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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...

    12 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

                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.


                            11 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecorino...

                                  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).

                              3. 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.

                                2. Had a great meal Sunday night. It was nice to see them still packed after 8:30 on a school night. No reservation but didn't have to wait long for a table.

                                  Borlotti and cannellini bean soup, like a light minestrone, nice start on a cold night.

                                  Fresh spaghetti with bottarga had a creamy texture very much like carbonara, couldn't figure out how the chef could get that without eggs until we were talking with him afterwards and he pointed out that bottarga are eggs. D'oh! Genius.

                                  Fregola with the seafood sugo and squid ink we've had with other pastas before.

                                  We enjoyed those so much we decided to stick with seafood, split the oven-roasted butterflied wild prawns. Best shrimp I've had in a long time. He said he wasn't sure how long he'd have them on the menu.

                                  Cauliflower vegetable side, really nice preparation.

                                  Ricotta and saffron cake, as good as ever.

                                  Goat cheese gelato, not very sweet at all, great idea.

                                  Great time as always. It was a different experience to order a lighter meal.

                                  80 Replies
                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    That is a great strategy, Robert, will have to try that next visit, though I don't imagine the prawns will be around. I always get sucked in by one of the larger mains which are great but big. Last time the BIL took more than half his lamb home for lunch, and he likes his grub.

                                    Also nice to hear about the presentation on the veg. When we've gone, that's the one thing a guest might quibble about, the rusticity of some of the plating.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      I'll put up with fancy plating it if the food is good enough (e.g. at AQ), but it's one of those pointless Frenchy timewasters I'd rather do without.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Agree, function more important than form in plating but I have had one or two dishes there that looked a bit sloppy. I noticed without caring because there was nothing sloppy about the taste. Just best not to expect the fancypants presentation that one gets at some of the places you were e.g.ing :-).

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          really, ge? never noticed that, but i've only been once. i need to go back! maybe this spring, hmmm?

                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                            Maybe a bit sloppy was too strong, but we've had dishes there that looked homemade in terms of the plating. Again, not a problem for me, but some people find the presentation as important as the flavour.

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              It's not slick fine dining by any means, and never has been.

                                              It's not a matter of the platting not being conceptual enough, but even regional and rustic dishes should appear restaurant quality when they arrive from the kitchen. There is a certain home chef quality to La Ciccia, which most reviews ignore.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                I don't see a lack of French-style fiddling with the plating as a flaw in an Italian restaurant. If you want that, go to SPQR, Acquerello, or Quince.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Are you saying that because La Ciccia is not French, they are exempt from providing restaurant quality "fiddling" in league with other rustic, Italian fine dining establishments?

                                                  Why not just say you like the food, and personable service so much that it's quirks don't matter to you?

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    It's not a quirk, real Italian restaurants don't landscape the plates or sculpt the food. Places here that do that are pandering to Americans' expectations in much the same way as French restaurants that put jam and honey on cheese plates.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      There are plenty of Italian (and in this case, Sardinian) restaurants all over the world including SF that don't "landscape or sculpt", or adopt French plating, so pretending that's the criticism is strange. La Ciccia can at times be amateurish. I think "sloppy" was fair descriptive. Why claim that's a characteristic of the cuisine?

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        grayelf said, "Maybe a bit sloppy was too strong, but we've had dishes there that looked homemade in terms of the plating."

                                                        In Italy, the only difference in plating between home and restaurant is that if the plating were a bit sloppy a chef might run a towel around the edge of the plate.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          "if the plating were a bit sloppy a chef might run a towel around the edge of the plate."

                                                          Pass that hot tip to La Ciccia.

                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Ooh I hate jam and honey on my cheese plate. All I want is cheese. Damn good cheese.

                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    wow, i did not notice that at all, but i've only been once. but grayelf picked up on it, and now you.... i agree that if the food is excellent, and if the service is warm, efficient and inviting, i would not mind a little less fussiness in plating, but it would have to be blatantly ugly on a plate to turn me off completely.

                                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                                      Perhaps I am confusing the terms here -- when I talk about plating I mean putting food on a plate. I don't generally care about (or love) the stacking and primping that occurs in certain higher end joints. But I do appreciate it when appropriate care is taken to place the food invitingly on the plate. And though I've only spent limited time in parts of Italy, I'm not sure I agree that the plates look the same in all restaurants as they look in Italian homes. I have a discerning Chow friend who says she eats first with her eyes and I can see the truth in that. The key is, of course, that the food be delicious, however it looks. Tidiness and nice presentation make the whole experience better, for me at least.

                                                        1. re: grayelf


                                                          You know you are in a certain kind of restaurant in Italy when the food is "plated" or "composed" or anything like that. And the idea that your mother would stack up your food on your plate for you is kind of a funny idea. In most Italian homes, dishes get passed around the table and people serve themselves.

                                                          1. re: barberinibee

                                                            La Ciccia isn't serving home style, and I don't think it's out of bounds to think a place considered the best in the city by some will match "a certain kind of restaurant in Italy".

