The time has come to dispel a few common myths.
Admittedly, the meal I was forced to endure last Friday was the proverbial straw, and from one of the most highly rated dining eateries in one of the country’s most foodie cities. Go figure.
How could this be, I wondered, that a San Francisco venue labeled “Italian” has but one pasta dish on the menu, a lone salad, and pizzas with toppings chosen with the sophistication of a four year old.
Let’s start with the basics: tomatoes. They’re predominantly red, technically fruit, should NEVER be refrigerated, and are the starting point for most Italian dishes. In other words, if you’ve got nothing on your menu that contains some kind of marinara sauce, you’re not an Italian restaurant.
Bread. I shouldn’t need to specifically ask for it. It’s an absolute staple of Italian cuisine and should magically appear on the table in crusty form with top notch EVOO.
Pasta. You must have more than just one such dish on your menu, preferably made with different species of pasta, some vegetarian, some meat/fish, and at least some of them with red sauce. Please review the definition of al dente first.
And finally, if it’s topped with things like walnuts and lemons, IT’S NOT A PIZZA!! Throw some red (or white) sauce on it, a little garlic, some kind of cheese, and then feel free to experiment to your heart’s content.
Of all the Italian food I’ve searched out lately, very few actually make the cut. Not because of food quality or ill preparation either, but because of slightly-too-innovative pairings, odd food choices, and the menu at large. I admit, I’m a bit provincial and am no Anthony Bourdain. On a rough day, what really puts my world back together is a plain old bowl of spaghetti with marinara. Not deep fried olives.
My #1 San Francisco Italian choice, not surprisingly, is in North Beach: Caffe Macaroni on Columbus. Excellent bread, insane garlic dipping sauce, 5 or 6 salads, and the best pasta dish San Francisco has to offer: spaghetti alla pizzaiola. It’s a bowl of al dente spaghetti tossed in olive oil, garlic, basil, and diced tomatoes. Simple. Savory. Perfect.
Thanks for listening. Buon Appetito!