Occupation: Sales Monkey
Favorite Restaurant: Ristorante Ideale
Reviewed Ristorante Ideale: Friday, July 22, 2011
I love this place. Of course you wouldn't expect anyone to pick a spot they hated for Check, Please! Bay Area, but I do love this place. The Bay Area has lots of great places to eat, and more than a handful of stellar Italian restaurants, but I continue to choose Ideale over any of the others. There are many, many places that use the finest ingredients sourced from the finest producers, using the best practices available to bring the tail and snout to your table, and I continue to go to Ideale over and over again. While there's no substitute for quality and technique, I feel that the sense of place a restaurant presents is always overlooked. Many places work hard to have a soul; to take you somewhere else than off the street you came in on, but very few pull it off.
Ideale is the only place I can go to that takes me out of the Bay Area, and into a noisy side street in Rome. This is not a place that presents an owner's idea of what we all expect from an Italian restaurant. It's a place run by Romans in a Roman style and, quite frankly, if you don't understand it, that's on you. This is how his nonna taught him to make it, and that's how you're going to get it!
It's not a perfect restaurant, but short of fawning over the latest clever twist of raw fish in a sustainable hand-rolled savory cone, what place is? Ideale has a great idea of what it is, what it does well, and it presents it in a consistent manner. It's run like things are run in Italy: It's noisy, it's small, it's crowded, and it can be chaotic. Thru all that, the food tastes like food you'd eat in Trastevere, not on the corner of Columbus and Green. If I had one meal left in my life, it would begin with the Zucchine Tartufati. It's a simple dish with only a few ingredients: raw zucchini strands tossed with white truffle oil and lemon juice and served on a slice of duxelles bruschetta. A few thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano top of the dish. Just thinking of it brings a tear to my eye...
The grilled calamari over arugula is a great change from the common fried calamari. The char on the fish plays off the bitterness of the greens, and some EVOO smoothes out the harsh edges. The burrata is a perfect purse of fresh mozzarella surrounding the sweet cream and curds. Someone at our table looked up and said, "Ohhh, so THIS is what it's supposed to taste like!" Not many things are better than rubbing some of the burrata across a slice of Ideale's homemade bread. The bruschetta is fantastic. Anyone else think of toasting some mozzarella bread then spreading anchovy paste on top? I didn't think so.
Now, onto my rant. Ever since first tasting spaghetti carbonara in Rome many years ago, I've tended to make a capital case when someone over here serves it the wrong way. Take note, developing Escoffiers, if you put cream into carbonara, it's a variety of alfredo, not carbonara! This dish is done in the traditional manner: spaghetti, pancetta, oil, eggs, cheese, and black pepper. That's it kids. Nothing else. And it is sublime. Ideale's lasagna isn't your "Baked for Three Hours with 6 Pounds of Cheese" variety. It's subtle, simple, and floats off the plate.
The zuppa de pesce at Ideale is how every version of cioppino in SF wants to be. After all the pieces were eaten, sopping up with a half of baguette began. The wine list is stellar. I'm a big snob with definite ideas. Ideale's list is unique in variety and selections. That it stocks a couple of Jermann wines makes it an instant favorite. I get a kick of seeing new wines on lists, and I guarantee you'll find treats you've never seen before on this list.
Desserts are great. The tiramisu wowed everyone. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but did enjoy the rounds of limoncello a bunch. As always, Giuseppe was a great server. Attentive, prompt, always willing to offer a suggestion, and tolerant of my bad Italian. He's the best!
Did I mention that I love this place?
Occupation: Growth and Innovation Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Spork
Reviewed Ristorante Ideale: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Ideale is a restaurant located in North Beach. So as we made the sojourn there after work, we were concerned about parking since there is not a lot of it in this neighborhood and area garages can be very pricey. We had the luck of the parking gods on our side and quickly found a spot on the corner where the restaurant was located. It should be noted that this is not a usual parking experience in North Beach.
When we arrived, the restaurant was pretty empty, so we were seated immediately and handed our menus. We asked our server for his opinion on the most popular items or signature dishes. “Everything is wonderful,” he responded as he proceeded to name half of the items on the menu. We decided to take it from there and just ordered family style so we could try as many dishes as possible.
We ordered our entire meal at one time, and the pacing of the meal was nice. Food kept flowing at a very comfortable pace, allowing us time to really enjoy one another’s company and fully enjoy our dishes without feeling rushed. For appetizers we had the insalata di cesare, which was fairly typical. The burrata was pretty good, especially when eaten with their great homemade bread. The calamari e rughetta was a little tough and an overall disappointment. Hands down, the best starter (and soon, we would learn, the best dish of our entire dinner) was the pizza al prosciutto. Everything worked about this dish – from the cracker-like crust, the right amount of sauce, cheese and the prosciutto. All the flavors and textures combined nicely to make this the highlight of our meal.
