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May 4, 2011 09:54 AM

La Ciccia [SF]

I finally got to La Ciccia last Friday with some friends.
I think this is now my favorite Italian restaurant in SF.
Can't believe it took this long to try it.

First off, this place really knows how to cook seafood. Every single item of seafood was cooked absolutely to perfection.

This was a big dinner -- too much food, we should have shared the pasta courses -- but it we wanted to try a lot of things...

For starters, I shared broiled monterey squid and a special of sardine fillets. Both were absolutely perfect. I have tried to broil those little squids myself, and it is hard to get it right. Very easy to overcook or undercook. And if it's not cooked right, it's hard for me to eat -- tastes nasty. But I saw plate after plate of perfect squid come out of that kitchen. The sardines were also perfect. Wonderfully seasoned, a touch spicy, and again, cooked perfectly.

Also, delicious home-made southern-italian style bread. Yum.

For pasta they had a special -- rigatoni with a lamb ragu. Just amazing, again perfectly cooked.

My main course was a sea bream over greens with olives. Again, perfectly cooked, as were the greens underneath. The portion was quite large -- two big pieces each over greens. A portion with just one would have been acceptable, and declicious as it was, I couldn't finish it.

For dessert we shared their home-made gelato, also fantastic. My favorite flavor was a marsala raisin. Best ice cream I've had in some time.

Add to this that the service was friendly, the vibe relaxed. This is one of those places you walk in and everybody seems happy to be there and having a good time.

I'm late to the party, but glad I arrived.

La Ciccia
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

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  1. I did the same thing! And I feel the same way!
    After having this place on my radar to try for years, we finally made it two Saturdays ago. It mainly took us so long to go because they are always booked, and we are bad about planning ahead (unless it is really high end meal). Anyway, I refreshed Open Table every hour all day long on the Friday before and happened to score 5:30 pm reservations.

    The food was fantastic. We had the Octopus stew in a spicy tomato sauce, the Fregula with Fresh Ricotta and Cured Tuna Heart, the Fresh Spaghetti with spicy Oil and Bottarga, the Seared Lamb Tenderloin drizzled with cooked Grape must, and the Gelato. The Spaghetti was some of the best Spaghetti I've ever had... cooked perfectly al dente My only thought is that I wish the lamb (which was perfectly rare) was more consistently gamy. 3 of the pieces were gamy and flavorful, but the rest could have been beef (although it was still delicious).
    I was especially impressed with the gelto... as good as what I had in Italy. And gun to my head, I could not tell you if I liked the Marsala or Goat cheese fig flavor better...
    I can't wait to go back...

    13 Replies
    1. re: lrealml

      You hit the Cic order right on the head. Octopus stew, one of the best things I have ever consumed in my life. The sure craftsmanship and knife skill that goes into massimos fregula is amazing. classic sardinian pasta using bottarga, his lamb is always fantastic seared evenly and perfectly. I dont have enough to say about Massimo and Lorella and la ciccia

      1. re: DirtyD11

        concur. the star of the whole place for me is that octopus stew. wonderful in all respects.

      2. re: lrealml

        So interesting about the lamb - we had the same experience about 2 years ago - the lamb was perfectly cooked, rosy pink, tender, juicy, but ours did not taste at all of lamb. still and all, we LOVED La Ciccia. i could eat that Cured Tuna Heart dish every week. i will definitely go back, hopefully before another 2 years pass.

        La Ciccia
        291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

        1. re: mariacarmen

          The weird thing is that I have read so many reviews where people describe not gamey lamb as a good thing....
          I like my lamb gamey... if I wanted beef, I'd order beef. I seem to experience this problem a lot lately... I think that maybe farmers/ranchers are breeding their lambs to taste more like beef for mass appeal.
          Anyway, I wish I knew where to get really gamey lamb (either in a restaurant or raw to cook)... perhaps that is a topic for another thread.

