Perhaps this isn't the best year to tour Italy and dine your way from Milan to Salerno. But non preoccuparti (not to worry): Restaurants around San Francisco Bay can take you there.
"We used to get only pan-Italian food," says Victoria Libin, a founder of San Francisco's popular eatery A16." But there are wonderful regional variations to be explored." Here's a grand tour by region.
- Campania: A16 San Francisco. Specializes in rustic mountain cooking, from pork-and-greens soups to the ropelike maccaronara with tomato ragu. (415) 771-2216, a16sf.com.
- Florence: Corso Berkeley. Famed—as is Florence itself—for delicious bean dishes and luscious T-bone steaks. (510) 704-8004, trattoriacorso.com.
- Liguria: Farina San Francisco. Features the fare of the Italian Riviera, notably focaccia di Recco, oozing melted Stracchino cheese. (415) 565-0360, farinafoods.com.
- Piemonte: Perbacco San Francisco. The plush cuisine of Italy's northwest: braised short ribs, potato gnocchi, and handcut tagliatelle with pork sugo and porcini mushrooms. (415) 955-0663, perbaccosf.com.
- Rome: SPQR San Francisco. Offers a range of Roman fried items, from mozzarella bocconcini to spicy potatoes and crispy artichokes. (415) 771-7779, spqrsf.com.
- Sardinia: La Ciccia San Francisco. Look for dishes featuring bottariga, a preserved mullet roe often grated over pasta. If tuna heart is offered, don't shy away. Rich and salty, it's a must. (415) 550-8114, laciccia.com.
- Sicily: Trattoria La Siciliana Berkeley. Highlights the tastes of the balmy Mediterranean island—fish, olives, tomatoes—in dishes such as its linguine alla siciliana. (510) 704-1474, trattorialasiciliana.com.
- Venice: Pesce San Francisco. Try the cicchetti, small plates of typical Venetian bar food, especially the braised octopus salad or white anchovy bruschetta. (415) 928-8025, pescesf.com.
The eight restaurants above are among the best known and most popular of the Bay Area's regional Italian eateries. Of course there are more, some with a sharp focus on a particular province, others with a broader outlook. We based the collections below on statements on the restaurants' Web sites or in their descriptions on opentable.com. To keep the lists manageable, we've omitted coffeehouses and pizzerias. Do you have a favorite Italian eatery with a distinctive regional flavor? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through August 2009, Incanto Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar in San Francisco is offering region-specific dinners on Sunday and Monday nights. The three-course, fixed-price meals ($30), dubbed "Cucina Povera," will highlight one Italian province each week, including Puglia (fave e cicoria, or puree of dried fava beans with braised wild greens and grilled bread), Sicily (cotenne e verdure, or braised pork skin with turnip greens), and Tuscany (pappa al pomodoro, or tomato and bread soup).
(415) 641-4500, incanto.biz/cucina_povera.html.
- Piemonte and Tuscany: La Briciola Ristorante Italiano San Francisco. On the menu are bistecca alla brace (grilled T-bone steak) and agnello al Brunello (rack of lamb with green peppercorns and a Piemontese wine reduction). (415) 512-0300, labriciola-sf.com.
- Sicily: Caffe Riace Ristorante Italiano Palo Alto. Known for such dishes as arancine Siciliane (risotto balls filled with mozzarella and peas) and fusilli Siciliani (pasta with sautéed spinach, sausage, and tomato). (650) 328-0407, cafferiace.com.
- Tuscany: Cacciucco Cucina Toscana Sausalito. Chef Davide Cerretini, who grew up in Livorno, Italy, offers traditional Livornese family-style nights and dishes such as ribollita Fiorentina (soup of twice cooked bread, vegetables, cabbage, fagioli, and olive oil) and pappardelle Toscane (house-made pasta with veal, sausage, and rosemary ragout). (415) 339-8930, cacciucco.net.
- Veneto: Piccolo Teatro Sausalito. Highlights include Venetian small plates, or cicchetti, including crostini with lardo, pickled onion, and mint. (415) 332-0739, piccoloteatrodisausalito.com.
- Donato Enoteca Redwood City. (650) 701-1000, donatoenoteca.com.
- Emporio Rulli Gran Caffe San Francisco. (415) 923-6464, rulli.com.
- Osteria Cucina Toscana San Francisco. (415) 771-5030, osteriasanfrancisco.com.
- Poggio Trattoria Sausalito. (415) 332-7771, poggiotrattoria.com.
- Vin Santo Ristorante San Jose. (408) 920-2508, vin-santo.com.
- Vivace Ristorante Belmont. (650) 637-0611, vivacerestaurant.com.
- Angelino Restaurant Sausalito. (415) 331-5225, angelinorestaurant.com.
- 54 Mint San Francisco. (415) 543-5100.
- Jackson Fillmore Trattoria San Francisco. (415) 346-5288, jacksonfillmoresf.com.
- Mezzaluna Italian Restaurant Princeton by the Sea. (650) 728-8108, mezzalunabythesea.com.
- Ottimista Enoteca-Cafe San Francisco. (415) 674-8400, ottimistasf.com.
- Palermo Italian Restaurant Menlo Park. (650) 322-2157, palermomenlopark.com.
Photography by Sean Arbabi
This article was first published in July 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.