NOPA, SEBO and one of Beretta, Flour & Water, A16
Hi, long-time reader, first time poster... the posters here write such wonderful, thoughtful commentary; it's a real treat reading it. coming from nyc at the end of the year with two friends to check out SF for three nights, so i've started putting together a potential list of spots.
1) For dinner, thinking NOPA, SEBO, and one of Beretta, Flour & Water, or A16. Which of the 3 italians would you pick? We're young 30s looking for great food and a great vibe. Last time I was in SF, I was at NOPA and loved the ambiance. Two of us don't eat meat.
2) We''ll be in town on a Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, so I was hoping I could ask for help in selecting the best night for each spot? I guess SEBO has to be Monday or Wednesday, since we want to try the sushi
3) We've planned for two lunches. Boulettes Larder and Fish. I was at Fish ages ago and remember enjoying it, but was wondering if this board thought Fish was a good call (esp. during December) or if we should be spending our time somewhere else like Bar Jules or Zuni.
4) On my last trip, I became obsessed with Blue Bottle. Is Ritual Coffee worth a special visit? Also, I have to be in North Beach one of the afternoons. Is there a high caliber coffee spot around there?
I know these aren't very exciting questions, but I really appreciate the help. Much, much appreciated!
I was lucky enough to visit Flour & Water, Beretta, and Starbelly. I thought all of the pizzas were excellent. Flour & Water's option of having a Farm Egg on top was a nice addition -- especially for the white pizzas which can be a bit dry for me. F&W's crust was doughy, somewhat naan like --different from Beretta and Starbelly. I found the vibe at F&W to be a bit uptight whereas Beretta and Starbelly were more festive. Highlight at Starbelly was a wonderful squash pizza. Another plus at Starbelly is the option of having "small" beers, which allows for some sampling.
On the coffee front, I managed to get to Four Barrel, Blue Bottle and Ritual. Four Barrel was the clear winner for me, with Blue Bottle number 2. Ritual's space was dark and somewhat depressing; it made enjoying the coffee difficult. Four Barrel's space is wide open, airy and has a very comfortable feeling. Thanks again for all of the great rec's, and happy holidays!
Just so don't have to feel you need to travel in a protective bubble to keep yoiu away from the horror that some people seem to think is North Beach coffee ...
There's something to be said for decades of experience vs innovation.
IMO, the poeple who shun NB coffee haven't had any in years. It is just not in fashion, ya know. Not trendy enough for most. I did a cappucino crawl in North Beach a few years back trying every place. I still keep up with my favorites.
That being said, you won't find a Blue Bottle type of roaster.
Lots of top notch restaurants seem to think that Graffeo is such good quality that it is their house coffee. Off the top of my head I can think of The Butler and the Chef, Brix and the girl and the fig. Actually if you stop by the shop and chat it up with the people, you might even learn something about coffee.
Unfortunately, the only place that serves the Graffeo dark roast in North Beach seems to serve it on and off depending on their whim of the moment. XOX Truffles across the steet only serves the medium roast which doesn't do much for me.
Then it depends on what you mean when you say coffee. Is your thing the perfect espresso with the correct crema ... or is it just a straight up cup of coffee,.
If it is the latter, Cafe Roma does a good job and is probably the best roaster that has a cafe in North Beach. It is good, honest coffee skillfully roasted, never burnt. Maybe not amazing knock your socks off but a step above most of what is served in the city including what is currentlty being pushed by Ritual. At least Cafe Roma has been consistant rather than doing a nose dive like Ritual.
If barista skill is what you are seeking then I don't have a good feel for that. It is not my thing. I'm a cappuccino person but for me it is more about the correct balance. Lot's o what is passed off as cap is really latte in a different cup. Pretty pictures on top to me doesn't annoint someone as a skilled barista.
Tony's Pizza in North Beach does an excellent cappuccino ... lovely foan excellent 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 balance. I forgot to ask what bean they used.
