Risotto Nero Con Capesante alla Veneziana Black Ink Risotto with Seared Scallops and Lobster Bisque; Mixed Seafood Grill: Grilled Salmon, Halibut and Prawns; Tiramisu
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Capannina
Reviewed Capannina: Sunday January 20, 2008
I went to Capannina on opening night. After the meal, the owner, Michele, introduced himself and asked how we found everything. “Just lovely,” we said, “Except,” my wife added, “the salmon was a bit salty.” In his rich Italian accent, he said, “I know just what you mean. We fix that.” So we got to talking, and I asked where he was from. “The Isle of Capri,” he said. “Hmm, that’s funny. The only other human being I know from Capri also owns a restaurant. I think it’s the best restaurant is Vermont.” Michele gasped. “That’s-a cousin Tonina!” Sure enough, my favorite restaurant in the Olde State was run by the cousin of my favorite in the New. And, turns out, a third cousin runs another back on Capri. If he's half as good as his American relatives, I wanna go there.
What makes Capannina such a standout? Always, I start with the food. Every dish, from the risotto in squid ink to the dessert cannoli that rival New York’s Little Italy, every one makes your stomach thank your mouth. Even the buffalo mozzarella is the real deal. Even the pesto that comes with the bread calls you to sop up every drop and beg for more. I find Capannina one of a very few San Francisco restaurants that makes the long leap from very nice to "wow." Capannina is definitely wow. But it’s not just the food that makes it so. The service defines Italian warmth. Everybody, from the bussers to the owner, seems genuinely glad to see you, genuinely glad to serve you, genuinely glad you're there. The waiters are at your table when you want them, will advise you when you ask them, and they leave you in peace when you wish to be alone. They obviously like doing what they do, and they're good at it.
One of the problems I have with many San Francisco restaurants, especially fashionably hip ones, is that the noise level is designed to do permanent damage to your hearing. (In Vermont, it’s the opposite problem: restaurants where everybody whispers and where if you laugh out loud, you feel like you're creating a public nuisance.) Capannina finds the middle path; neither ear-splitting nor as silent as a tomb, it’s the sound of people enjoying themselves over a wonderful dinner.
There are four, maybe five restaurants in San Francisco I heartily recommend. Capannina is at the top of that short, select list.
Occupation: Environmental Engineer
Location: Union City
Favorite Restaurant: Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen
Reviewed Capannina: Sunday January 20, 2008
"Hike-In Dining in San Francisco"
Okay, so I’m from the East Bay, but I can do San Francisco dining, or so I thought. I was really looking forward to dining at Capannina and made a reservation for my husband and myself for 6:00pm on a Sunday. My thinking was that on a Sunday, traffic wouldn’t be as hectic and parking should be easier. Unfortunately, I was only right on one point -- traffic was the least of our problems. Parking was impossible anywhere near the restaurant. After an extensive parking space search throughout the neighborhood, we ended up parking about a mile away. More accurately it was a mile away and uphill from the restaurant. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, more than thirty minutes late, due to our parking woes, we were more than a bit frazzled.
We were greeted warmly at the entrance to the "cozy" restaurant and allowed to select a table along either of the two long benches that lined the two walls of the restaurant. My husband took the bench seat, while I occupied the outer seat that overlapped the route of the multiple servers. I felt a little like I was sitting on an airport runway. The service was very friendly and accommodating. Our server, Sergio, explained our options clearly and wasn’t too obtrusive.
I had the trio of crab cake appetizer (Trio di Polpettine di Granchio, $15), which included 3 healthy portions of crab cakes, each in an individual dish with a different sauce (tomato, corn, and saffron). The cylindrical crab cakes were quite good with a crispy panko coating. They had a nice crabby flavor, but I would have preferred lump crabmeat to the finely shredded crab in the cakes served here. The sauces were a nice touch.