                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                              The quality of the food and the fanciness/formality of the food have nothing to do with each other. It's a casual neighborhood restaurant that just happens to have food that people find exceptional.

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                I suggest people start adding such descriptives when talking about La Ciccia, for accuracy sake then.

                                                                It's also fair game to judge fanciness/formality, once they effect the over all quality of the experience.

                                                                1. re: sugartoof


                                                                  Certainly fair enough, but it has been interesting to watch how true regional cuisine of Italy when brought to restaurants in Manhattan has really been flummoxed (and sometimes ruined) by the expectations of Manhattan diners when it comes to presentation and what is "restaurant-worthy."

                                                                  I'll be fascinated to eat at La Ciccia and see how they handle it the challenges. I made a reservation.

                                                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                                                    The debate over the french influence of platting was really misleading if you haven't eaten there, because it purposely was missing the point to negate the criticism.

                                                                    It's more a matter of serving a pizza that's not hanging off a plate on to a table... or serving lukewarm dishes... or pasta partially on the lip of the dish, that looks to have entirely different saucing from table to table... or missing ingredients... or entirely different portion sizes of the same dish, at the same table... that kind of thing. It's a matter of it being sloppy, I don't think anyone here is talking about innovation, or gnoochi stacked in a tower.

                                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                                    Caveat emptor, sugartoof. If it really matters to someone how fancy a place is, they can ask.

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      We're not even talking about being fancy.
                                                                      A $17-$26 entree that's heralded as being the top place in the city for Italian comes with certain expectations.

                                                                      I haven't read any reviews here admitting the place is very idiosyncratic, and sometimes rough around the edges in a way that can effect the quality of the meals.

                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                        "Top" means different things to different people. Some people think Tu Lan is the best Vietnamese food in the city <shrug>. I've certainly seen people point out when La Ciccia (or any other restaurant) is of a different style of the other restaurants being considered. I've seen people note that La Ciccia is not what most people think of as a "special occasion" restaurant in terms of style and atmosphere. Certainly if someone was asking about both Acquerello and La Ciccia it would be appropriate to discuss the fact that they are vastly different in terms of style and formality. $17-$26 entrees puts them fairly low on the scale of restaurant prices in this city -- I don't know of any place with comparable food that's cheaper. Perhaps you can share the ones you know about.

                                                                        None of the issues you've mentioned would come close to having a noticeable effect on the quality of a meal I was having (okay, I might be irritated if I noticed a big discrepancy in portion sizes) unless it was a fancy place where I was expecting everything to be impeccable.

                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                          Lukewarm food wouldn't have a noticeable effect on quality of your meal?

                                                                          $17 for pasta puts them in the same category of Perbacco, Cotogna, etc.

                                                                          I've never thought La Ciccia was incredibly impressive.

                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                            I don't believe I've ever been served lukewarm or sloppy food at La Ciccia.

                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                              Nope. Prefer lukewarm food. That's actually the optimal temperature for tasting food.

                                                                              If you don't like La Ciccia, just say so and be done with it.

                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                There we have it. La Ciccia, like few others is exempt of criticism and beyond reproach for some on CH.

                                                                                I think a few dishes are okay, but still extremely overhyped.

                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                  La Ciccia's not perfect. The pizza's not on the level of the rest of the menu. The red wines are sometimes too warm.

                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                    I did not say that. If you don't like it, you don't like it. It just seems like you're trying to trump up reasons to justify your dislike of it, rather than just being upfront about the fact it's not your kind of place.

                                                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                                                      This style of "plating" is really not popular in Italy, and the resistance to it has probably cost Italy a good deal of tourist business.

                                                                      Part of the resistance is not just persnickety-ness. It comes from an opinon that messing with food too much injures flavors. It's also a different aesthetic. The people who created all that great looking art, archtecture, clothes, cars have a different sense of what a beautiful plate of food is. Italy's relationship to all of the natural world is much different than what you find in France or in America.

                                                                      There is also a sense that "plated" food is a sign of a chef-driven restaurant, and a certain concept. Sometimes one may want that, but sometimes not. The presentation -- just like whether one has crystal glasses, or peach tablecloths -- can't be separated from the meal. Fancy presentation is not necessarily celebrated as the best food in Italy, even when it is deemed an absolute necessity for some occasions.

                                                                      Food is not just about eating or taste sensation in Italy.

                                                                      1. re: barberinibee

                                                                        I'm skeptical that many tourists avoid Italy because the restaurants don't plate the food like French restaurants do.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          Don't underestimate the impact Barcelona had on foodie tourism.

                                                                          Listen, I am very happy to discuss these things and even be disagreed with and shown wrong, so I am not running away, but I have persistently had posts of mine discussing these things on other boards deleted by Chowhound moderators on the grounds that they don't stick to the subject of what X restaurant is serving and whether it is "yummy,". It gets rather frustrating to me personally, so I just have to limit my time investment here. It's a great subject, though.