          I hope to get back to La Cicca sooner than later. It is hard to impress me with Italian, and I was very impressed. I wish it was easier to get weekend reservations... at least they are doing well :)

          1. re: lrealml

            I have found that New Zealand lamb is generally less flavorful (and less expensive) than Domestic lamb. On a somewhat related note, can anyone tell me if La Ciccia is committed to using sustainable seafood and hormone/antibiotic free meat? It seems like a lot of restaurants that are insanely popular (and especially French ones, which makes no sense to me since French chefs are historically fanatical about the sourcing of their ingredients) get a free pass on this and it bugs me. Perhaps also another thread.

            1. re: bdl

              I don't think a strong following requires that that following be all equally concerned about sourcing. In fact I would expect the opposite.

              1. re: bdl

                I believe La Ciccia uses local ingredients when they are available. If you're in the mood for something simple, the pizza bianca at La Ciccia is always good.

                For those looking for gamey lamb, I recently had great lamb chops at the newly opened Locanda.

                La Ciccia
                291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                1. re: bdl

                  I personally find NZ lamb to have a very distinct lamb taste, even though it's very mild in the gamey department. It can be difficult to find lamb on the bone, which makes a difference.

                  Re: Sustainable fish/meats, It's a legit problem with seafood, but more of an unrealistic expectation for meats. A lot of so called sustainable restaurants are on the misleading side, though I do believe Incanto, nearby to La Ciccia is sourcing as local and transparently as possible, and (while I'm personally not a fan of the place) I recall reports of lambs neck fit for gamey lovers.

                  La Ciccia
                  291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                2. re: lrealml

                  I agree. Lamb should taste like lamb, with the big qualification that the term "lamb" in the US is used rather broadly. True spring lamb (rare in the US) will have a much milder flavor than the 6-12 month old lamb that usually sold in the US, which my New Zealand-born-and-raised uncle used to sneer at as "mutton."

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    LOL, just saw this after my own rant about flavorless lamb at Frances

                  2. re: lrealml

                    Go to a butcher or restaurant that sells Australian or New Zealand lab. Cal lamb is very mild with no taste of wool.

                3. re: lrealml

                  The seafood stew? soup? is a must if it's on the menu.

                  1. re: lrealml

                    Another late arrival at the party...I finally went to La Ciccia last night, and have to say it is one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area.

                    Gotta agree with other posters, the octapus was a hugely delightful surprise -- what a sauce, and what a triumph to prepare the baby octapus so it's still soft. The regional semolina flatbread with rosemary and peccorino cheese -- inhaled! I really enjoyed the special appetizer of sweetbreads with wild mushrooms by myself because others at the table were less adventurous eaters. It was light, yet with deep, forest-like tones. And the roasted squid was a huge success -- for its delicate flavor and perfect texture.

                    My lamb drizzled with grape must was impeccable. What a pleasure to finally have lamb that actually tastes like lamb. When I inquired, I was told their supplier is in Sonoma County. Forgot to ask for the name.

                    Oh, and as others already said, the selection of house-made gelato was fabulous. I am I surprised that my fave was the goat cheese fig. I'm usually more inclined to go for the simpler fare.

                    My only disapointment: the side of white bread. While it was absolutely excellent, & probably is very authentic for the region, and perfect for mopping up the sauces (that I wanted to slurp to the finish), I would prefer they'd offer a whole grain bread as well. But that's just me.

                    "Can't wait to go back..." ditto for all of us at the table last night.

                    La Ciccia
                    291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                  2. Has anyone gone with a large party? I'm wondering how large a group they could seat comfortably.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      It's not a large restaurant, but I think it depends on Massimo wants to do. My feeling would be 10 people. If you need to go bigger I think it may depend on the day and time of your dinner. Good luck, LOVE this place!

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        You could squeeze six around one of the front tables, but I've felt cramped there with four. A buyout on a Monday would be easier, like their special dinners.

                        I think it would be dreadful to be in such a small space if there were a large (8+ person) group. It would completely change the cozy dynamic.

                        1. re: Windy

                          Yeah, that's my gut feeling, but I wonder if anyone's actually gone there with 10 or 12 and had a good experience. Maybe they could handle a group that size in the area to the right of the door.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            That's where I pictured six. And still packed in.

