thanks all - I am an awful home cook, so I was hoping to avoid the cooking route, but it seems as though that might be my only option. :( Appreciate the tips!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: alina555
                    alina555 RE: alina555 Jul 13, 2009 10:04 PM

                    Update: I did it. I looked up Marcella's recipe, determined it sounded relatively easy, and gave it my best shot. Picked up some fresh pasta and pancetta (no guanciale could be found) from Pasta Pasta in San Mateo and gave it a go. Fifteen minutes later, I ended up with some pretty darn good pasta - I was pretty impressed and proud of myself! I may experiment with different cheeses to test out different flavors, but all in all it was far better than any carbonara I've tried around here.

                    Not to say I won't test out some of the other suggestions on here though....I am still very curious! Thanks all!

                    1. re: alina555
                      pastryqueen RE: alina555 Jul 13, 2009 10:25 PM

                      That's great! I really do enjoy that recipe! IIRC, it calls for both parmesan and pecorino romano and I think I remember liking it better with only pecorino. Congrats on cooking yourself up so lovely carbonara. .once you've done it a few times, it will be so easy!

                      1. re: pastryqueen
                        a_and_w RE: pastryqueen Jul 14, 2009 09:47 AM

                        Yeah, I like only pecorino better, too. In fact, just give me some linguine with pecornio and black pepper!

                        1. re: a_and_w
                          The Chowhound Team RE: a_and_w Jul 14, 2009 10:36 AM

                          Hi, folks, if you're planning to reply here, we'd ask that you please start a new thread on Home Cooking to continue the conversation. That way all our Home Cooking hounds can benefit from the discussion.


                  2. Robert Lauriston RE: alina555 Jul 6, 2009 08:58 AM

                    Ideale does a good job. The chef-owner is Roman.

                    SPQR's version gets the flavors right, but the guanciale was in strips rather than diced.

                    Fatted Calf's guanciale is excellent, as is Cafe Rouge's.

                    1315 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    1. m
                      mrsricho RE: alina555 Jul 8, 2009 04:42 PM

                      Not sure that it's the way they do it in Rome but the best carbonara I've had in the city is at the French restaurant Gamine on Union at Fillmore (previously Chez Maman). Delicious!

                      1. m
                        mrs bacon RE: alina555 Jul 9, 2009 10:37 AM

                        Aside from my house (no butter, no cream!), I think SPQR's version is yummy. I order it almost every time.

                        1. JulesSF RE: alina555 Jul 13, 2009 11:01 AM

                          Chef/owner Stefano Coppola of Lupa Trattoria in Noe Valley hails from Rome and I would vote his Spaghetta alla Carbonara my favorite in town.
                          The dish occassionally pops up on the daily changing specials menu, but we have been able to special order on "non-Carbonara days"...

                          Another amazing Carbonara is whipped up by James Stolich - and it comes with detailed instructions on how to make this rather simple dish at home. CookwithJames' cooking classes are held at his Cole Valley kitchen and cover various regional Italian cuisines.

                          The "Cooking of Rome" class not only taught us how to make a perfect Carbonara, it's history, guanciale and all, but also included an easy recipe for Saltimboca alla Romana - two rather simple, yet amazing dishes from the classic cucina Romana ...

                          Bi-Rite & Lucca Ravioli are good sources for guanciale in the Mission, i you want to avoid the crowds at the Ferry Buidling ...

                          4109 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                          Cook with James
                          San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

                          1. dhoffman1421 RE: alina555 Jul 14, 2009 02:36 PM

                            It's not on the menu but the chef at Divino in Belmont will make it for you if you ask for it. No cream either but he does use Pancetta. It's exceptional IMO.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dhoffman1421
                              alina555 RE: dhoffman1421 Jul 14, 2009 09:29 PM

                              Oh, that's right down the street from me! That may be my first trial, thanks!

                            2. rworange RE: alina555 Jul 24, 2009 11:26 PM

                              Cafe Zoetrope has it on the menu (pdf format)

                              Spaghetti alla Carbonara Classico ........................................ 13.50
                              Niman Ranch guanciale, egg, ground black pepper and pecorino

                              I haven't had it, but I was at Francis Ford Copolla's new little Itailan cafe/deli, Mamarella's near the Nap airport, and the Roma-style pizza there was quite good as were the meatballs. Some of the deli menu is the same as the SF Cafe. It might be a good place to try. Please report back if you go. I'd be interested to hear if it is as good as the deli. food

                              Cafe Zoetrope
                              916 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                              Show Hidden Posts