                                                                    3. re: barberinibee

                                                                      Once again, I don't know that I'm expressing myself really well. What I was trying to say is that if you're looking for fancy plating of any kind, La Ciccia is not the place for you. From a 2008 report I wrote: "Each dish was delicious, well prepared, correctly seasoned and nicely presented, without fuss or furbelow." The plates aren't ugly or anything, just not composed in the way some have come to expect in a restaurant with prices in this range. And they don't do alla famiglia here on a regular basis, though I've read about some family-style special dinners that sounded right up my street. Boo to only being able to visit SF twice a year :-).

                                                                      I knew before the first time I went to La Ciccia not to expect fancy plating etc. Not sure how I picked up on that but I'm guessing it was from reading CH as it has been a significant source of food info for me for the last five years.

                                                                      If you can get on their website, you might get an idea of the approach (it appears to be down at the moment). There are also a fair number of photos of food from La C on the interwebs that might give an idea of what we're talking about.

                                                                      FWIW I've had the fregola a couple of times and loved it but it didn't have a squid ink prep. Never tried the pizza as there were too many other more unusual dishes to tempt us. Veggie sides dish stand out here too. If you can get your mitts on any of the house made prosciutto, do it.

                                                                      1. re: grayelf


                                                                        Yes, well, I hate fancy plating actually. I live in italy, and even when food isn't served sloppily and the edge of the plate is neatly wiped, what arrives on the table is generally homely. You know, if people weren't so fond of pizza, it would be funny and make them laugh to see photographs of pizza in glossy food magazines. A face only a mother could love! Sardinian food in particular can be really rustic. Italians from other parts of Italy deride it.

                                                                        I'll be really happy if La Ciccia stays close to home. I'm a terrible proscuitto snob, though (in fact, I prefer speck), so maybe I'll talk somebody else at the table into getting it while I stick with the Sardinian classics.

                                                                        1. re: barberinibee

                                                                          Definitely don't try to get the prosciutto at La Ciccia then. It's highly sought after, there're very small amounts available and you should leave it for the rest of us :-).

                                                                          I saw some pretty ugly looking pizza on my (sadly one and only) trip to Italy -- and FTR some of it tasted just as ugly, particularly in Naples, o irony. I've never really gotten the fuss made over the recent wave of Neapolitan style 'za in Canada and the US. Certainly not terribly photogenic with all those burnt spots!

                                                                          My only rule for food: if you taste good, I will eat you. I just think tidy plating and a bit of effort add to the experience.

                                                                          FWIW, I've never had anything like the descriptions that sugartoof provided of his meals at La Ciccia. I absolutely think it is an idiosyncratic place but that is a compliment in my book. Is it perfect? No. Is it the best Italian restaurant in San Francisco? No idea. I just know I like it a lot, enough to have it in my rotation for our twice yearly visits, and for it to beat out other places for a spot on the dinner list.

                                                                          1. re: grayelf

                                                                            Idiosyncratic can in fact be a compliment, I agree.

                                                                            It's fans rarely acknowledge that aspect of the place though.

                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                              Well, this board does indeed seem to produce a lot of gushing reviews that mention the fact that the food is really good, the owners are really nice, etc., but fail to mention that, like most restaurants, it's a mixed bag. I think plating issues, location, ambience, lack of a full bar, etc. are a valid part of any discussion about the pros and cons of a restaurant and I don't see why La Ciccia should be off the hook. Would seem unfortunately if all the gushing reviews would create a backlash against a fundamentally good restaurant just because people feel that it's overhyped.

                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                A full bar is usually a minus for an Italian restaurant. Cocktails have nothing to do with the Italian table and the Italian view (shared by most French chefs) is that drinking them before dinner throws off your palate. In Italy a "bar" is what we call a cafe, and a place that serves cocktails is an "American bar."

                                                                                The only plus of having a full bar is that they can serve digestivi, but that's a huge expense for such a minor detail.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  I can understand that La Ciccia is beer and wine only given that it's a small neighborhood place, but the idea that being able to order a glass of grappa in an Italian restaurant would count as a "minus" is mind boggling. Sure, there are some snotty chefs who deliberately don't serve hard liquor out of fear that customers will ruin their palates by having a cocktail and those chefs belong squarely in the Vanity Fair article "Tyranny–It’s What’s for Dinner". If I were to go to a French restaurant and I don't have the option of ordering a glass of cognac after dinner if I feel like it, I would count that as a negative when evaluating the pros and cons of that restaurant. How about having a full bar and letting guests decide for themselves whether they want to throw off their palates with a cocktail?

                                                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                                                    Having a liquor license in SF is sometimes a costly liability. Getting the beer and wine can at times represent enough challenge. The place is also extremely small, so it wouldn't make sense for them.

                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                      Yes, like I said, I can see why La Ciccia doesn't have a full bar, but not why a full bar would usually be a "minus" for an Italian restaurant. I've eaten at Perbacco many times and never been bothered by the fact that they serve liquor.

                                                                                    2. re: nocharge

                                                                                      Like I said, digestivi are a plus, but a full type 47 liquor license in San Francisco costs around $100,000.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Who cares what the excuse is for a restaurant not to have a particular feature? It either has it or it doesn't. I can well believe that for a small neighborhood restaurant, it may not make business sense to have a full bar. However, that still doesn't give it a check mark for "full bar" on the long list of pros and cons that goes into evaluating the appeal of that restaurant.