                            1. re: Windy

                              I've been with parties of six a few times-reconfigured tables parallel to the bar-door side- and didn't feel (too) cramped.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          when i went there was a party of 8-10 in that front area, and it seemed fine - little kids playing but not obnoxiously. it felt very family-like still, cozy but lively. of course, i don't know if they themselves felt crowded...

                        3. My family and I had a very nice dinner at La Ciccia on October 18, 2011. We started with the roasted calamari (Calamarusu Arrustiusu)which was delicious. For main dishes, both of my kids had the gnochetti with pork sugo (Malloreddus a sa Campidanese). I had sauteed sardines(Sardella a Schiscionera)and cauliflower, which was one of the vegetables of the day. My husband had roasted sea bream (Is Segundusu). All the food was delightful and the service was outstanding. We were able to converse with no difficulty at all. My husband received a dessert with a candle in it--I think it was panna cotta--because it was his birthday. He obviously liked it, as it was gone before I could ask for a taste. (BTW the kids loved the cauliflower!)

                          La Ciccia
                          291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Euonymous

                            Was there Sunday with a couple of out of town visitors. Lovely meal as good as the other times we've been there. Buratta on flatbread, Calamarusu Arrustiusu, Fregua cun Arrizzonisi e Cori de Tonnu (love that tuna heart), Oratina in Padella Cun Olia Sarda and Fettinasa de Proccu a sa Sapa. Still setting high standards.

                            And a special mention - I messed up the time of our reservation, thinking it was for 6:30 instead of 6:00, and they were very gracious in accomodating my mistake!

                            1. re: Euonymous

                              UNI PASTA!!!!!!! their sea urchin pasta kills it

                            2. There haven't been updates in a bit about La Ciccia, so here's one:

                              La Ciccia gets a bit of a pass for being simultaneously the area's best and worst restaurant to represent one of Europe's minor (but interesting) regional cuisines. Mostly, let's call it best.

                              Most American eaters could probably name only one Sardinian specialty, and it's cleverly named to conceal its origin: pecorino romano comes largely from Sardinia. Even in central Italy, pecorino romano and ricotta sarda are the Sardinian specialties on every block. You have to look a little to find a bottle of cannonau (grenache) or a packet of malloreddus.

                              Sardinia is a great attractor of tourists, of course, but you can spend a whole vacation hearing nothing but Italian and eating nothing but Italian food that you might find in Latium or Campania. You can do this an come away satisfied, even.

                              But La Ciccia plays up the autonomous region's specialties, and it does so to good effect. Nevermind the historical influences that went into the food: Roman rule, then Aragonese for a long time, some Genoan, a little Venetian, a bit of Austrian, and then finally a sometimes strained but generally successful relationship with the sometimes strained but often successful Italy as a founding partner in the kingdom in the 19th century.

                              I don't think you can taste all those centuries, but you can taste something and be glad you did. We had:

                              House-made salami, dripped with a little bit of sapa (saba in Sardinian). A serviceable salami - even handed, with noticeable flavor to the fat. Anyone who has eaten good lardo or good mortadella will appreciate how the fat tastes in this salami.

                              At the waiter's recommendation, we ate the salami with la Ciccia's preparation of pane carasau, the ultra-thin bread of Sardinia. Pane guttiau is pane carasau with a little pecorino, a little oil, and a little rosemary on top. Essentially, together with the salami, we were getting something close to a white salami pizza. I don't know why La Ciccia doesn't serve pane carasau by itself; maybe it's too austere. One of my dining buddies is a composer, and he was amused to learn the Italian name for pane carasau: carta da musica, or music score. Think of one of those large conductor's scores that cover a table and an entire orchestra's parts.

                              An (off-menu) salad of arugula, lots of oily smoked trout, and some mandarin chunks. This is a delightful combination of flavors, and it showed off the olive oil. See: this is what we wanted the pane carasau for...

