Il Casaro – New Restaurant

23 03 2014

When I first saw Il Casaro as I was walking by a week ago, the menu was posted as a “soft opening menu”. It looked intriguing, so (with difficulty remembering where exactly it was) I returned yesterday. They are now fully open, and I think they’re off to a good start.

Marinara Pizza - $12

Marinara Pizza – $12

The owners of Il Casaro are not new to the area; they’ve owned nearby Vicoletto for some time. Which, oddly, I’ve never been to. Perusing their menu, I would now really like to try their pappardelle with fresh crab meat, among other things. More new restaurants, yeay!

What I liked about Il Casaro, aside from the food being good, was the relatively casual atmosphere and price point, along with the simple yet totally satisfying menu choices. They (currently) offer a couple salads, a few appetizers and sides, two panuzzi (a type of Italian sandwich made with pizza dough), a variety of mozzarella cheeses and meat plates, and pizzas. They have a massive wood-burning oven (with chopped wood stacked along one wall to verify authenticity), and bar seating that surrounds the cooking area (with said oven). There are also a dozen or more tables around the perimeter of the high-ceilinged, open space.

Asparagi - $9

Asparagi – $9

Insalata - $9.50

Insalata – $9.50

While there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in North Beach, I find that many of them are upscale with a price point of around $20-30 per plate. It’s really nice to find a place that offers a nice atmosphere, good menu, yummy food, and can easily keep a meal for two under $50.

I made the considerable mistake of ordering the only pizza that doesn’t have cheese on it… a fact that was plainly displayed on their menu but I neglected to notice due to my apparently mistaken belief that all pizzas should have cheese on them. It was still a good pizza, but I definitely longed for all the pizzas that I saw being made behind the counter with beautiful mozzarella cheese on them.

Imported Burrata - $9.75

Imported Burrata – $9.75

Which brings up another point: the “Mozzarella Bar” part of the menu. All I can say to this is YES. They offer four types of mozzarella (buffala, fior di latte, imported burrata, and smoked mozzarella) that come with toasted bread and a small arugula salad ($7-$10 per order). I can’t wait to go back just to try more of these (and get a pizza with cheese on it…). We tried the imported burrata (obvious first choice) and it was amazing, as expected.

Everything else was simple but delicious, and, aside from the pizza coming out first (I would have preferred the salad), was smoothly executed. I look forward to returning.

Il Casaro on Urbanspoon





54 Mint

8 03 2014

54 Mint is tucked away behind the old San Francisco Mint off 5th Street just south of Market (indeed, in SOMA). It’s a cute space with rustic-chic decor, and a large-ish downstairs (basement) seating area for overflow seating and (I assume) large parties. They’ve got an extensive wine list, a fancy Italian menu, and, most importantly, it is possible to get a reservation.

IMG_3695

I went here a few weeks ago with Mom and Sister, and, though I enjoyed everything quite a bit, the menu wasn’t great for Mom. She has a few dietary restrictions that I try to accommodate in my restaurant choices, but I didn’t do a great job in this case. She doesn’t eat pasta and doesn’t like “weird” (i.e. non-standard) meat dishes. The mains at 54 Mint include a half-dozen house-made pastas (yum!), and lamb shank, oxtail, sea bass, and skirt steak. These things were too exotic for Mommy-dearest. Oops, my bad.

skirt steak

bistecca (grass-fed skirt steak, crispy potato, salsa verde) $26

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

But, we enjoyed the night anyway. It was a Tuesday, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. I can see how it might get quite loud in there if it were more crowded, however; the stark finishes really bounce the sound around.

