Regional Italian cuisine
A few months back, Mark Bittman wrote about SF's abundance of regional Italian restaurants ( http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/travel/30choice-san-francisco.html ) . He reviewed restaurants specializing in 4 of Italy's 20 regions. Do y'all have suggestions regarding the other 16 regions? Excluding restaurants that showcase regional specialties from various places in Italy, below is what I've come up with.
*Indicates that they have broadened beyond their initial regional focus or are notable for showcasing foods of one region not found elsewhere in SF
Liguria (e.g., Genoa)
Friuli (e.g., Trieste)
*http://www.barbambino.com/ see also http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/2011/02/bar_bambinos_owner_and_chef_wa.html
Istrian (territory formerly part of Italy)
Tuscany (e.g., Florence)
Lazio (e.g., Rome)
Regions lacking representation:
Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol
I was at Oliveto last night. My feelings about the dinner are mixed. The food had Austrian/Hungarian influences, obviously. I didn’t know what region it would be until the day-of and would have preferred a more typically Italian meal.
They set up a U-shaped table in the alcove upstairs for the 18 of us. It was attractive and not too noisy. Good to remember for when people request restaurants for groups. The chef, who came up to talk to us at the end of the meal, emphasized how casual he wants the experience to be. It was (partly) served family-style in earthenware dishes, but the service was attentive, with silverware replaced and wine glasses refilled promptly. Nice, but hardly casual.
The meal itself was starch-heavy. To start we had individual potato tartes that tasted mostly of butter to me. Nothing special. Then prosciutto dumplings in broth. Neither I nor my companions could taste the prosciutto. This came in served in bowls (not family-style), with 5 small, starchy and dense dumplings in a clear broth that tasted mostly of pepper. Not good.
Then things looked up. The main dish was beef goulash with spatzle. The chef said something about lots of warming spices in the food from this region, mentioning allspice, among others, and I think rosemary? The meat was tender and delicious, the spatzle sort of eh. I thought the slightly sweet dish went wonderfully with the side dish of bitter braised radicchio -- though not everyone agreed with me. We had the recommended wine. I wish I could remember what it was. For me, everything finally clicked. Really enjoyed this.
Dolce was apple strudel. The problem with seasonal eating is that I am desperately trying to use up all the apples on my tree at home, so didn’t feel like more apples or, at this point, more starch. Though to be fair the topping was light, shattering under my fork. It came with a torpedo-shaped blob of obviously high quality cream. Okay, but I didn’t finish it.
The chef (don’t remember his name -- young guy, likes car-racing...), admitted that he’s not super-familiar with this cuisine. Another guest said she felt like his guinea pig. I don’t think that’s quite fair, but I get her point. He seemed most enthusiastic when talking about breaking down a steer and using up all the parts. (Hence the goulash.)
I might go again to experience a different region. I don’t thing the meals are catching on. Most people seemed to be ordering off the regular menu.
Thanks for the report. There are certainly competent chefs throughout the Bay Area who scatter excellent regional dishes throughout their menu, but the purpose of my original post was to get a feel for regional dishes from a chef who's really good at cooking and pairing them. Granted the foods of Trentino-Alto Adige are pretty distinct from what you'll find in most of Italy, but it sounds like a one-off regional menu has the focus I was looking for, but not the expertise.
I went to Vicoletto last night. The owner is from Calabria, but other than a few scant mentions on the menu of Calabrian sausage and chilies, it's pan-Italian with a slightly southern bend.
They start you off with bread and two big cups of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make the bread taste not awful.
The online menu and some reviews I've read boast about the $18 burrata that's flown in from Puglia. The menu says the burrata is flown in weekly. I've read that the half-life of burrata is about a day, so it didn't excite me at first. I directly asked the server when it was flown in, and he said it was flown in that day (I'm not sure I believe him). It wasn't anything special. Cowgirl Creamery's is far creamier. Also, it was served way to cold.
The fried zucchini was shaved thin and topped with mint and a balsamic reduction. It could have used a bit more acidity, or even red wine vinegar rather than balsamic, but it was light and enjoyable.
The pastas were pretty good. The gnocchi were served in a cream sauce and were served with chunks of calabrese sausage. The gnocchi held together and weren't overcooked. We also had a homey and good tagliatelle in a pork rib and tomato sauce.
SFGate praised their dessert a few years back, but they've simplified things since they first opened. It's currently Tiramasu, a raspberry vanilla panna cotta, and that Italian favorite "chocolate lava cake."
At a quick glance however, I think most of these restaurants are fusion and are not really featuring the region that they claim to be featuring... for example, the Venetian restaurants have no polenta and as far as I can tell not too many Venetian dishes... Just because they have a few dishes of the region, IMO does not make them a restaurant of that region.
So, what restaurants are actually staying true to the region they are featuring (I would say at least 50% of the menu has to be authentic) and more importantly which ones are good?
The only places mentioned I might call fusion are Quince, Acquerello, and SPQR. If you consider Cal-Italian fusion, then Pizzeria Delfina, but I wouldn't call it that, it's more pan-regional adapted for California ingredients.
Pesce is a cicchetti (tapas) bar with a focus on seafood. Venetians eat more rice than polenta, which is not something you see on every menu in the region, particularly at seafood places.
2227 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Restaurants devoted toward a certain region seem to broaden their menu after a while. Get 'em while they're hot!
Given the general influence of Sicilian food on Italian-American food, I'm somewhat surprised to know of no strict Sicilian places.
Albona is pretty good, and based on what I could find about Istrian food on their site and elsewhere, they surpass the 50% mark. I highly recommend their croquette-like signature appetizer, pan-fried potato gnocchi in a cumin flavored sirloin sauce. They also have a mean sauerkraut.
Hyperbowler! I've been looking for a restaurant that serves a good polenta dish... and for the looks of Albona's Braised Veal Shank in burgandy sauce and creamy polenta... I think this might be the restaurant! Thanks for the Post!
If you have any other recomendations, I sure welcome them! (on a rich polenta dish)
Perbacco does Piemontese and Ligurian dishes.
The owners of L'Osteria del Forno are from Emilia.
Farina reportedly changed and is now not so focused on Ligurian.
Ludwig's has some Trentino dishes.
A16 and Una Pizza Napoletana (pizza only) do very traditional Neapolitan.
La Ciccia is Sardinian.
Ideale is Roman. Locanda's menu reads very Roman but I haven't been yet. SPQR was, sort of, but no longer.
Pesce is Venetian.
Poesia's chef is Calabrian and they sometimes have a few regional dishes.
Oliveto sometimes does Pugliese dinners.
Caffe Sport's chef is from Sicily, but the food's not very traditional Sicilian.
Quince, Acquerello, and SPQR are sort of Frenchified Italian.
Bar Bambino and Pizzeria Delfina don't strike me as having a particular regional focus.
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123
2227 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
1315 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
4072 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Una Pizza Napoletana
200 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110