                                                                              2. re: grayelf


                                                                                I don't like Neapolitan pizza. I prefer Roman thin-crust pizza. I often think, when confronted with a Neapolitan pizza, "If I wanted lasagne, I'd eat lasagne!" It's just too soggy for me.

                                                                                Please don't get me wrong: I think it is a good thing that people enjoy meals comprehensively rather than just "tastes" or "bites". For the same reasons it makes a difference if you arrange the table and invite your friends, it makes a difference how food arrives in front of you.

                                                                                What I'm trying to say, though, is that food fashion -- or aesthetic values -- really differ from culture to culture. I realize that is obvious and you already know that, but there are many Italian dishes that Italians will shout "Bello!" when it arrives at the table, and it just bewilders foreigners.

                                                                                Oh -- wanted to add I'm even worse than a proscuitto snob. I actually prefer speck, and even moreso speck from Sauris. I can recall ever seeing speck sold in the US.

                                                                                But lots of good salami in SF as I recall.

                                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                  To name just two, Molinari's in North Beach carries speck as does Di Palo's in NYC. So it's available.

                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                      A. G. Ferrari and the Pasta Shop also sell speck.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Vino Rosso and Vega's serve speck regularly.

                                                                                        1. re: RBofSF

                                                                                          Hog & Rocks and Adesso (housemade) have had it off and on.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            I'm surprised to hear of so much speck in the SF area. I go to NYC fairly frequently and very rarely see it.

                                                                                            I can't help but wonder if an underlying relationship with northern Italy in SF is what accounts for the difference.

                                                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                              I very rarely see it around here either, I just like it so remember when I come across it.

                                                                                              I learned about living in Rome in the 80s. I don't I ever saw it around here until 10-15 years ago, I'd substitute similar German ham in Italian recipes that called for it.

                                                                                              1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                                I see speck that is domestically made in Iowa at a fair number of places. La Quercia is the name.

                                                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                                  Gialina Pizza has a speck pizza which is routinely on the menu.
                                                                                                  I think it's becoming more common over the last few years.

                                                                                      2. re: grayelf

                                                                                        >>" Is it the best Italian restaurant in San Francisco?"<<

                                                                                        Just looking at the menu of La Ciccia, I'm wondering if the fairer question isn't:

                                                                                        "Is it the best Sardinian restaurant in San Francisco?"

                                                                                        There are only a very few American restaurants in Italy, and were somebody to open up one that had a basically New Orleans kitchen, or Hawaiian kitchen, I doubt it would ever get ranked as the best American restaurant in town (that would be a restaurant that serves the best burgers and pancakes). My recollections of what is considered Italian food in SF is that it is very much shaped by fact that Italian immigrants to SF came from northern Italy and not southern Italy (as was more typical of the east coast).

                                                                                        1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                          People in SF are open to a lot of different kinds of Italian food. I don't think contemporary local taste in Italian food has anything to do with what Italian food was here before 1980.

                                                                                          My favorite Italian restaurants in SF are Barbacco, Cotogna, Incanto, La Ciccia, and Perbacco. I couldn't really pick a single "best" since they're so different, but La Ciccia is certainly the most Italian of that group.

                                                                                          Some people might name Acquerello, Quince, or SPQR as the best, but to me they're too French to qualify.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            @Robert Lauriston,

                                                                                            Hope nothing in my post came across as implying people in SF weren't open to all regions of Italian food. That's not my opinion. I have no reason to think they aren't.

                                                                                            But we disagree about whether contemporary local taste was shaped by the local history -- although what I would say is that contemporary local ideas about Italian food are shaped by that history. There are some dishes that are quite commonplace for San Francisco diners that one rarely encounters on the east coast, or hasn't done so until the recent boom in Italian regional cooking, including some bastardizations of northern Italian specialties (rice dishes, dishes with chicken livers, seafood stews) that are the legacy of who moved to the west coast rather than the east coast from Italy. I would include San Francisco's cappucino culture as part of that, which was ahead of the east coast's.

                                                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                              I think the local Italian tradition experienced an almost complete disconnect starting around 1980, when the Cafe at Chez Panisse sparked the Cal-Italian trend and other restaurants such as Prego and Il Fornaio started doing less Americanized versions of Italian food. The old-school North Beach places mostly went out of business and were replaced by restaurants run by young immigrants.

                                                                                              Capp's Corner and Tommaso's are still standing and cioppino's still popular but I see few other traces of SF Italian food as it was up through the 70s.

                                                                                              What was that place called that was where Kokkari is now?

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                Did Fior also open in the 80's? North Beach Restaurant was and still is entirely off your radar?

                                                                                                Your misconception that North Beach was entirely like The Golden Spike has been addressed a number of times.

                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                  North Beach used to have maybe a couple of dozen famly-style restaurants like the Golden Spike (including Fior d'Italia until after Bill Armanino bought it in 1977), now there's one semi-holdout.

