Category Archives: Italian

Locanda: insanely delicious and varied menu – with cocktails!

locanda

Picking a restaurant that appeals to my dad is difficult for mostly because of our difference in taste, but also because of his “full bar or this restaurant is dead to me” dining perspective. A lot of San Fran’s latest restaurants only offer beer and wine, which is fine by me, but not by a man who was drinking martinis before it was cool or commonplace to do so. Fortunately, because Locanda’s cocktail menu is boasting with great concoctions, and the restaurant was next on my “to-try” list, it presented itself as the perfect option for a father-daughter dinner with my mom out of town.

delicious crusty bread

delicious crusty bread

Jewish style artichoke - fried and crisp with lemon

Jewish style artichoke – fried and crisp with lemon

chicken under a brick

flavorful chicken under a brick

Despite the fact that I’d say my dad and I rarely eat similar foods, we both left totally wowed by all aspects of the meal, from the attentive but not so clingy service, to the complimentary olive-oily flat bread, to the crispy fried jewish style artichoke, to the luscious linguine with crab and lettuce, to my awesome chicken under the brick with quinoa. A sign of a good menu is one that makes the ordering decision process a tough one, and honestly, I almost had a panic attack considering the possibility of eating one of five dishes I felt I couldn’t live without. While I may not choose the ricotta bread pudding with orange blossom honey (a little too dry for me) again, I’ll absolutely return to experiment the other solid Italian style food Locanda has to offer. Check out my video for more footage of our meal and my dad’s profession of love for Locanda.

Grade: A
Location: 557 Valencia Street btwn 16th and 17th
Website

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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, San Francisco

Flour + Water: divine pasta in rustic romance

flour

FINALLY I made it to Flour + Water, and FINALLY I know what people mean when they say this place produces THE best pasta in the city. For fear of being turned down without a reservation, my sister Justyn and I waited patiently outside the door 15 minutes prior to the the 5:30pm opening time along with the other dedicated pasta-lovers, and were able to snag a prime table near the bar. We followed a tip from one of our friends to request bread, and thank the lord that we did because I shoveled each piece into my mouth like candy – the center was warm and soft, almost sticky-chewy  surrounded by a sturdy, crusty edge that made a lovely crackling sound with each bite, indicating its perfection. And despite loading on that, we made our way to carbo-coma, starting with the special: trenette (a long, fettucine-like noodle with a ribbon-ridge on each side) with a slow-roasted veal ragu, and moving onto the funghi pizza with hen of the woods mushrooms and fontina. Not only was our pasta melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but also every stuffed and long-noodle pasta that went by me looked incredible. My food envy was raging – especially over the teleme-stuffed scarpinocc that looked like little white angels on a plate. We also finished every last crumb of the pizza, whose salty charred crust and generous toppings did not go unnoticed, but next time I’d just focus on the pasta – there’s too many good ones to say no to.

mushroom pizza

mushroom pizza

Pasta with veal

Pasta with veal

look at that beautiful stuffed pasta!

look at that beautiful stuffed pasta!

To top off the influx of dense flour-full food, we finished with the most dense and chocolatey budino that was covered in fleur de sel (to my liking) and a coffee creme. The portion size was huge, so naturally, I left the restaurant feeling like I had enough food to last me for a week. Based on my meal and the food I saw others enjoying, Flour + Water has become one of my top recommendations for those dining in SF looking for a casual but memorable meal. It’s perfect for a date or a smaller group, especially if you come without a reservation (of which they offer very few).

chocolate budino

chocolate budino

 

Grade: A+
Location: 2401 Harrison Street @ 20th Street
Website

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Filed under Italian, San Francisco

Eataly: The best place on earth for multiple things

eataly

Made in Italy
Local and artisanal
This place spoils me.