Danilo Bakery does a nice cap. There's nothing fancy here, but they use a nice Italian brand of coffee that no one else uses. If you drop by when it opens, it is mainly Italians who live in the nabe.
Should you wander into the East Bay, Berkeley's Local 123 seems to be the place that unites the coffee community from coffee geeks to people just looking for something better than Starbucks. They use Flying Goat coffee and have really skilled baristas
I had a horrible service experience at F&W last week. With a reservation. The food was not transcendent. Orichette was a little underdone. Pizza was just ok.
Nopa, on the other hand, was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. Everything was pitch perfect--I still dream about the beef sugo.
NOPA - good food and service, horrible (truly horrible) customers. If you can't get a reservation, don't go.
Sebo - controversial. some love it, some hate it - there seems to be no middle ground. Everyone agrees that it's ONLY worth going to if you sit at the bar (service at the tables sucks). I, personally, love it.
Beretta - great cocktails, incredible rum list. Food is okay, pizzas are only so-so, service is spotty.
F&W - good pizza, very professional service. Get there very early.
A16 - marina. ech. not worth it.
(added - Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission - very good pizza, great little snacks. better than any of the above)
Boulettes - really good but super pricey for what you get (location?). I think there are better options in town.
Fish - no.
Bar Jules - cute, fun, good food. Mediocre wine list (and I hate that they don't use real wine glasses).
Zuni - wildly over-rated.
Blue Bottle - even more over-rated than Zuni. If it were in Seattle or Portland OR it would have gone out of business years ago. Really (really) mediocre coffee. Only worthwhile if you don't really care about coffee and want a luxe feeling experience.
Ritual - honestly, the coffee is better than Blue Bottle but it's still not great. And the service and experience is mediocre at best.
(Added: 4 Barrel - without a doubt the best coffee in SF. A huge step ahead of the competition. Not the luxe experience of Blue Bottle, but legitimate high quality coffee.)
And no... there is NO good coffee in North Beach.
Tot agree with A16. An expensive waste of time, at least on my visit. I just had dinner A16 on Sunday with the Mom and the BF. In short, fine but somewhat of a letdown. Started with an Octopus Terrina that tasted on the old side and was tougher than I would have liked. Also had a salad (butter lettuce, sunchokes, and some other things) which was overdressed and limp. The pizzas were fine (1 Margherita and 1 Pizzaiolos choice) but nothing incredible. What really bothered me was the pizza did not seem cooked properly. The crust was a pale blond with dark black dots and was definitely on the soft side. Blech! For dessert we had the rosewater panna cotta which was tasty but a bit too firm for my liking.
One the plus side service was attentive and the selection of background music top notch (lots of Grizzly Bear, a personal favorite).
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123
I like Pizza Napoletana fine, I just don't want to eat underdone crust with some coal black bubbles, thanks! I love blistery crust, but only if the crust as a whole has more texture and color than a roll at Corner Bakery. FYI I have had many finer renditions of this style of pizza elsewhere. True, it could have been an off night -- even at Pizzeria Mozza I've had some poorly cooked pizzas on occasion -- but regardless I won't be going back anytime in the near future.
These are some great pics, Beretta's drinks are very worth a trip. Don't miss the Airmail- rum, prosecco, honey, yum. Sounds like you're set on the city but if you're at all open to a trip to the east bay, I think you'd enjoy Dopo from your selections here. I just had a spectacular meal there this weekend with a pork fat and farm egg pizza that I'm already craving again. I wrote up with some pics here if u wanna check it out: http://baypiggy.blogspot.com/2009/10/coffee-and-snacky-food-tour-with-dad_15.html
They're also close to Lush Gelato which is also totally worth a trip. See thread here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/618843
Nice selections, in general. A few comments in no particular order...
--I still like Nopa. Much prefer the experience with a reservation.