                                                                                                  I don't think there was ever a time when that was the *only* kind of Italian food you could get in North Beach, but until the late 70s / early 80s the "northern Italian" places were stodgy, gloppy, and old-school in a bad way. The "Joe's" places had a lighter touch with meat and fish but the vegetables and pasta were mushy.

                                                                                                  North Beach Restaurant, which opened in 1970 and was arguably one of the harbingers of the new generation, has been on my radar as a place to avoid for a long time.

                                                                                                  1. re: Sarah

                                                                                                    Yeah, that was it. There was an odd moment when Prego and Ciao were doing the best Italian food in SF, and neither of them served bread.

                                                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    I don't think points of reference for food and flavors changes as easily or as quickly as you do, and maybe particularly with Italian recipes, however many permutations they go through.

                                                                                              2. re: barberinibee

                                                                                                My first visits to La Ciccia stick out in my mind, because the owners were really into talking about Sardinia, and differentiating what that means. I guess they finally gave in to being lumped in with Italians. I'm not sure any Spanish influence has survived on their menu. Maybe on the fish prep?

                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                  Sardinians are as Italian as anybody. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (which included Nice, the birthplace of Garibaldi) was the political nucleus of what became modern Italy.

                                                                                                  The North African influences are more obvious in the cuisine, though the Spanish brought tomatoes and chiles.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    "Sardinians are as Italian as anybody."

                                                                                                    The owners of La Ciccia conveyed a different opinion to me on my first visits.... so it might be news to them.

                                                                                                    They're not the first Sardinian family I've met who wanted to differentiate themselves.

                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                      Most Italians identify with family first, then with their region (if not village), then as Italian. Italians from all over will go on at length about how their region's cuisine is the best and how it differs from whatever you're used to getting in Italian restaurants.

                                                                                                      Lorella's not Sardinian, she's from Padova.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        It's a Sardinian restaurant claiming to serve Sardinian cuisine.

                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          "Italians from all over will go on at length about how their region's cuisine is the best and how it differs from whatever you're used to getting in Italian restaurants."

                                                                                                          Yes, and they are right about this every time.

                                                                                                        2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                          "The Sardinians are as Italian as anybody" -- which is to say, most anybody in Italy will tell you they are not "Italian", but Roman, or Ligurian, what have you. "Italian" is a fairly meaningless designation.

                                                                                                          But being and island culture, however, does add to a special sense of separateness, and in many ways, Sardegnan cuisine and wine is more closely tied with Catalonia and Corsica and parts of the French Riviera than it is to other parts of Italy.

                                                                                                          1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                                            Interesting discussion, all. I certainly agree with Barberinibee about the importance of regional, rather than national, identity. Our friends in Piemonte would consider Sicilians, for example, to be from deep in Africa (figuratively, of course) and even Rome is far enough south to be only marginally "Italian" in their eyes.

                                                                                                            But back to food: would love to hear a trip report from Barberini about dining in San Francisco, as we will be there in April. (We seem to be following you around the U.S., though unfortunately not back to Liguria.) We're hoping to dine at Cotogna, and I would like to try Perbacco, though my son would probably prefer the menu at Barbacco. And I do have a soft spot for Osteria del Forno from prior visits.

                                                                                                            Many thanks to the regulars on this board, as you have been most helpful in planning this trip.

                                                                                                            1. re: lisaonthecape

                                                                                                              i lived in Piemonte for a half year, and i agree, that the perception of most other places in Italy were considered as almost "foreign" to the Piemontese, especially when it came to food.

                                                                                                              I can't imagine anyone not loving Cotogna. it's wonderful. I've been to Perbacco and Barbacco several times, and i feel that Barbacco is more consistently good. today for a take-out lunch i had their wonderful duck-fat brussels sprouts.

                                                                                                              please report back on your trip!

                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            How many were in your party? that seems like a lot for a light meal for 2 or are the portions smaller?

                                                                            1. re: tjinsf

                                                                              It was a lot of food for two (we took home some of the fregola and cauliflower), just lighter than we usually have there since it was seafood.

                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              @Robert Lauriston,

                                                                              Don't know if you are still looking at this thread but:

                                                                              May I ask about this seafood sugo and squid ink? How are they combined?

                                                                              I also note that other people talk about eating fregole there but it is dressed differently. How often does the preparation change?

                                                                              1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                Beats me. I think there's always a pasta with seafood sauce but the details vary.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  @Robert Lauriston,

                                                                                  What I was really looking to find out is whether the squid ink is thoroughly incorporated into the sugo, or if it is more like a condiment. I quite love fregole, but I'm less enthusiastic about squid ink. I also thought maybe by the time I ate there, the fregole would be sauced differently, and it wouldn't matter anyway.

                                                                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                    I believe the squid ink was cooked with the sauce.

                                                                                    The fregola is often served with a different sauce, I've only had the seafood sugo on fregola once, and I think that was the only time it had squid ink.