When Eataly opened (almost) three years ago, I immediately became obsessed with the place. On walks uptown, I’d go out of my way to pass through the Flatiron district to embark on the Eataly maze, dodging a chaotic mass of people with shopping carts or glasses of wine in hand gazing at the piles of imported italian products. Each visit I’d discover something new about the place, and like most customers, I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Fast forward to today and now I am an official Eatalian as an Eataly intern, and I couldn’t be happier to be an official part of the internal team. I appreciate the quality of the food and the constant orchestration that makes the whole place sing more than I ever did before. So, in honor of my time thus far, here are (only some) of my favorite things Eataly has to offer that aren’t as widely known as they should be.

1. La Scuola: Eataly has an amazing executive chef, Alex Pilas, that combined with a fully dedicated events team, a beautiful demo space (which is a restaurant by day), and dean Lidia Bastianich, make for an incredible cooking education program. Classes are relatively affordable, hands off (which I prefer) and more often than not include plenty of food and accompanying alcohol. I recently took the Summer Risotto class, which for $100 provides three glasses of wine, delicious house made bread, a four course meal, a detailed cooking demo, and a cooking booklet to bring home. At 90 minutes classes are relatively short, which I welcome considering I tend to get antsy sitting still.

Chef Alex Pilas teaching class

Chef Alex Pilas teaching class

summer saffron risotto

summer saffron risotto

scallop risotto

scallop risotto

2. Eataly Walking Tour: If you’re overwhelmed by the space like most people, I highly recommend the $35 Eataly walking tour, where in just two hours you are given an educational walk through the store that includes samplings of almost every individual counter. On my walk, I tasted fresh mozzarella, shishito peppers, jicama, fresh baked bread, parmesan with aged balsamic, homemade pasta, a slice of pizza, gelato, and hot chocolate. A steal for the price, and perfect if you want to become an expert at navigating the space.

3. The Panini Counter: Oh my lord, the best sandwiches ever, which is probably why the line curls around the store at lunch time. The bread is made fresh in-house every day. The meats and cheeses are imported or local. The ingredients are so high quality that each sandwich needs only 2-3 elements to make it really stand out. My favorite is the soppressata and provolone or the simple caprese with house made mozzarella. But on cold days, the hot sandwiches made out of fresh pizza dough are just the thing to get.

warm pizza-bread panini, pressed on the grill

warm pizza-bread panini, pressed on the grill

soppressata

soppressata

parma ham and mozzarella

parma ham and mozzarella

4. The Focaccia: If you want to experience Eataly’s quintessential homemade-ness without spending an arm and a leg, get a $1.80-$3.80 slice of olive oil crisped focaccia. Salty, crunchy, earth-shatteringly flavorful bread. It smells of Italy.

focaccia

focaccia

5. The Walnut Loaf: So I love bread. Sue me. But this particular loaf is on another level. Buy a loaf, slice it up, and freeze what you don’t use for toast (with butter) in the morning.

bread counter

bread counter

6. La Piazza: By far the best menu of any of the 7 restaurants in the space because it’s got a little of everything, and I actually like eating standing. In the middle of your Eataly tour, stop here for a cheese plate, some salumi, and maybe some crostini. and definitely taste the squid if it’s on the special menu that day. Caramelized simply with citrus and oil, it’s absolutely incredible.

La Piazza

La Piazza

7. The Gelato: Ok, so if you’ve been here you know about this, but it really doesn’t get much better. Eataly’s pastry chefs use the local farm milk and eggs that they sell to create this creamy concoction, and each bite just leaves you wanting more. Get the salted caramel and pistachio if you want my ideal situation, but all the flavors warrant recognition.

gelato

pistachio and coconut

8. Birreria: Summer or winter, the rooftop beer garden is the ultimate, picturesque setting for a brew and some mushrooms. It tends to get crowded at peak beer sipping hours, but in my opinion, the al fresco dining experience is worth the wait.

beer garden in summer

beer garden in summer

9. The Butcher Counter: Let’s be honest, every “counter” at Eataly is artisanal and serves a better product than almost anywhere in New York. The pasta counter gets me every time. But the dark horse of the bunch is the meat counter, somewhat hidden behind the dry pasta, outside the central piazza. You can be sure that all meat is antibiotic and hormone free, and sourced from sustainable local farms that (Eataly confirms first-hand) treat their animals humanely. I never thought raw meat could actually stir my appetite. Go for the sausage or the ready-made burger patties for an affordable, delicious and easy meal.

butcher

butcher

There are so many dozens of other reasons this place is fabulous and as popular as it is. Every accolade it has received is well deserved. It’s cliche, but in order to believe you gotta come see it. Do yourself a favor and reserve an afternoon to get lost in a sea of Italian and local goodness.