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil,  pecorino Romano cheese) $17

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil, pecorino Romano cheese) $17

Our waitress was courteous, the wine was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed their version of classic Italian cacio e pepe. Mom did end up enjoying the skirt steak quite a bit, though I don’t think she loved the flourless chocolate cake as much as I did. What can I say, Mom’s a tough critic. Fortunately (for me), I’m less so. I’d definitely go back. Homemade pasta… mmm…

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

54 Mint SF on Urbanspoon





Caffe Baonecci

17 11 2013

North Beach is San Francisco’s “Little Italy”. As such, you’re never more than a stone’s throw from an Italian restaurant in these parts. Most of them, as far as I’ve experienced, are relatively mediocre, as you might expect in a tourist-oriented area with an overabundance of one type of restaurant. Caffe Baonecci is a nice change of pace.

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

I’ve walked by this place literally hundreds of times, as it’s right in the thick of North Beach — on Green between Colombus and Union. It’s two doors down from the famed Golden Boy Pizza (which is amazing), and just steps away from a handful of other restaurants and bars. Caffe Baonecci is unassuming. It’s a pretty small restaurant on the corner that’s family owned, and doesn’t look particularly swanky or chic. In my opinion, this actually works in my favor since it keeps the hoards of tourists at bay, and allows me to enjoy a nice Italian dinner that is both delicious and not completely overwhelming.

porcini and arugula pizza

porcini and arugula pizza

I’m not actually sure how long the wait would have been this Friday night, because I rarely go anywhere popular without a reservation anymore. We had a 7pm rezzo, and our tiny table was waiting for us promptly. We ordered a bottle of wine ($37), a salad ($14), a pasta ($19), and a specialty pizza ($20). Their pizzas are super duper thin crust, and everything is home made (ok, I don’t think the pasta noodles are home made, but I’m not actually sure). Everything was great. I was totally jonesing for some carbs, and that meal certainly did deliver.

pasta al forno

pasta al forno

We started with a Burrata Salad, which was a very generous portion of burrata with delicious tomatoes. Next came the carbs — the Pasta Al Forno (baked) and Porcini and Arugula Pizza. The pizza was very good, but the pasta was the star dish for me. It was simple — large tube pastas baked with tomato sauce and cheese — but it really hit the spot. It was rich and tasty, and the portion was generous. We did not leave hungry.

I admit that I should try more Italian places in the area, but I’m happy to know there is at least one place whose food speaks louder than the praise in the tour books.





Tommaso’s

2 06 2012

Two “m”s, one “s”. Tommaso’s. Opened in 1935 (under the name Lupo’s), this Italian eatery has stayed the course for over 75 years donning the same cave-like location and winning awards for their pizza. They’ve got an interesting story and are one of the great restaurant successes of SF.

Margherita pizza from Tommaso’s

When you ask for restaurant recommendation in SF, particularly in North Beach, you’ll often hear the name Tommaso’s. At least I have. And since I walk by the place every day (no joke) on my way to work, it’s a wonder it’s taken so long for me to go. But alas, now I can say I have experience the great Tommaso’s.

I liked it. I like most restaurants, I guess. Honestly, it wasn’t entirely my style, but the food was good and so was the company (Carissa and EJ met me there).

Being 75+ years old, not unlike my grandpa (love you grandpa!), the style is sort of old school. Think along the lines of Banchero’s (or any old Italian diner, if you’re not from Hayward). It’s been kept up pretty well, but there aren’t any windows (bordered on two sides by other buildings, kitchen in the back, no windows in the front), it’s a bit dim, and the service is what you would expect from a “family-owned” place as opposed to, like, an Applebee’s. You know what I mean.

And since the reputation is so ridiculous, the place is packed. We went on a Saturday night and they don’t take reservations. So, we waited in the too-small foyer for 45 minutes or so for our table. At least they’ll give you drinks while you wait.

Vegetarian antipasto plate from Tommaso’s

The menu offers a few appetizers, many salads, seafood, pasta, pizza, and Italian dinners. It’s down-home style — not light “California” Italian — like so many other restaurants in North Beach. We, obligingly, ordered a pizza to share and a veggie appetizer plate.

Margherita pizza in dim light

Both were good. I love veggies and so did my companions. We gobbled them up quickly. The pizza wasn’t thin Italian style, but wasn’t heavy American style either. It was somewhere in between, and it had lots of (read: adequate amounts of) cheese. It was tasty. I don’t know if I’d go running to Zagat about it, but I did like it. Carissa thought the place we went last time (another North Beach restaurant) was better. And Carissa never sugar coats things.