                                                                            3. A friend and I are taking a cooking class in SF in late March. This will be our dinner out. So glad to continue to read about the food...and the love :)

                                                                              1. Two friends and I had dinner here a week ago. I've debated about posting. Partly cause I don't have accurate details of what we ate but also cause I thought it was really good but not this over-the-top, there's nothing like it in the city, love that they get. And I read this board pretty regularly and some of my favorite posters adore it. I (actually all three of us) thought everything was at least good and sometimes VERY good but nothing (well, except that flatbread) would get higher marks from me. We had the squid and they were very good. Had a pizza - don't remember what but it had arugula which I love. The pizza was good. The pasta with some kind of ragu was no better than good. The only main with fish was seared tuna which didn't interest us. I'll admit that my friends aren't the most adventuresome eaters so, since we were sharing, some of the more "esoteric" ingredients were no-go's for them. The ricotta/saffron cake was only good although one of my friends thought it was the best part of the meal. We had wines by the glass and had no argument with those. I LOVED the looks of the place. Very handsome. And the noise level was fine so maybe whatever they just did helped with that. Service was superb. Friendly and knowledgeable. And pre-tip it was a reasonable $50pp. I'm MORE than willing to say that very easily my expectations could have been set too high. It was good but I probably won't go back. We had dinner the following night at Café Claude and (yes, yes, apples and oranges) I thought the food was excellent. Again, I hesitated in posting and I don't intend to defend myself (gets a little testy around here at times!). Just one person's opinion.

                                                                                7 Replies
                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  It may have been that you ordered pizza...it is good there, but not something I'd cross town for, much less come from out of town to sample. There are, however, plenty of items that I not only would cross town for, I would (and have done so) drive in from Merced just to eat... Granted, I am not a fan of pizza generally (and rarely order it anywhere), but I am convinced that the primary reason it is on the menu at La Ciccia is because the place had a pizza oven when the owners took it over, and because folks in the neighborhood appreciate the option.

                                                                                  For food made with real love (imo) try the spagetti with bottarga, the salumi, pasta with squid ink or with tuna heart (I don't eat much tuna but anything with squid ink there is delicious!), any of the seafood dishes, especially those with shellfish. And yes, though I don't personally enjoy eating octopus, the octopus there is delicious. (so good that I am tempted to order it every time I go, and confess that I will sneak tastes when any dining companions order it, even though as a diver who loves to see them in the water I really don't like to eat my friends the octopuses :-))

                                                                                  In short, if by 'esoteric' you mean seafood, then yes, you are missing the best of La Ciccia if you didn't try it.

                                                                                  Glad to hear the noise level was fine. Can't wait for my next visit

                                                                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                    ok, my eyes are not working right...just realized that you did try squid...and the flatbread (which I love), so perhaps you did get a sense of what makes it a favorite of some (including me). Glad you thought the squid was very good, in any case.

                                                                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                      Thanks, susan. I did feel that missing things like bottarga and tuna heart (my friends just don't go in that direction) dumbed down the experience. Pizza was someone else's decision :( Perhaps I WILL go back when I have my husband's company as he, as I, will eat just about anything. I REALLY wanted to like it more.

                                                                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                        i agree that what makes this place special, besides the ambiance, etc., is that bottarga dish and the tuna heart dish. they knock it into another ballpark, for me. and i'm with you, can't wait for my next visit, it's been way too long! maybe we can plan a night when grayelf is here? i'm sure she won't need too much strong[-arming?

                                                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                          There's currently a linguine in a squid-ink seafood sugo that makes me salivate just as I am typing this sentence. As for the pizza, it doesn't have the best dough but the balance of ingredients is always perfect, I usually ask for the bianca version. If they serve nothing but the spaghetti with bottarga, in a paper plate, I'd still eat there.

                                                                                          1. re: madeatking

                                                                                            I had that last night, I thought the linguine worked better with that sauce than the fregola I had last time.

                                                                                            The pasta servings are generous. We decided to take half of each home so that we'd have room for prawns and dessert. It would make sense to split one but it's hard enough to choose two.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              I ate at La Ciccia not so long ago and loved it, and I wanted to say that I would never order pizza from a Sardegnan kitchen. Pizza is really not in the Sardinian recipe book. The island (and La Ciccia) has beautiful "carta di musica" flatbread (pane carasau), which should hardly be viewed as an acquired taste. It is flat out (no pun intended) divine in its simplicity.

                                                                                              Even in Italy it is truly extremely difficult to get edible pizza north of Rome and Naples, and while south of there does have delicious "pizza", it is not always a familiar style. The island of Sicily does its own completely quirky "pizza". The Italian Riviera -- which borrows quite a few culinary ideas and ingredients from Sardegna -- is the pits absolute pits when it comes to pizza. (They eat foccacie and farinata, and Sardegna is not all that different in turning its back on pizza. Pizza is for tourists.)

                                                                                              I'm not inclined to fault La Ciccia for making use of the pizza oven it inherited or to cater to local expectations when it comes to offering today's "Italian" menu. But it seems to me the primary reason to make the trek out to Noe Valley to eat at La Ciccia is that one has a lively curiosity about or craving for the traditional specialties of Sardegna -- which are delicious, homey, long-cooked and deeply -- hauntingly -- flavorful. Don't bother going to La Ciccia for dishes readily found on other menus in Italian restaurants, and if you do, then don't judge La Ciccia by those expectations.