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Co.: blistered 900 degree oven pizza in peace and air conditioning

co-pane

Pizza is my favorite food, and in a city like New York I get overwhelmed deciding where to satisfy my frequent cravings for it. Co. has been on my list since I learned that this civilized Neapolitan pizza restaurant was the creation of Jim Lahey, the well-known Founder of Sullivan Street Bakery. But avoiding the crazy thoroughfare beyond 23rd street always got the best of me just when I was close to testing it out. Now that I’m moving in September (to San Francisco before going to school abroad for a year – happy yet sad for many reasons, so let’s move on), I had no excuse to deny my urge to sample Jim’s pizzas when my hankering for crispy crust came on.

Fortunately, the wait-times have really died down over the past three years, and our party of 3 was seated right away. We started with a simple, tiny radicchio shiitake mushroom salad served with taleggio cheese, which was nothing more than a hunger teaser. The vinegar was bright, and the taleggio cheese was creamy and strong. We then tasted two pies, both unique in their own right: the meatball pizza with tomato, mozzarella, meatball, and caramelized onion, and the Popeye pizza with pecorino, gruyere, mozzarella, black pepper, garlic and loads of leafy spinach. I loved them both. The spinach pizza was bright, summery and healthily prepared with greens piled on top of a lightly-cheese covered pizza dough, and I didn’t miss the tomato sauce at all. The veal meatballs on the meatball pizza were the perfect addition to an otherwise plain tomato and mozzarella pizza, and the caramelized onion rounded out their saltiness perfectly. Though this pizza did come with sauce, I would have liked a little more of it.

radicchio salad with taleggio and mushrooms

radicchio salad with taleggio and mushrooms

Co.-Meatball-Pizza

Meatball pizza with olives and caramelized onions

Popeye pizza with spinach, gruyere, pecorino and mozzarella

Popeye pizza with spinach, gruyere, pecorino and mozzarella

Dough is obviously a key element to the quality of the pizza, and I have to say that the crispy, blistering pizza dough at Co. was one of my favorites. Its chew, texture, and weight and stood up to the bounty of toppings like a champ.

Co. is a great spot for those who want high quality traditional Italian pizza in a zen, pristine setting, almost identical to the aesthetic of San Francisco’s casual Out The Door. As a person who takes restaurant ambience preferences seriously, this is my kind of pizza joint, and I’ll definitely be coming back. Just keep in mind they don’t serve hard liquor.

Grade: A- (I’ll take the minus sign off when I get a plate of free bread)
Location: 230 9th Avenue @ 23rd Street
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, American, Chelsea, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Pizza

Babbo: the special italian gem that never gets old

babbo

Ohh Babbo. I  love everything about this place. I love that it’s tucked away in a Greenwich village townhouse. I love the round table that anchors the space with cheese, wine and gorgeous fresh flowers (same flower director as Gramercy Tavern). I love the beautiful bar upfront, and I love the exposed staircase that leads to the second floor. I also love that they seat parties of 2 next to side by side in some booths. And lastly, but most importantly, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the food!

So, you all know I am a sucker for Italian food, but this I promise you is above and beyond in deliciousness. It’s not any more complex than you would expect, but the chef embraces each ingredient so carefully that you can’t help but cherish the flavor intensity. Absolutely delicious. If you can’t get a reservation (it’s still the hot commodity it always was), go early and sit at the bar.

