Gamberoni Grigliati, Costoletta di Maiale, Panna Cotta
Occupation: Music Promoter
Favorite Restaurant: Antica Trattoria
Reviewed Antica Trattoria: Thursday, September 22, 2005
I love the comfort of a neighborhood restaurant with great food, a great atmosphere, and one that locals frequent. Those kinds of places are the jewels of any city and those which I will immediately recommend to visitors and locals alike. Antica is one of those finds in San Francisco. Chef Ruggero Gadaldi has carved out a slice of heaven on a quaint corner of Russian Hill. While I dread the parking, especially in that part of town, valet is available at a local theater, and I quickly forget the driving woes once inside Antica's doors. Vikki, the hostess, does an amazing job of making you feel at home whether you are a walk-in or have a reserved table. In fact, the entire staff has the perfect balance of making everyone feel at home -- stopping by your table for a quick visit, and to check in without cramping your space.
That space is inviting with its classic white tablecloths, warm tanned walls, dark rich floors, and long cushioned benches -- classic in a Mediterranean sense and modern in its starkness. One drawback is it can be somewhat noisy and crowded, especially on weekend nights, and the place can feel cramped, but that is also part of the coziness and charm of a true trattoria or bistro that I like in places like France and Italy.
The menu, which modifies itself and is seasonal by way of ingredients, always surprises for the simplicity of the preparations and, at the same time, is innovative, creative and, taste-wise, never disappointing. The starters, such as the marinated and grilled gamberoni, which I ordered on a recent visit, only made me wish I had placed two orders. The prawns, grilled to perfection came seasoned with chili pepper, olive oil, and simple herbs, and are arranged on a colorful combination of a summer bean salad, arugula, and topped with a ground mustard vinaigrette with toasted almonds. The soft and chewy morsels were perfect and not overcooked. Equally exciting was the mozzarella salad, which takes an ordinarily ordinary tomato mozzarella salad and elevates it to new heights. Arriving in a small, rounded, soup-like tureen, the small, perfectly ripe, and sweet heirlooms circumnavigated the tangy pieces of white mozzarella slices, while sitting on top of a purée of roasted heirloom gazpacho. The combination of the cool purée was a slice of heaven in and of itself, and I was obsessed with not leaving any remnants in the bowl. Thanks to the wonderful crusty Italian baguettes that were plentiful at tableside, not one drop was wasted.
The entrees were equally pleasing. Farro, a spaghetti noodle, was served with a rich but light bolognese (meat) sauce. The sauce was threaded evenly through the noodles and each bite had a hearty balance of meat and sauce. The Tagliata di Manzo, thinly-sliced sirloin, was flavored and seasoned evenly, so that each bite was tender and mouthwatering and perfect with the side of roasted potatoes provided. I have never left Antica without my favorite side dish. The sautéed spinach with raisins and pine nuts is a vegetable must-have -- a sweet/savory combination that complements any of the fish/meat or pasta entrees. I am also never able to push away the dessert menu -- completely begging anyone at my table to share the creamy custard panna cotta or one of the best tiramisus in town.
Vikki, the hostess, and the staff are always on hand to help with wine selections. The two bottles our group decided on for this particular evening were Italian. A Costello Lengue from the Piedmont region, a blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet varietals, and, Carmignano, a Super Tuscan of Sangiovese, Canniolo, and Cabernet blends. Excellent coffees and teas round out any good Italian restaurant, and their fine roasted espresso is worth capping off a sure hit until you come back next week to try something you regret not having this go around.
Occupation: Director of Admission at High School
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Isa
Reviewed Antica Trattoria: Friday, September 23, 2005
Normally, I would not first mention service when reviewing a restaurant, but the service I received at Antica Trattoria was impeccable. From the moment we entered the restaurant, located on Polk and Union, they took care of us. At one point, the service was so good that I wondered if somehow they knew I was with Check, Please! Bay Area but there was no way!
For openers, they serve a complimentary bowl of sliced vegetables surrounding a dish of garlicky pesto for dipping. I asked our server, Domenico -- who to me looked like Furio of The Sopranos -- for a recommendation for a reasonably-priced wine and he suggested a spicy Italian red with a long name that ended in "San Gregorio." At $32 per bottle, it tasted as he described it and matched our food perfectly.