I’d definitely go back to Tommaso’s if the opportunity arose, but I probably wouldn’t, say, steer a group of my friends there if they asked me where to go. Just my two cents; Zagat can keep on with the praises all they want.

Tommaso's on Urbanspoon





Paradiso

29 06 2011
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: One  ♦   Will I Return?:  Si, Per Favore!
___________

Ok, you live in the East Bay, but not really in the exciting parts like Oakland or Berkeley. You’re sorta stuck in the Fremont/Hayward/San Leandro no-man’s land of the East Bay*. There are plenty of places to eat, but most of them aren’t particularly exciting. Enter Paradiso.

Like Hayward’s Buon Appetito and a handful of other places around this stretch of land, Paradiso is an oasis of culinary delight. With classy decor, an upscale menu, and service that will put a smile on your face (as well as a hearty amount of water in your glass), Paradiso is a welcome pleasure.

Inside Paradiso: the counter that surrounds the kitchen.

Inside Paradiso

What I loved most about Paradiso, after being wowed by the stunning interior, is the menu. I suppose the selections are nothing terribly unexpected in an Italian restaurant, but I was excited to see how different they were from Buon Appetito, my go-to classy/delicious Italian restaurant in the East Bay. While BA offers dish after dish of (fabulous) pasta, Paradiso changes it up with hearty variety of appetizers, Italian style thin-crust pizza, and a large selection of meaty mains. While we were (unfortunately) trying to keep our budget down on this particular Paradiso trip, we did not have the good fortune to experience any of the starters or salads. But what we did try was enough to keep us coming back.

The Boyfriend ordered his classic go-to: Pizza Margherita. I swear the man could live off that particular breed of pizza-pie, and he nearly does live off the ingredients (cheese and bread can make a nearly unending variety of foods, I have discovered). This pie was thin, crispy, and generously covered with a surprisingly exceptional mozzarella cheese. He enjoyed it; I looked on with envy until he gave me a slice.

Pizza Margherita a la Paradiso

I ordered what (I believe) was one of their specials that night: mushroom risotto. I love risotto. It’s fabulous. But, while I’ve never cooked the stuff, I find that it takes a bit of finesse and is easy to muck up. If the restaurant doesn’t seem up to it by one measure or another, I will often go for a more reliably good dish (pasta, for example). The vibe at Paradiso was giving me all the right signs, so I went for it. And I was rewarded greatly. This risotto was cooked perfectly. It was not too soft, yet not too al dente. It had the right consistency (kinda like oatmeal) and the taste was fabulous. Score one for Paradiso.

Risotto!

I’d love to go back to try some of their salads, the calamari appetizer, and perhaps one of their pastas or another pizza. (Although if there is risotto again, I make no guarantees that I won’t be sweet talked into having that.) They also have a small bar that’s super cute and tucked away in the rear of the entry area. Paradiso is definitely a gem worth visiting.

Paradiso's bar

*Incidentally, Hayward is known as the “Heart of the Bay”. My mom calls it “The Armpit of the Bay”. I guess the glass can be half empty or half full, eh?

Paradiso on Urbanspoon





Buon Appetito — Revisted

7 03 2011
Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A Few* ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
___________

Buon AppetitoHello again, Buon Appetito. My first review of Buon Appetito in Hayward followed my first visit about this time last year. Since then we’ve been back a couple times and I wanted to report on the growth of this place for those who haven’t been in a while.

Last time I commented on the new addition of the bar area to the main restaurant. They have now added a third space as they attempt to take over that entire tiny shopping strip. Sandwiching the bar area is a second seating area that could probably seat another 50 people easily. I didn’t ask who their interior decorator is, but it’s clear that they spared no expense — the place looks fabulous.