While every dish I’ve had here has wowed me, the one that I order every time (when it’s on the menu) is the homemade mozzarella with grilled leeks on rustic Italian bread. You can’t go wrong with any of the pastas, and the incredible desserts (which in my opinion is a rarity for Italian restaurants) makes it the perfect spot for a special, celebratory occasion.

burrata special

burrata special

chickpea fritters with ricotta salata

chickpea fritters with ricotta salata

asparagus and fried pancetta tagliatelle

stinging nettle fettuccine with asparagus and fried pancetta 

simple spaghetti with bottarga

simple spaghetti with bottarga

black sea bass

wild striped bass with watercress pesto

way too much dessert

way too much dessert – the cheesecake is mind-blowing

special cookie plate

special cookie plate

Babbo is a little more on the fancier end of the spectrum of Italian restaurants, but don’t be fooled by the white table cloths and formal service – the food is pure, straight forward, Italian goodness. I can’t wait to return.

Grade: A+
Location: 110 Waverly Place btwn 6th Ave & Macdougal Street
Website

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Italian, West Village

Morandi: the consummate bustling brasserie-style Italian meal

2532849192_b14a7f234c

Keith McNally has his formula down right. No matter what the cuisine, his restaurants are jam-packed, lively, loud, wide open and all operated like well-oiled machines. His reservation line is centralized, his hosts are professionals at gauging wait times, and menus, drinks, bread baskets, and food comes out like clockwork. If you’re working here, there’s no room for friendly chit chat. It’s “here are the specials, I’ll be back, okay what would you like, is everything okay, here are the dessert menus, would you like anything else, here is the check,” and “thank you for dining with us.”

So, it may not be the most personal or intimate experience – his places are not for the volume sensitive – but damn his food is always straight forward and spot on. Last night at Morandi, after copious amounts of bread and olive oil, I enjoyed every (over-priced) dish that I tasted. The crispy fried artichokes, mozzarella with speck and figs, apple fennel salad with sheep’s milk cheese, broccoli rabe bruschetta, fettucine with shrimp, kale and squash, apple crepes with ice cream and the cookie plate were all hits. The standout however, was something sent out by the chef – hot, utterly crisp wedges of fried polenta with a ceramic dish of baccala covered in black truffles. Now, baccala never sounds good to me – salt cod mushed together with oil and a few other things – but this had huge flakes of fish and tasted like heaven atop the sensually smooth triangles of polenta. Buttery, salty, divine.

inside view (from Timeout NY)

inside view (from Timeout NY)

IMG_2031

fried artichokes

perfectly soft mozzarella with figues and speck

perfectly soft mozzarella with figues and speck

IMG_2035

bruscetta, salad, and wine in a basket (my favorite)

broccoli rabe close up

IMG_2037

decadent fried polenta with chunky baccala and truffles
IMG_2036

fettuccine – slightly overcooked noodles but subtly buttery and delicious

apple crepes with mascarpone ice cream

apple crepes with mascarpone ice cream

IMG_2038

absolutely unnecessary cookie plate, but dainty and tasty nonetheless

Prices are high for an Italian restaurant ($30+ entrees), but come for the energy, the unquestionably solid food, the variety, and the feeling of being alive (unless you ate as much as I did and have to hail a cab for a 3 block walk).

Grade: A
Location: 211 Waverly Place
Website

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, West Village

The Marrow: Herold’s take on elevated Eastern European

marrow

For some reason I’m turned off by words like “bratwurst” and “pickled herring” when I’m perusing a menu. It’s not that I don’t love German food (though never in my life will I eat herring again), I’m just a sucker for the standard mozzarella or crostini options that make my eyes light up when I find them. Fortunately, Herold Dieterle’s new restaurant in the West Village does a great job of marrying the best of both worlds – a little pasta or vitello tonato here, a little cold sausage and pretzel dumpling soup there. In fact, the menu is so diverse that some might interpret it as a restaurant identity crisis.  But if it’s ever difficult to understand the dominant cuisine of a place, just analyze the bread, and here, mini pretzel rolls with mustard make it clear that while there are a number of italian touches, German food reigns supreme.