Next came our pastas. We ordered the Lasagna Serafina, which was really lacking seasoning, including salt. There simply wasn’t a nice balance of flavors to make it work. This theme, unfortunately, continued for all the rest of the pastas: the orecchietta alla pugliese, bucatini all'amatriciana and the spaghetti alla carbonara. Of all of the pastas, I most enjoyed the spaghetti alla carbonara, but mostly because I could taste the cheese.
We anxiously awaited our secondi with hopes that our entrees might match our great experience with the pizza. As we nibbled on the sole and lamb chop, everyone agreed that they were fine, but definitely nothing special and not anything we would return for.
To make sure we weren’t missing anything, we ended our meal by trying out the tiramisu. Again, we all agreed that it was nothing special. In fact, as tiramisu goes, it was a little lacking.
Overall, I thought that this was at best an average dining experience. The food was only ok (with the exception of the pizza, which was amazing). The service was lacking and the ambiance was simply fine. As mentioned earlier, parking can typically be difficult and expensive, and the neighborhood isn’t the most accessible by public transportation. Unfortunately, the prosciutto pizza is probably not enough to make me want to return, especially since there are so many other places in San Francisco which can deliver a higher quality experience overall, for the same price.
Occupation: Tech Trainer & Support Specialist
Favorite Restaurant: The Peasant & The Pear
Reviewed Ristorante Ideale: Tuesday, July 26, 2011
In preparing for our meal at Ideale, I checked out their website and noted the following:
- When viewing the menu, there is no indication that one had to click the corners to navigate through the pages.
- On the info page, it states that one may make a reservation by calling the restaurant directly. There is no mention of the ability to use OpenTable; however, this is indicated on other pages of the website.
- There is no mention of where one might find nearby parking. Fortunately, the availability of valet parking in front of Bocce Café is indicated on the restaurant’s page on OpenTable.
I was able to make a reservation on OpenTable for the date and time we desired. We drove from the East Bay into San Francisco, arriving earlier than anticipated (thankfully, the Giants were playing in Philadelphia), so we drove around North Beach looking for street parking. We knew that this was going to be a magical experience when a spot opened up a few steps away from the restaurant! We were immediately greeted by the hostess, and mentioned that we were a little early for our reservation. She said that that would be no problem, and escorted us to our table.
I loved the feel of the two-roomed restaurant: small, homey, and comfortable with a definite European feel. This ambiance was punctuated by overhearing small snippets of French and Italian conversations from fellow diners. We were soon greeted by our charming waiter, who had a lilting Italian accent. Since we were still looking over the menu, he asked that we take our time and to let him know when we were ready. I appreciated this casual (and very European) approach, and he was always right there if we needed anything. One of my dining companions suggested the calamari appetizer, which I agreed to without even seeing it on the menu. It was amazing! I assumed that it would be deep-fried, but it was instead grilled and accompanied by an arugula salad. It was extremely fresh and tender, and, being grilled, tasted more like meat than fish.
My friends ordered homemade pasta dishes and, knowing that I would get to sample both of them, I opted for the bistecca. It was simply cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and was very tender with a wonderful grilled flavor. The roasted potatoes were lovely, with a bit of a crunchy outside to them. The spinach was cooked perfectly and just how I like it, with olive oil and chunks of fresh garlic.
I had made a notation on my OpenTable reservation that we were (still!) celebrating my friend Ann’s birthday. Without having to be reminded, a lovely homemade tiramisu with a candle on top arrived at our table after we had finished our entrees.
I was very impressed that our waiter appeared to be serving the entire room of more than ten tables, assisted by a great bus person (our water glasses were refilled throughout our meal without having to ask) and a gracious and helpful hostess.
To sum it up: Great ingredients, most of them homemade, prepared simply and well.
The website says that the name of the restaurant is “Ideale Restaurant,” and OpenTable lists it simply as “Ideale.” My credit card receipt showed “Ristorante Ideale,” while the charge came through on my credit card as “Ristorante Ideale Restaurant.” I personally think that the restaurant should go with “Ristorante Ideale” to emphasize its authentic Roman trattoria ambience.
After dinner, we strolled through the North Beach neighborhood. Although several of the businesses have changed over the years, many still remain as a reminder of this area’s rich Italian heritage. And there was a flyer posted in the restaurant that Carol Doda had performed the previous weekend at a nearby club. Talk about history!