After raving about this authentic Sicilian restaurant to my mother for years, I was finally able to take her back to Italy (or at least for a few hours). First words out of her mouth were to complain that the chairs were not comfortable. Soon to be forgotten once the Olio Della Mamma arrived, the most delicious dipping oil on the planet. We enjoyed the complex blends of the freshest herbs and spices around, God bless garlic, while studying the vast menu. Too many choices, not enough stomach. We decided on the "Featured in Bon Appetit" antipasti Caponata Con Crostini: a chilled sweet and sour Sicilian specialty of eggplant, olives, and Aeolian capers served with toasted crostini. I have never tasted anything quite like it. You are able to taste every ingredient and the way they blended together, complementing each other; one sweet, one sour. The capers were even sweet, and I usually find eggplant tart, yet here it melts in your mouth.
Next was the Rollatini di Melanzane, which was eggplant filled with three cheeses, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, raisins, herbs, and prosciutto served over a delectable tomato sauce.
For our main course I chose my all-time favorite: Rigatoni San Giovanella, which is prepared with a light tomato-cream sauce, mushrooms, peas, pancetta, and nutmeg. Now, I could bathe in the sauce or eat it on its own for a soup, it is that good! As for the other ingredients -- the popping of the peas mixed with the salty pancetta give it just the right amount of texture. My dining partner ate the Risotto alla Marinara, which had a distinct flavor married by tomato sauce. She enjoyed it.
The service is bright, efficient, and friendly. I love coming here as much as possible!
Total Cost per person including tax, tip, and wine: $50
Total Cost for an evening enjoying the fruits of family-style Sicilian cooking: Priceless
Favorite Restaurant: Esperpento
Reviewed Trattoria La Siciliana: Saturday, September 9, 2006
The four of us arrived at Trattoria la Sicilliana on College Ave. at 6:30. We had a reservation, and a nervous looking hostess met us out to ask if we were this missing party. She immediately whisked us upstairs to the last table in the restaurant. The table was in the back of the upstairs part of the restaurant, conveniently located inches from the busboy’s clearing station. My first impression was that it was difficult to navigate through the closely packed together tables to get to ours.
Once seated at our table, the hostess passed out menus and asked if we had eaten there before. We said that it was first visit, and she proceeded to explain that it would preferable if we did not each order our own dinner, but rather eat family. Apparently there is only one chef at this busy restaurant, and if each person orders their own entrée, there is no way for them to bring them out at the same time. So, she suggested we order two dishes for the four of us and left us to the menus.
The menu was another interesting experience. It reiterated the restaurants preference for family-style dining and added that we were expected to not take more 1.5 hours to complete our meal and that only cash was accepted as payment. The menu itself was lengthy and full of wonderful sounding Sicilian dishes. After twenty-five minutes of waiting and negotiating what we would share for dinner, we finally met the waiter. He took our order and asked if we would like bread. I checked my watch and wondered aloud if we would make our 1.5 hour time limit. This is apparently not a rule they take very seriously.
At this point we felt like we were on our way. The bread was mediocre by Bay Area standards, but was made up for by the spicy garlic-flavored dipping oil that accompanied it. After another wait of twenty minutes or so, the appetizers began to arrive. We had ordered the antipasti misti for two, and half of a cracked crab. The antipasti was a mixed bag of forgettable antipasti. The calamari salad was a bit fishy tasting, while the eggplant caponata was quite good. The pickled vegetables were tart and crisp, but otherwise somewhat nondescript. The cracked crab was the highlight of our first course. It was served cold with a light dressing. The crabmeat was sweet and fresh tasting. It was a nice treat.
We had a nice long time to enjoy our appetizers. Once they were completed, the table was cleared and more bread was brought to the table. We ordered a second bottle of the Pinot Grigio to go with dinner. The first of the entrees to arrive was the linguini pesto con gamberi (linguini with shrimp and pesto). There were a lot of nice shrimp, and the large pile of linguini was cooked perfectly. The pesto, on the other hand, got a mixed review. It was more of a cream sauce than a pesto, leaving the pesto lovers of the group feeling it was severely lacking. I enjoyed the dish, but I must admit I am not a huge pesto fan. Our second entree arrived about five minutes after the first. The penne polpette was another large dish of penne covered with a nice tomato sauce and four large meatballs. The pasta was once again cooked perfectly, but the meatballs were fantastic. The four of us agreed that the meatballs were the stars of the show.
The desserts, in contrast to the dinner, came at the same time and we were allowed to each order our own. We had the cannoli stuffed with whipped ricotta and candied fruit. This dish was a disaster. The fruit was a maraschino cherry cut in two, and it went down hill from there. Next we sampled the affogato (vanilla ice cream with espresso and biscotti). The ice cream was very nice and the biscotti were crunchy and tasty. Then I tasted the fagole fresce. This was a large glass filled with fresh strawberries and topped with a rum and blood orange sauce. It was excellent!
Occupation: Social Work Supervisor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Jardinière
Reviewed Trattoria La Siciliana: Sunday, September 10, 2006
Upon first arriving at this small Elmwood-area trattoria, we were pleasantly welcomed into a nearly empty but charming restaurant by the waiter. He allowed us to select our own table and was friendly and attentive. The restaurant seats about forty people in the main area, and also has an upstairs, which was not open at the time we arrived. We were there at 2pm for a late Sunday lunch and were told we could order from either the lunch or dinner menu. A tape of operatic instrumentals added to authenticity of an Italian neighborhood "kitchen." Decorations included ceramic pottery, wine bottles, photos of Sicily, and marionettes of medieval knights. The walls glowed, awash in golden and terra cotta-colored faux paint. We were both feeling very positively about the upcoming dining experience. We were uncertain about a wine choice, so the waiter gave us a small tasting of our two selections. It seemed all would be enjoyable, that is, until nearly every table filled up within a matter of moments. It became apparent that the full house was too much for the one cook and one waiter. It took about a half hour after ordering to get our appetizer. We had to ask for water refills and bread. These arrived later when we were eating our entrees. We never did receive butter or olive oil with the bread, which was cold.
The appetizer arrived on a plate of cold, tart tomato sauce, topped by two undercooked, mildly warm rollatini. My companion’s chicken entree was from the dinner menu and overall, it was tasty and a good portion size. I did think the white meat was overcooked and dry, but with the sauce, this was less noticeable. The sauce was nicely flavored but too salty for my taste. The plate was bare of any accompanying starch or vegetable.
I was shocked when my entree arrived, as I expected the salmon to be the main ingredient, not the pasta. I received a large bowl of penne pasta in a creamy sauce with a very small number of little cubes of salmon. After inquiring if this were the correct dish, since it had so little salmon in it, he said it was. I indicated that this looked more like it was a half-order, and he insisted that it wasn’t a mistake. A few minutes later, he came back and said he would get me some more salmon. I believe he had incorrectly placed my order. (At lunch there is the option of a full or half order for entrees).
This restaurant was very noisy when full, although it has a charming feel to the dining room, when minimally occupied. The overall experience was inconsistent at best, in its service and meal preparation. I think there is potential for the quality of the dishes, but additional attention to the preparation and service would only happen with additional staff. I think this restaurant was not good value for the cost of meal. And I would not make the trip to the East Bay to dine there.