IMG_2021

pretzel roll – could have been slightly softer.

Marrow 75

Marrow 75 (photo from SeriousEats)

For such a new restaurant, the service was noticeably remarkable throughout – I couldn’t believe I was permitted to sit at the table before my boyfriend arrived and that I was able to taste so many wines before selecting.  I started out by sipping a stiff Marrow 75 cocktail with gin, sage, lemon, and sparkling wine, and was soon tipsy enough to order with absolutely no inhibitions – meaning, we got a lot of food. We started with an amazingly fresh, lightly acidic dungeness crab salad, baccala gnudi with pine nuts and raisins, and a skillet braised cuttlefish with guanciale and white wine. The refreshing crab salad balanced out the hearty buttery-ness of the cuttle fish and gnudi, but all three dishes were beautifully plated and well-seasoned. The soft, melt in your moth fish-ricotta dumplings were my favorite – and while I generally don’t like fruit in my savory food, the plump sweet raisins totally complemented the subtle seafood flavors in the dish.

Then came round 2. The stone bass “vitello tonato” was beautifully cooked – tender white fish, crisp white skin, and a luscious veal-tuna sauce on the base of the plate. We also made an adventurous choice of the $30 roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, which essentially looked like a massive shrub with a bounty of other vegetables, but tasted as good as a mass of hearty, crispy and juicy mushroom could. I think if I ate the entire thing I would have exploded – who knew mushrooms could be so rich? The cotechino with lentils
was meaty, salty and dense – an interesting take on sausage and lentils but apparently an italian tradition. We ended the meal with a decadent portion of chocolate budino, which was served with whipped mascarpone cream and a salty hazelnut brittle that I took it upon myself to use as a spoon.

baccala gnudi

baccala gnudi

cuttlefish

cuttlefish

cotechino - photo from SeriousEats

cotechino – photo from SeriousEats

The food had a few things in common: all very savory and flavorful (only 1 or 2 of the dishes were a tad too salty), never before seen (in my life time), and all very delicious. But while food is generally why we go out to restaurants, ambience is a huge factor in my love for a place as well. The space here fits the food – daring wall paper, bold colors, warm lighting – but let’s just say I wouldn’t be happy to be seated in the long narrow expanse that leads to the bathroom. Unfortunately the massive windows look onto a deserted street and add a coldness to an otherwise charming, intimate space. Either way, the food is enough to bring me back, but it’s easy to rack up a bill here so it’ll likely be for a special occasion.

Grade: A-
Location: 99 Bank Street @ Greenwich Street
Website 

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Filed under Business Meal, Drinks & Apps, German, Italian, West Village

Peasant: rustic and romantic in the heart of Soho

I loved the idea of Peasant – cozy, fireplace and pizzas in Soho – but the reality did not live up to my expectations. Saturday night, my boyfriend and I had a casual meal at the bar, and while the pizza was undeniably delicious (what cheese-laden flatbread isn’t?), the skate was swimming in garlicky oil, the broccoli raab was so chewy it was inedible, and the squid, which oddly tasted just like the fish, was rubbery and uninteresting. The food wasn’t blasphemous, it just wasn’t notably great. I do appreciate the simplicity of the menu – Peasant doesn’t aim to wow with originality and party tricks – but if a restaurant’s going for comfort food, it can’t be anything short of perfect (Barbuto knows how it’s done). I’m a sucker for inviting, low-lit, family-style restaurants so I’d likely return just to be back in the warmth on a winter’s day after shopping. Like Hearth, they craft the feeling of homeyness beautifully with complimentary bread and ricotta cheese, the right lighting, reddish tones and an open kitchen. Hopefully my second attempt at eating here won’t be as unremarkable.