My party of three started with two appetizers: a special-of-the-day, $8 heirloom tomato salad (it is that time of year), and the Gamberoni Grigliati ($8.50), which is four grilled prawns served over summer beans, almonds, and a grain mustard vinaigrette. Not only were both dishes very tasty, but they also were beautifully presented. The bright colors of the greens, beans, and heirloom tomatoes matched the brightness of the taste. The prawns, with the heads and tails left on, making them appear very authentic Italian, were encircled with a drizzle of whole grain mustard, which complemented the prawns perfectly.
We then shared a pasta dish -- Umbrichelle ($12.50) -- which is square pasta tubes with sausage, peas, and mushrooms. Our server dressed the plate of pasta with fresh Parmesan cheese. Although Domenico did not grate the cheese in front of us, it was so aromatic when he sprinkled it, you knew someone had just grated it. After the three of us served ourselves, the waiter came back again with the cheese and added cheese to each individual's preference. The sausage and peas made this dish sweet, yet savory. It would be too sweet for me to have the whole dish as a main course for myself, but to share between the three of us after the salads, it was just right.
When we finished the pasta, Domenico asked us if we would like a short break before he brought our main course. How often does that happen at a bustling restaurant? We did need a respite and the 10 minutes he gave us before the next course just whetted our appetites perfectly. Carole ordered the Salmone ($18.00), a filet of salmon served with roasted artichokes, oven-dried tomatoes, and an olive vinaigrette, while her husband James had the Costoletta di Maiale ($18.00), which is a grilled Niman Ranch pork chop with fresh corn polenta, kale, and applewood-smoked bacon. I decided to have the evening's special of sand dabs served picatta over mashed potatoes ($18.00). For both the salmon and the pork chop, the main ingredient was good, but the vegetables they were served over were the stars of the dish. The roasted artichokes and dried tomatoes were perfectly moistened with the vinaigrette and were lovely, but the fresh corn polenta mixed with bacon and kale was out of this world. I'm not a big polenta fan, but this was very different. Because it was made with fresh corn, the texture was very coarse, while the bacon added a sweet smokiness and the kale contributed a kind of herbal freshness. My three whole sand dabs were good, but nothing exceptional.
Afterwards, we ordered two very good desserts: the panna cotta ($8) and the affogato ($8). James decided to have a vin santo port ($10), and Carole and I decided to share a glass of the same port. I asked to have an espresso also, but Domenico kindly chided me to have my espresso at the very end. When he served the port, he brought three empty glasses and the bottle of port to our table. (Remember, Carole and I wanted to share a glass). I reminded Domenico, and he said he knows, and poured Carole and me smaller portions than James. Perfecto!
The ambiance of the restaurant is very warm and rustic with tall dark wainscoting and the food was excellent. What left me feeling warm and very happy was the absolutely superb service. When we complemented Domenico, he smiled and said, "Thank you, I feel very good working today."
Occupation: Veterinary Nurse / Actress
Favorite Restaurant: Salang Pass
Reviewed Antica Trattoria: Saturday, September 24, 2005
To start out this experience, when I made reservations over the phone, the hostess was so nice and helpful that I was already looking forward to my visit. We arrived, even though we had major parking problems! And a detour to boot! When we arrived, the hostess (Vicky) was so nice that she gave me a complimentary glass of wine, because I was a little frazzled from the drive over. She really knows how to start you off having a great time!
I began by ordering the mozzarella di Bufala with gazpacho and basil oil -- it was delicious! Buffalo mozzarella is so much tastier. I sopped every last bit up with the complimentary French bread, which I think they should heat a bit, but it is still very good. I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, which was so rich and such a wonderful likeness to great grape juice. Their wine list is much larger than their menu! Our waiter was very nice, he is from Sicily and he recommended the Eggplant Parmesan next, which was so good, and not breaded. I ordered the orecchiette pasta with rock shrimp and broccoli. The pasta was cooked to perfection and tasty. I also ordered the gnocchi with yellow tomato sauce, which was a nice change from red sauce. It was delicious and the gnocchi was also cooked to perfection. The highlight of the visit was the tiramisu -- oh, my gosh! I do not usually enjoy tiramisu, either it has too much espresso or it is too soggy. Not Antica's tiramisu -- it is what I think of as perfect tiramisu. I did not want to stop eating it! We (my boyfriend and I) really enjoyed our entire experience -- everything was so authentic and wonderful. I felt comfortable the entire visit. We will definitely return to Antica and we have already recommended it to several friends.