Buon Appetito

The newest dining room at Buon Appetito, Hayward

They’re also adding what appears to be a small patio area on the parking lot side of the main dining room, which seems to be almost finished. It’s really impressive how they keep expanding and using their profits to grow their space and, undoubtedly, their business.

A couple more dishes that we tried recently which should be mentioned:

  • Fried Calamari: Crispy and delicious but a bit heavy (as you might imagine from a deep fried dish). A good portion for the price. Comes with two dipping sauces, yum!

    Calamari

    Calamari

  • Chocolate Tart: I actually can’t find this on their online menu, but it’s a little chocolate cake-y thing served hot and filled with liquid chocolate goodness in the middle. It’s amazing. I should have taken a picture with the chocolate pouring out of the center, but I didn’t because I was too busy stuffing my face and pretending to offer a bite to my boyfriend even though I wasn’t going to relinquish any piece of this little blob of heaven. This is worth the trip to BA alone.

    Cake

    Chocolate Tart!

*As this is a “revisited” post subsequent to a previous post about the same restaurant, any changes in my ratings at the top of the post are shown in bold. Otherwise, they remain the same as before.





Spettro

14 08 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
___________

SpettroSpettro can be found at 3355 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland and is one of a huge many awesome restaurants which I’m only just finding out about in this area. Seriously, Oakland is pretty awesome. Our friends described this place as Mexican/Italian fusion, but after seeing the menu, it pretty much looked like Italian to me.

A variety of delicious-sounding salads; entrees including chicken marsala, chicken or eggplant parmesan, oven braised lamb and chicken risotto along with pastas and pizzas will start any mouth watering. Seriously, it was super hard to choose between the salads and the pizzas…so Friend #1 and I split one of each. This was a fabulous choice.

Spettro

Inside Spettro, Oakland.

Despite my continual urge to order a Caesar, I deferred to a Marblehead salad of “Tender Butter Lettuce, Tart Green Apples, Candied Walnuts and Crumbled Bleu Cheese In a Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette”. Yeah, it was worth it. Seriously though, there are quite a few salads to choose from that sounded DE-licious. Oh, and you can choose a small, medium or large size for any salad which is so, SO nice of them.

salad

Marblehead Salad from Spettro, Oakland.

Though I really did have my eye on a pasta dish (dude, pesto eggplant lasagna…hard to resist!) we settled happily on a Lofaro pizza: “Thin Crisp Crust Brushed With Garlic Olive Oil Topped With Roasted Shitakes, Spinach Mushrooms, Goat Cheese, Roasted Garlic And Mozzarella”. Cannot go wrong there, as far as I’m concerned. And, indeed, we did not. It was delicious. Everything was delicious.

pizza

Behold the glory of the Lofaro Pizza from Spettro, Oakland

Friend #2 ordered the chicken risotto with which he appeared pleased. Our salad and pizza was gone without a second thought (oh, garlic, you’re soooo good)…and we were on to dessert. I think I got caught up in the moment (and the dessert menu posted on the wall across from us) as I don’t typically order dessert. Since we couldn’t decide between the offerings we chose to all split an ice cream covered brownie and a peach crisp.

risotto

Smoked Chicken Risotto from Spettro, Oakland.

I’m not a fan of fruit crumbles, so I took my mandatory bite of crisp and quickly moved on to the brownie and ice cream wholeheartedly. For $5 each, both desserts were pretty plush, but I must admit that I was sorely disappointed by the brownie. It is, in fact, the very reason I rarely order brownies: it was dry, hard, and seemed old. I have no idea if it was actually old or overcooked or what, but it was not terribly satisfying. As it was the only thing on our table that I didn’t absolutely love, I did pardon good ‘ole Spettro for the single blunder.

brownie

Brownie and ice cream from Spettro, Oakland.

crumble

Peach Crisp from Spettro, Oakland

The service was good but nothing terribly special. I did love the atmosphere: smaller, single open room with brick walls and strings of lights spider-webbed over the room. Upscale dining and great food with medium prices…I like you, Spettro.

Spettro on Urbanspoon








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