IMG_1968

pizza bianca

Grade: B
Location: 194 Elizabeth Street between Spring and Prince
Website

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Filed under Italian, Romantic Date, Soho, Uncategorized

Featured City Post: SPQR in San Francisco

SPQR

I’ve been trying to make a trip to SPQR from the moment I discovered it on my stroll down Fillmore street a few years back. Long waits and few open reservation availability always held me back, but I finally had my chance early this Monday after a plane right from New York and a long day at work. Small plate Italian Mediterranean food in a cozy modern space is exactly what I wanted to calm my email-cluttered mind and plane-food filled belly. Wine is a priority here, as proven by the ceiling-high rack behind the bar that reveals the restaurant’s copious selection of Italian wine. Food does not pale in comparison – sharing is a must because there’s just too much good stuff to bypass.

Fortunately, I was with people who embraced tasting and exploration, which was a blessing considering the three additional specials that made me even more unsettled about narrowing down my options. Sitting at the chef’s table didn’t help the situation either – every dish they fired became my new order just because it looked so irresistible. From start to finish we scored homeruns, starting with the beautifully composed chicory lettuce, almond, goat cheddar and pear butter salad – a plate of greens so beyond the boring, I actually considered it one of the best parts of the meal. The crab-quinoa salad was just as special; the quinoa was cooked to a crisp, rolled and connected two generous heaps of beautiful lump crab meat dressed in a light, tangy vinaigrette. The pastas stole the show as I expected given the sheer uniqueness of every option;  the parsnip tortelli with espresso-aged cheese and mushrooms unleashed a heart-warming brown buttery scent that was almost as decadent as its rich and earthy taste, and the smokiness of the swordfish mezzaluna with dill made it one of the most interesting pastas I’ve tried. We rounded our meal off with a perfectly seared arctic char and mushroom budino, essentially a dense compilation of buttery mushrooms and breadcrumbs, otherwise known as my heaven.

chicory salad

chicory salad

crab and quinoa salad

crab and quinoa salad

swordfish mezzaluna

swordfish mezzaluna

mushroom tortelli

mushroom tortelli

seared arctic char

seared arctic char

dessert.

Dessert at places with beautifully composed food could always use more ice cream, but I still remember it being tasty. Sadly, not remarkable enough for me to remember what exactly it was..but that may have just been a result of devouring my tiny glass of marsala wine.

The experience of tasting food prepared by such highly skilled chefs cooking right in front of me is definitely an undervalued one; I would have paid a premium just for the entertainment value. It’s like tasting the wine when you’re at the vineyard – it’s so much more memorable and delicious when you can see where and how exactly it’s prepared. It’s as if you’re involved in the process. Next time I’m in San Francisco, I’m definitely coming back to SPQR, and I’m no doubt requesting the same seat. Tables are for grown-ups seeking focused conversation!

Grade: A+
Location: 1911 Fillmore Street between Bush and Pine
Website
*top photo from starchefs.com

 

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Featured U.S. City Posts, Italian

Sofia’s Wine Bar: hidden gem in east 50’s

The last restaurant I expected to find in the East 50’s was a cozy, authentic italian wine bar, so when my friend Ashley requested an unheard of Sofia’s WIne Bar for her last hurrah before moving to SF, I arrived prepared for a mediocre meal. That all changed the second I stepped up the brick staircase to find the native Italian waitstaff calming crowds of people anxiously awaiting tables with free prosecco. What a diamond in the midtown-east rough. It’s worth the hour plus wait for a table on a Saturday night (no reservations here), and  in the midst of an awesome blasting hipster playlist, you can chow down an array of piping hot, sharable, affordable, rustic, and delicious Italian-American eats. Our table of five devoured two orders of the addictive creamy artichoke spinach dip, burrata, arugula pizza, stuffed mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, a cheese plate, and of course, a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Bottles of prosecco flooded our table throughout. While I could have made more of an effort to lay off of the cheese laden dishes, I left tipsy, stuffed, and ready to come back for great energy, even better food, and even more impressive service. The space is cramped, so smaller groups are better. Regardless, this East Village transplant is definitely worth a special trip.

spinach artichoke dip

crostini

mac & cheese

pizza pizza – amazing here!

Grade: A+
Location: 242 east 50th street between 2nd & 3rd ave

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Midtown East, Romantic Date