Any meaty pasta that Chris Cosentino and company at Incanto prepare will likely be among the best pastas you’ll eat in San Francisco. The wide, flat pappardelle noodles are house-made fresh, and the meat sauce is simply awesome. Full of flavor and slightly chunky, the walloping dallop of pork ragu makes a great, hearty meal.
I certainly enjoy hearty meaty pastas. And I usually enjoy the requisite napping that follows. As meaty pastas go, the pappardelle with venison ragu at Big Sur Bakery is outstanding. Rich and flavorful, the sauce puts a tingling in the mouth straight away. The venison is slow-cooked, tender, and thrillingly tasty. The pappardelle, long and flat, spotted with olive and basil oil, make a great wrap for the delicate deer meat. This was one of the best meaty pastas of 2008. Congrats, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant!
The Spot: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur, CA
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is my favorite place to eat in Big Sur, hands down. It transforms from a funky little bakery in the morning that serves up incredible pastries to a lovely and heart-warming little spot for a romantic dinner in the evenings. Every pastry, every dinner I had there was excellent. Two of the three folks behind this little gem are are an emigre couple from Los Angeles, pastry chef/co-owner Michelle Rizzolo and her husband, chef Philip Wojtowicz.
What’s great about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is its straightforward, unpretentious excellence and down-home, rustic simplicity: picnic tables on the patio and heavy little wooden tables and chairs inside.
The service is friendly and sweet and, if any place can demonstrate the inexpressibly tender magic of one of the most magical spots on Earth, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant certainly does. It’s the gastronomic soul of Big Sur, and Rizzolo & Wojtowicz capture Big Sur’s zeitgeist in every bite. It doesn’t just get to your stomach; it stays in your heart.
The Grade: Awesome (5 out of 5) The Damage: $23 The Skinny: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant
47540 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA
Phone: (831) 667-0520
The Spot: Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante, South San Francisco CA
Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is the kind of old-school Italian joint that you would imagine finding in downtown Las Vegas, or in Eastern New Jersey. With its giant signage, black-and-white awning, and exterior murals of Italian landscapes, it’s a holdover from another era, and a surprising discovery off the main drag in South San Francisco. Giant, framed turn-of-the-century European posters, a wraparound gold striped curtain, a garden fountain, and swirling red booths that swallow you like the jaws of Jonah’s whale make the interior like a Sopranos backdrop, but cleaner.
Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is a fun place to eat, with friendly service and hearty lunch portions at a decent price. Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is probably my favorite place to have lunch in South San Francisco thus far.
The Dish:Spaghetti & Meatballs
Along with Joey & Eddie’s in SF, Sodini’s Bertolucci’s makes the meanest spaghetti and meatballs I’ve eaten in a long, long while. There’s a nice amount of hearty ragu across the pasta, efficiently cooked, and the meatballs are slightly firm on the outside and perfectly tender inside. Just a well-done classic that I hope more people will venture to Sodini’s Bertolucci’s to enjoy.
The décor at Osteria La Buca is charming and warm for an urban conversion, with high ceilings, exposed steel beams and brick walls. The interior blends simple sophistication into an overall feeling of a neighborhood joint and since that part of L.A. doesn’t have many, it’s a nice feeling to be there. The place has three dining sections: two downstairs and one upstairs. The little front garden room where people want to sit most looks to me like a sad terrarium or after-thought of a smokers’ lounge in a forgettable foreign airport. You’re too close to the neighboring tables, which is OK if the food is stellar. It just depends if you like that room enough to sit close or if you have the L.A. gene that requires you always be seen. I prefer the front wraparound area downstairs, which feels more like a bustling neighborhood cafe.
The all-Italian wine list is a nice touch, but most diners would need some waiter assistance with selections from a list of grapes and blends uncommon to the typical American palate. Unfortunately, my waiter at Osteria La Buca automatically pushed the most expensive glasses to us. I knew two other choices were equally good and about half the price, so this was a bad takeaway. Pushing higher priced menu items without consideration for the customer is just a pet peeve of mine regarding restaurant service. Hopefully, that guy’s not working there anymore.
THE DISH: MEATBALLS (appetizer)
The most recent night I dined at Osteria La Buca, meatballs were a special appetizer. They were excellent and perfectly cooked, the way an ancient family recipe warrants. It was a bit odd that the meatballs didn’t sit on, say, some polenta or something to make the appetizer a bit heartier. But the meatballs properly hit the spot nonetheless, with fresh-baked crostini to soak up the ruddy marinara sauce.
As one of the few restaurants in North Beach that are really good, Joey & Eddie’s won me over the week it opened. The décor is comfortable but low-key, with a large, spacious and open main dining room of deep booths and dark wooden tables and armless, captain’s style chairs. The service is good, friendly, and professional, and the bartenders are sharply attentive and make nicely stiff drinks.
The family style concept of Italian food, made popular through restaurant chains like Buca di Beppo and, on the higher end, Maggiano’s, is nothing new. But Joey & Eddie’s brings the family style Italian meal and makes it feel like a North Beach restitution, like it returns something lost and lovely to one of America’s great neighborhoods.
The Dish:Spaghetti & Meatballs
When many people recall the comfort foods of their childhood, spaghetti and meatballs is a most frequent memory on that list. Basic spaghetti and meatballs is one of those dishes that young, inexperienced moms can generally pull off, but like any apparently simple dish, the difference between good and great is profound.
It’s about the sauce, whose greatness and thickness can vary by regional or familial preference. And it’s also about the meatballs, which take a considerable talent, or love, or patience. Or a great recipe from a great great-grandmother.
Joey & Eddie’s restaurant is on target again, serving up one of my favorite spaghetti & meatballs in San Francisco. It’s a giant plate of great sauce, perfectly cooked pasta, and magnificent meatballs. And it’s fun to dig into that big platter and share it, maybe like your family used to during your childhood.
The Damage: $20 or $27 (“a little to share” or “a lot to share,” respectively)