I had the seafood mixed grill (Misto Griglia de Pesce, $21) for my entrée, and my husband had the Tuscan brick-pressed chicken (Pollo al Mattone, $18). Both entrees were outstanding. The seafood mixed grill included grilled salmon, halibut, and prawns with a light lemon caper sauce. The portion size was perfect. I ate everything on my plate and didn’t feel stuffed or the least bit guilty about the amount of food I ate. The sauce was so good I used the bread to sop up every last drop of the mingled sauce and drippings from the seafood. My husband was also very impressed with his chicken, which was nicely seasoned with crispy skin. The Swiss chard that accompanied his chicken was also very good with a peppery bite to it.
My favorite part of any meal is always the dessert, and to say that I was looking forward to the warm chocolate cake with hazelnut soup and hazelnut ice cream that I ordered, is an understatement. Unfortunately, it was not as good as I had hoped it would be. The cake was barely warm and the ice cream had crystals in it, like it had been frozen and thawed one time to many. I still remained hopeful for the tiramisu my husband ordered. It was both beautifully presented and delicious. The generous square of tiramisu was encased by 4 sheets of white chocolate. Usually I get to eat all of my dessert and half of my husband’s dessert when we go out. But not this time, after I had taken my second spoonful of my husband’s tiramisu, he looked at me and told me keep my spoon to myself. And this was after I gave him my ice cream.
Now I get to the tough part about being a restaurant reviewer. I must answer 2 key questions: 1) Would I go to this restaurant again? and 2) Would I recommend the restaurant to someone else? I cannot see myself going to this restaurant again, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the food and found the service very accommodating. Three things would keep me away: the parking logistics, the noise level, and the prices. For the price that we paid for our dining experience ($87 including tip), I expect a quiet, romantic atmosphere. I like my husband to able to whisper sweet nothings to me, not have to lean over and shout in order to have a conversation. I would not discourage my friends from dining at Capannina. I would leave it to them to decide if excellent Italian food is worth the hike and the money. One person’s combat parking, hike-in dining experience may be another person’s edgy urban triumph.
Occupation: Director of Marketing
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Playground
Reviewed Capannina: Friday February 8, 2008
San Francisco is a tough town for Italian restaurants. There are so many to choose from, ranging from low to high priced, northern to southern cuisine, that I wonder how can another one survive in this town. After a visit to Capannina, I am now clued into the secret to success.
Capannina is centrally located in the Cow Hollow/Marina neighborhood where, I find, food can be a bit boring. But I’m now eating my words after a great night of excellent service and flavorful, perfectly cooked Italian cuisine. My friend, another very picky foodie like me, sat down in the busy restaurant on a Friday night and was greeted by a very warm, friendly host. We immediately ordered red wine after our helpful server assisted us in our choices.
We started with the stuffed calamari, four luscious pieces of calamari stuffed with crab and potato covered in a fresh tomato sauce. This was my favorite part of the meal if you twisted my arm and made me choose. The potato bound the crab into a light, flavorful filling and two each was a perfect choice to start the dinner. We also polished off the complimentary breadbasket, due to the irresistible pesto dipping sauce. We were spooning the pesto practically straight into our mouths using the bread as a leverage point.
My friend, T, had the spectacularly presented linguini with fresh scampi in vodka sauce. The two scampi shells were placed on top of the mound of linguini with plenty of scampi pieces found in the tomato based sauce. The helpful waiter had helped her make her main course choice, and she was thrilled that she made the right choice.
I had the veal scaloppine, a classic Italian dish that I order on rare occasions. The generous portions of 5 medallions were gently sautéed in the classic manner with a wine butter sauce. However tender and delicious the veal was, I was still more interested in the side of parmesan risotto and sautéed spinach sitting next to the veal. Next time, I’ll go straight to the pasta or risotto options.
We did leave room for dessert, and since we are both cannoli fans, ordered one to share. There were four cute portions, and again, served with an impeccable presentation with dots of raspberry coulis. We found the dessert a bit disappointing as the ricotta filling had lumps of candied fruit, which didn’t really do much for the pastry cream as, let’s say, chocolate or pistachios would, as a personal taste. But we did finish the plate, helped with a shot of smooth espresso and dessert wine for T.
The code for survival of the fittest Italian restaurant has been cracked by Capinnina, and I’m looking forward to seeing it around for a while.