--Used to love Sebo, had an across the board mediocre experience there recently. Concerned they've gone downhill due to exposure on the Food Network or whatever it was.
--If you loved Blue Bottle, don't bother with Ritual. You might like Four Barrel. Asking about coffee in north beach is about like asking a New Yorker about west-coast pizza. As someone who doesn't go to the north beach area unless for very specific and important reasons, I just write off all the coffee there. It's old-wave SF coffee, and Blue Bottle is decidedly new wave, with the quality to back it up. Many board posters grew up with the North Beach coffee style and love it to this day, but it's not for me. Life would be dull if everybody liked the same things.
--Love Boulette's Larder. Good as ever. Less happy as time goes by with "Fish." and I've started having issues with their wine list, which is limited and has mark ups as high as 4x retail on un-aged wine I can buy at any local BevMo chain store.
--Love Bar Jules, hate their wine list and wine service (tumblers!). They only offer one beer, it's on tap, and let's just say if you asked 100 people, it wouldn't crack the top ten desert island beers. I keep joking about not only bringing my own wine to complement the amazing food, but also bringing my own glasses.
Your Italian choices are all good--but each different. What are you looking for? Will you be ordering pizza? Is fork and knife pizza (A16) an unpleasant idea for you?
Beretta if your gonna drink lots and want an interesting cocktail list. Flour Water if you wanna stay out of the marina, which I avoid at most cost. A16 For REALLY good pizza.
Sebo is WAY overrated in my opinion. Its terribly expensive for what it is. The quality is there, but they seem to have a bit of attitude about themselves now. There are so many better sushi places around the city. I love Zushi Puzzle on Lombard. Sebo probably has the best ambiance, but thats only worth so much.
Steve/Adam- thanks so much for your responses. Going to drop Fish and SEBO --- life is too short! Which means I can double down on the Italians. I'll probably drop A16 --like Adam, I'm not a big fan of the Marina. Btw, i'm sure you know this, but the chef there is about to open a spot here with Keith McNally -- the artisinal pizza scene here is really accelerating. Steve-- you're a funny guy. thanks for the advice on north beach; i'll make my visit there a quick one, and check out four barrel. true, some new yorkers may freak out about eating pizza with a knife and fork, but not me... I'm up for the experience!! As for what I'll be ordering, i always gravitate towards pizza and pasta. Do you have a view on Boulettes Larder when it comes to breakfast vs. lunch? When I was last there (for lunch), I found myself wanting to try all 3 meals! Gents, really great feedback, thank you --- it's terrible to waste a meal on these trips! Best.
I've had all sorts of food from Boulette's, and none of it has ever been anything but great. They manage to change what they make continually, yet always maintain very high quality. I typically get a small take out item around breakfast time, or take out stuff for dinner, can't say much about lunch. On some days of the week, they set out tables and chairs and are more full service. On Saturday, the farmer's market is a total zoo, and they're pretty much only takeout. They do Brunch on Sunday, which is wonderful on a sunny day. Not sure if they have a wine list now; they used to be happy with us buying wine next door at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant or whatever it's called, and they provided decent stemware.
Long story short, don't stress about breakfast vs lunch at Boulette's--there's no bad time to eat there, food-wise. You should probably try to go on Saturday so you can explore the farmer's market, but don't stress it.
Fork and knife pizza: A16 and Flour+Water serve pizza napoletana with a blistery edge and a floppy middle that isn't suited to being picked up like a normal slice. They're both very good examples of the style---I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into, as many people decide they hate A16 because the pizza was "undercooked" when in reality they're just docking points for something they don't understand.
Thanks, Steve. We land sunday and definitely plan on going straight to the farmer's market. It will be our only shot, and I'm definitely in need --- the produce in new york is so bad. I think I would move to SF just for the peaches! And I totally hear you on the pizza prep; looking forward to checking it out. Thanks for all the great advice. Trip isn't until last week of december but I'll be sure to report back.