                                                                                              What surprised me about La Ciccia when I ate there was how the dishes captured the aromatic earthiness of rustic cooking in Italy and brought it to a table so far away. Usually, in Italy, cooks can at least somewhat rely on being able to walk out the door and grab ingredients from the garden, or visit the hyperlocal market, to dish up that homegrown flavor. At La Ciccia, I suspect the folks in the kitchen are working like demons to turn out all that "rustic" food without deadening the flavors. It sounds easy to dress pasta with bottarga and have it be a Mediterranean joy, but for a San Francisco restaurant to do that night after night, plate after plate, so far from home -- well, bravo.

                                                                                      2. Went on impulse last night, luckily they had a table free but the next walk-in party got seated only because there had been a cancellation,so it's a really good idea to make a reservation.

                                                                                        Highlights for me were the roast squid with basil oil and a touch of hot pepper, linguine with squid ink sauce, roast prawns with olive oil, and the goat cheese and fig gelato. Had a taste of fettuccine with a ragù of goat and prosciutto topped with pecorino, that was great too.

                                                                                        1. Is it a lot busier since their refresh? I've been used to showing up in the first 30 min or so and not having it be a problem. What area alternatives are there (high quality, casual cooking, any cuisine)?

                                                                                          1. I am kicking myself for having not eaten here before. The food was sublime. We had the Fregua Sarda cun Arrizzonisi e Cori de Tonnu $18 (Toasted Sardinian Fregola with Sea Urchin Tomato and Cured Tuna Heart) if I was a poet I would write a love sonnet to how wonderful this tasted. Our second dish was the Spaghetti with peperoncini and fish roe $18 and it was excellent too.

                                                                                            I'm not familar with Sardinian food but the spouse used to go on family trips there all the time and said it was is authentic in the best way without any fuss and nice strong clean flavours.

                                                                                            The calamari we started with was cooked so tender and dressed with just the right amount of olive oil and greens.

                                                                                            Even though we didn't finish our pasta I had to try the ricotta saffon cake and I was glad I did as it had the right amount of saffon and didn't overpower the cake.

                                                                                            I really like how not trendy the decor was. The place was full and it was a bit hard to hear but there was enough light to see the menu easily and for ASL.

                                                                                            The tables were close together but we could still move around and it's accessible. The service was very helpful with picking our dishes and I was surprised by how quickly even with a totally full house our food came. Love how while the food is high quality, the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. Now to try the rest of the menu.

                                                                                            1. I finally had a chance to visit La Ciccia last week. That was a great meal!

                                                                                              For me the highlight was the spaghetti with bottarga. I was surprised at how good it was. The quality of the pasta helped make this dish, in terms of the right level of chewiness. The sauce and oil were delicate but very flavorful.

                                                                                              We also had:
                                                                                              Organic greens salad -- another surprising highlight. Light with a great balance of flavors
                                                                                              Octopus stew -- pretty good, the octopus was very tender. I think I like smoky grilled octopus preparation better but this was very tasty.
                                                                                              Fregola with sea urchin & tuna heart -- excellent, very creamy and good subtle flavor of sea urchin. I'm not a big fan of fregola as a starch & wonder if the sauce would work with a different pasta.
                                                                                              Whole Wild Prawns -- very fresh and well-flavored, highly recommended
                                                                                              Seared Lamb -- good and well-prepared, but not quite as flavorful as I would have hoped. We were very full by the time this came out so that might have affected our opinion of this.

                                                                                              I can't believe it took me this long to finally visit this place.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: calumin

                                                                                                Hey calumin, we had almost the same dinner as you did last Friday, apart from the green salad. We got the prosciutto instead which was lovely though not housemade. I think the SO hit it on the head when he said that the sauces are what make the dishes at La Ciccia. Our lamb was well executed but a bit dull without anything on it. We were all going for the sauces on the other dishes any way we could get 'em, including with a spoon for the octopus stew. And the sauce on the prawns was outstanding, with Swiss chard and capers. We shared the two pastas four ways which is a great option as they are both quite rich. Super welcoming service from Lorella and her staff added to the experience, as did the variety of Sardinian wines. It's a gem.

                                                                                                1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                  That's what I always say about La Ciccia. The sauces are so distinct and delicious. Every one is so different. It really makes each dish stand out.

                                                                                              2. After seeing the glowing reviews of La Ciccia for a while, I was finally able to secure a reservation over the phone 3 weeks ago for my husband's surprise bday dinner last night.

                                                                                                Arrived at 5:15 (got a parking spot immediately, so ended up early) and we were the first people standing outside. In the next 15 minutes, the group outside grew to 8 people - mostly folks hoping to score a last minute table without reservations.

                                                                                                We definitely saw warm greetings from the wife of the owner to regulars, as well as good service to us newbies.