                              Spaghetti with botarga (buttariga in Sardinian). So here is the problem, which isn't necessarily a problem: La Ciccia knows that their olive oil is good, and a good spaghetti dish will hold up to some oil, and the oil will keep the bread crumbs and herbs and bits of botarga clinging to the pasta. But I felt like each bite left my beard dripping with oil. Half as much might have worked. The botarga flavor is good, to me the star was the freshly made spaghetti: plump, chewy, elastic. I keep getting (elsewhere) freshly made pasta that turns into a flaccid mass, and this was a reminder of why to continue trying.

                              Breaded pork cutlets with onion mostarda and spinach. A standout dish. My dining companion looked at the dish and said: "looks a lot like latkes with applesauce". Breaded pork cutlets are global ambassador for good breading. Think of a great Schnitzel wiener Art (or a wiener Schnitzel, which is the same thing in veal), or tonkatsu, or a Taiwanese pork chop sandwich. Good breading and careful frying makes the dish.

                              Lamb loin, quickly grilled, with sapa, on a bed of spinach. Notice in the other replies there's a debate about how lamb can taste. That seems often to be up to the lamb. This doesn't surprise me; chickens from the same farm raised the same way taste different from one another. I imagine that subtle differences in personality, digestion, preferences, and predilection for gamboling leads each lamb to have its own special flavor. This lamb was like lamb, and La Ciccia did its part nicely, searing the outside and adding more delicious sapa to complement the salty flavor.

                              For dessert:

                              Three gelati - chocolate, fig and crème fraîche, and marsala with raisins. Good gelato is not impossible, but you have to be scientific about it, and clearly this gelato-maker measures carefully.
                              A semifreddo with chocolate. Unremarkable, but light and fluffy.

                              My two dinner companions had wine by the glass (fiscal folly, but the wine list is very good, and they had started before I could stick my accountant's nose in) and we had a bottle of Sardinian mineral water. This was a big meal, but not a huge one. It still came to $75 per person including tip. With a bottle of wine and changing up orders a bit, you could keep a meal well under $50 per person. You could have just a pasta and a glass of water for about $20.

                              The atmosphere is friendly, not loud but not silent, and the place was full the whole time we were there. Good for La Ciccia. The meal seemed better than the last time I was there - thoughtful, varied, and honestly Sardinian - and I'm glad they are still taking diners' money.

                              Parking is a pain around 30th and Church, but the J Church runs right in front of the restaurant doors.


                              12 Replies
                              1. re: David Sloo

                                Great report! But every time I've been there they do offer the sheet music bread separately. I've only had it once and it was super, but have always seen it go by to other tables. It's been a year or so since my last visit, though - time to fix that.


                                1. re: mdg

                                  I should have just asked. We were at the table in the back and, as last to arrive, I had the seat facing away from all the other tables and from the kitchen exit.

                                  I thought the pane guttiau was delightful this time, so I didn't miss having plain pane c.

                                2. re: David Sloo

                                  @David Sloo,

                                  Sorry to bring up this so late, but I was just reading this thread because I was thinking of taking friends to this restaurant. I'm grateful for all the details but:

                                  Pecorino romano is not the only pecorino from Sardegna (and Sardegna is not the only producer of pecorino romano). There is also pecorino sardo, which is produced nowhere other than Sardegna.

                                  Pecorino sardo is actually familiar to people who have eaten pesto on the Italian Riviera. In and around Genova, it is often the only cheese used to make pesto. In pesto made for non-Italian palates, pecorino sardo usually accounts for only half the cheese used, the other half being the more popular Parmigiano-Reggiano.

                                  It doesn't change your point, I guess, that many people might not be able to name a single food item from Sardegna other than pecorino whatever -- although I would have thought that Anthony Bourdain had changed that somewhat by now.

                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                    I thought to be true pecorino romano it had to be made in Latium/Lazio (i.e. the area around Rome). Ah, here's some info:

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Yes, that has the history. Who knows how the Slow Food crowd views this -- as with most histories, it depends on which page you begin.

