Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Italian Food in North Beach & Pacific Heights

In my last post, I talked about the problem finding really good Italian food in North Beach. After my dining experiences over the last week, I feel even more strongly that the best, most innovative Italian food is not in North Beach.

We had dinner at Ristorante Ideale in North Beach, a restaurant we enjoyed many years ago but never returned to over the intervening years. I saw that it was still getting pretty good reviews, so we decided to give it a try again. The experience was quintessential North Beach -- mediocre service and food. When I asked the waiter about a wine on the list, he was clearly unfamiliar with the wines or unwilling to spend time talking with me. He just said that the wine I asked him about was good. This inattentiveness to service was matched when we ordered an appetizer of pear wrapped in prosciutto and marscapone. When the food arrived, the pear was a rock and had no taste. When we complained, the waiter said that the shipment of pears they received that day needed more time to ripen. We wondered why they just didn't tell us that the dish was not available. To their credit, they did not charge us for the appetizer.

The other extreme was SPQR on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights. The menu is always interesting, but this month the restaurant is featuring wine and food from Calabria. Having never heard of the region, much less having tried the food, I was intrigued. We had wines from Calabria featuring varietals that were new to me. We had one of their regular antipastis -- fried brussels sprouts, which were a perfect combination of sweet, salty, and garlic flavors and a crispy texture. My main dish was from Calabria -- fettuccine with sardines, bread crumbs, and currants. An unusual combination, but it worked. My wife's strata of asparagus, pancetta, and bread was scrumptious.

These two restaurants present a perfect contrast -- a restaurant that tries and one that doesn't. It's no wonder that more visitors than locals frequent North Beach.

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