                                                                                                For food, I had originally intended on ordering 2 apps, 1 pasta, 1 entree, but they didn't have the sardines last night so we switched to 1 app, 2 pastas, 1 entree:

                                                                                                Bread was served, but with nothing on the side. I did see some olive oils on the menu for $2 and up, but I didn't realize I had to order it. Oops. But we weren't super starving, so decided to not indulge on the bread. Wish the server would have mentioned this to us though.

                                                                                                Spicy octopus stew: definitely spicy, but the tomato base was so delicious that we ended up having spoonfuls of it on its own. The octopus came in the form of small whole baby octopus, incredibly tender and delicious with the stew. This comes in second for best octopus I've had - the honor going to the grilled octopus at Babbo NYC.

                                                                                                The fregola with sea urchin and tuna heart was amazing as everyone has recommended. I really had no idea how this would come out, but the sea urchin tomato sauce is absolutely creamy with dried, cured tuna heart shaved over the top of the entire dish. The server suggested a fantastic wine pairing for this dish and I could use this sauce to top everything for the rest of my life :)

                                                                                                Our second pasta dish was a special of the night - ground veal ragu with flag shaped pasta (like shorter bits of pappardelle). The veal ragu was fantastic and probably one of the best meat ragus we have had in a restaurant. The standout about the pasta here is that it doesn't go limp or soggy, so it shines just as strongly as the sauces.

                                                                                                Finally, we had the lamb. My husband said it was the best prep of lamb he's had thus far (he's a huge lamb fan and pretty much orders lamb if available at any restaurant). Again, I didn't know what to expect, but the lamb slices on top of brussels sprout and bell pepper were a perfect medium rare with hints of herby rosemary. Melt in your mouth tender.

                                                                                                I overheard the server talking to the table next to us and some fun tidbits:
                                                                                                - The head server (I'm sure there's a name for this, but I don't know it) said the two highlights of his life were 1) Daniel Patterson asking him to take over the kitchen when DP went on vacation, 2) having La Ciccia call him up and ask him to join their restaurant.
                                                                                                - Head server had been coming to La Ciccia regularly before that because he felt it was the best pasta in SF. I wholeheartedly agree, even compared to Flour+Water.

                                                                                                Comments about Flour+Water: we had some great sauces there when we had the pasta tasting menu, but the pasta itself didn't stand out. They were merely vehicles of delivery for the sauce, like a plate or a spoon would be. At La Ciccia, the pasta was the perfect al dente and added the right texture to the sauces.

                                                                                                This is the best recommendation I've had from Chowhound and would love to try more recommendations on par with La Ciccia!

                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: bobabear

                                                                                                  "Daniel Patterson asking him to take over the kitchen when DP went on vacation"

                                                                                                  So a waiter working in a matchbox sized Sardinian-Italian restaurant was supposed to be entrusted with the heavy technique kitchen at a Patterson place? Sounds far fetched to non-sensical but there's hardly a young chef, or restaurant biz person who hasn't had a connection to him. His kitchens have a rotating door. Is this story meant to add credibility to La Ciccia?

                                                                                                  I think the hype around La Ciccia has reached epic proportions.

                                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                    Oh sorry, I forgot to add more context. Prior to working at La Ciccia, that guy worked for Daniel Patterson which is when he was asked to head the kitchen.

                                                                                                    Anyhow, I was just sharing fun tidbits I heard last night for those who might be interested in the staff history. I wasn't trying to add credibility or anything... Feel free to gloss over those bits if they displease you!

                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                      The idea of Daniel Patterson asking a server to take over the kitchen while on vacation is ... well ... pretty fascinating.

                                                                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                        I assumed that the guy had been working as a sous chef for Daniel Patterson and wanted a career change. Lots of people get burned out working in kitchens.

                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                            While generally true, Coi has an 18 percent mandatory service charge that is "shared by the entire staff" which means that it likely has less of the FOH-BOH income discrepancies that are common in places that rely solely on tips. And if you are a sous chef at a place with two Michelin stars, you should have a lot of decent employment opportunities, including relatively comfy corporate chef jobs.

                                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                              "Plus waiters make a lot more money!"

                                                                                                              If he was a waiter at Coi, maybe. But at La Ciccia?

                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                I'm sure waiters at La Ciccia make decent money, especially under the city's minimum wage law where they get minimum wage plus tips, not minimum wage with a reduction for extrapolated tip income. Sous chefs make relatively little.

                                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                                Hahaha he should have been, with stories like that.

                                                                                                        1. re: bobabear

                                                                                                          Your report certainly dovetails with my experiences at La C, boba. So glad you had a great meal. I seem to recall that the bread is not anything special so you didn't miss much there. I am still haunted by the octo sauce, for which said bread was a vehicle, however. Agree they do a great job on the pasta doneness also, though I haven't made it to F&W yet to compare.

                                                                                                          I don't think there are many places that do what La Ciccia does in the way it does. I've had one or two dishes there that didn't knock my socks off but the success ratio is so high in favour of the good, and the ambiance and service works so well for me... now I wish I'd booked for my Nov trip trip too :-).

                                                                                                          1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                            I think the bread is made from the same dough as the pizza. It serves its purpose for mopping up sauce.