                                      1. re: barberinibee

                                        Well, just as "parmagiano" should be from Parma, "romano" should be from Rome, right? :-)

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          Parmigiano *is* from Parma -- I can't think of any exceptions -- but "romano" often means from Latium, Lazio, etc.

                                          1. re: barberinibee

                                            The Parmigiano-Reggiano production area extends across several provinces (e.g. Reggio Emilia, which gives it the other half of its name).

                                            Pecorino Romano coming from Sardinia and Grosseto is a lot less intuitive.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Not several provinces -- just two, and the shared name reflects the possesiveness with which the site of production is so jealousy guarded.

                                              But in my reply to Ruth Laffler, I was referring to something beyond cheese. I was saying that I can't recall any dish with a name like "la parmigiana di melanzane" which is not from Parma and Parma alone. But "gnocchi alla romana" (a baked semolina gnocchi dish) is really not Roman in the sense of a locality but Roman as coming from the era of the Roman empire. That's all.

                                              Pecorino Romano is indeed an historic oddity that probably would be vigorously fought against today, in the way that a war is waged against Chinese farms producing proscuitto "di Parma".

                                              1. re: barberinibee

                                                Parmigiano-Reggiano can be produced in five provinces (Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua, and Bologna) in two regions (Emilia-Reggiano and Lombardy).

                                  2. Been wanting to try La Ciccia for some time, last night we celebrated an early Christmas dinner here. There was waaay too much food for the four of us but Holiday celebrations only happen once a year.

                                    We shared everything and virtually ordered one of everything on the menu. Starters were octopus stew, oven roasted calamari, oysters in a savory broth and salume of the day, thinly sliced smoked pancetta drizzled with balsamic reduction. All were excellent, octopus stew, pancetta and oysters got votes for being standouts.

                                    Pasta was next, fresh spaghetti with spicy oil and Bottarga and fresh fusilli with sea urchin, tomato and cured tuna heart. Both were great, each getting two votes. This was my overall favorite course of the evening.

                                    Entrees were next, roasted sea bream, seared lamb tenderloin, a pork cutlet entrée on the menu and a pork special, pork loin braised in a tomato olive sauce. In the center of the table we also had a red sauce pizza with ricotta and onions. Entrees were all tasty, no favorites, all equally liked. I will say the pizza was just OK but that is probably more living in New Jersey my entire life than anything :)

                                    Ricotta and saffron cake and a semifreddo, both enjoyable finished off the feast. Had an amazing white, 2009 Dettori Bianco and a 2006 Brunello during the evening. The Dettori went especially well with many of the dishes.
                                    Service was excellent, friendly and helpful all evening. Can’t wait for a return visit!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: tom246

                                      We went last night as an early holiday dinner and had, as always, an excellent time.

                                      I've learned that I prefer the starters and pastas to any of the main courses here, so we stick to the top of the menu. Adored the octopus stew, roasted calamari, spaghetti with bottarga and a gnochetti with pork sugo. The first three dishes I've tried before and loved, the gnochetti was new to me and provided a nice solid landing after several seafood dishes. Beautiful textures to both pastas.

                                      One result of their much-deserved popularity is that there's often a line inside the small dining room, blocking the service alley--this has been the case the last few times I was there, and it was especially the case last night in the (for SF) bitter cold. I felt bad for the diners seated near the doorway who had elbows and hips in their faces all night. I wish La Ciccia would open a Sardinian wine bar nearby for the overflow crowd!

                                      1. re: pane

                                        Went again a few days ago for a welcome-home dinner. Apparently there'd been talk of developing the back patio for seating, but the fire exit situation (or lack of fire exit situation) has made that impossible for now. It was, per usual, totally full, though we had reservations on the early side. I particularly liked the seafood sugo pasta, which was a special. Someone at the table ordered the pork main, which I took a bite of and wasn't wild about--flavor was a flat, with a shake-n-bake look, though I think I'm just a bigger fan of the seafood courses here than anything else.

                                        The discussion here made me think about the plating and yes, homey is a good descriptor.