North Beach First Friday Festivities

Columbus & Coit


Columbus & Coit
Columbus & Coit from the Transamerica building. Click to expand.

Enjoy a beautiful night in North Beach tomorrow. Celebrate the first day of June with your friends and neighbors. Wander the Village Streets and check out what 18 particpating galleries, shops, restaurants and bars have on tap for you. Lots of food, drink, music and art to choose from during North Beach First Friday festivities. Satisfy all you senses! Hope I see you there.

Deep-Dish Pizza on My Mind

Sausage Deep-Dish Pizza Chicago Style

Chicago-style pizza has been on my mind lately and luckily in my mouth too. I had one when I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. I love the classic pie with sausage but I lost the vote and we ordered a vegetarian instead. It was a good pie but I was disappointed. I still needed a sausage deep-dish.

San Francisco’s Patxi, Little Star and Zachary’s make deep-dish but they were too far away. North Beach’s Capos will open soon on Vallejo Street with deep-dish on the menu. But I couldn’t wait so I had to make my own.

Deep-dish isn’t that difficult. The dough is very pliant and bakes well in a home oven. It doesn’t need really high oven temperature and takes about a half-hour in the oven to get a golden crust and fully baked interior. It’s worth the wait, trust me.

Sorry about the missing slice in the picture. This was my first deep-dish pizza and we had to see how it turned out. We couldn’t help eating that first piece as soon as the pie was cool enough to cut.

Most eat deep-dish with a knife and fork but I like to pick it up as soon as I can and eat it by hand.  The buttery crust is sturdy but tender with a slight crunch from the polenta mixed into the dough. The bottom layer of mozzarella oozes out of each slice. You get those long melted mozzarella strands (telephone lines) with each forkful. The savory fennel sausage mellows in the sweet oregano-infused tomato sauce. Every mouthful is a texture and flavor treat. A slice of deep-dish can fill you up but I’m a pizza pig and can’t stop with just one.

Serve your deep-dish pizza with a simple green salad and you’ve got a meal worthy of “The Windy City.” Substitute your favorite sauteed vegetables, onion, bell pepper and black olive or mushrooms sauteed with fresh oregano maybe. The filling choices are endless.

This 10-inch pan deep-dish serves 4 and the dough recipe is enough for 2 pies. I’m making another one in the morning with the leftover dough for my office-mates. To satisfy everyone’s diet it’s back to a vegetarian pie. I’ll nestle a filling of crimini and porcini mushrooms sauteed in garlic-infused EVOO with fresh oregano between the mozzarella layer on the bottom and the tomato sauce on top. Should be a good breakfast.

Buon appetito!


Stuffed Peppers (Peperoni Ripieni)

Stuffed Red Bell Pepper

I had a hankering for stuffed peppers for a while so I made some today. Peppers are flooding the farmers market and a couple of big, ripe red bell peppers called out to me this morning.

The roasted stuffed peppers are tender and sweet. The arborio rice and ground beef stuffing is pumped up with shallot, oregano, parsley and parmigiano and baked with a simple San Marzano  tomato-basil sauce. The top is golden with a nutty, crunchy crust. The moist savory rice stuffing absorbs the sweet San Marzano and basil sauce to create a taste medley in each bite.  Early summer on a plate. Just delicious.

Stuffed peppers don’t take that long to make. Most of the time is roasting the stuffed peppers and then finishing them in the oven with the tomato sauce.

You can serve the stuffed peppers as an antipasto course, as a side with meat or for lunch, maybe with some pasta dressed with the tomato sauce from the baking pan on the side.

Use bell peppers or choose your favorite pepper. Italian frying peppers or banana peppers work well too. Don’t add the meat and enjoy just as flavorful vegetarian stuffed peppers.

Buon appetito!



Open and Closed in North Beach

Capos on Vallejo

I’m back in the Village after a week out of town and was pleased to see the Capos sign was up. Capos is Tony Gemignani’s new place on Vallejo (between Stockton and Columbus). As Tony promised the vintage National cash register sits proudly on top of the Deco bar. There’s a strange looking machine in the front window. I don’t know what it is but it looks cool. Word on the street is that you’ll be able to get Capos’ Chicago deep dish pizza and Italian dinners soon.

Tuesday the “oldest Italian restaurant in America” Fior d’Italia closed after 126 years in North Beach. It opened in 1886 as a bordello dining spot and fed survivors of the ’06 quake and fire.

Fires forced the restaurant to bounce all around North Beach. It was at the spot that now houses Original Joe’s (Union/Stockton) for 50 years. After a 2005 fire it ended up at the San Remo Hotel down on Mason near Fisherman’s Wharf where the owners threw in the towel.

In 2010 Fior d’Italia celebrated it’s 125th anniversary by bringing back 1886 prices for a day. Linguine and meatball was 10 cents and minestrone soup and dessert were included!

Chef owner Gianni Audieri hopes to re-open in yet another location. I wish him luck. I hope we don’t lose the San Francisco Italian institution for good.

Here’s Grub Street’s story with pictures from the closing night. Inside Scoop’s post includes more pictures of the restaurants beautiful interior.

Making the Same Pizza in North Beach for 77 Years

Pizza Margherita
Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear Pizza
Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear Pizza

North Beach’s Tommaso’s opened in 1935. The Crotti family bought it in 1973 and they’re still serving the original menu from 77 years ago.

Agostino Crotti boasts that Tommaso’s was the first to have a wood-burning oven on the West Coast . “That’s written in the books.”  Augstino says “this place is famous for one reason and one reason only: the brick oven.”

Agostino gave the oven design to Alice Waters who built one at Chez Panisse in 1980 and California-style pizza was born. Alice passed the design on to Wolfgang Puck who built one at Spago opened in 1982. The rest is history. “So everything started here,” Augustino proclaims.

Pizza in San Francisco has come a long way since 1935. The pizzeria choices in most neighborhoods are incredible. Just in North Beach you can get a dazzling array of pizza at a dozen places. Pizza delivery has evolved too. Not just home delivery anymore. We had fantastic pizza truck pies from Casey’s parked downtown on Mission for lunch a few weeks ago.

Agostino isn’t too impressed with all these developments. He only eats pizza out of his 77 year old wood-burning oven. “I’m more simple. Give me a margherita pizza and I’m a happy camper.” That’s my Tommaso favorite too but the half-sausage/half-meatball ain’t bad either.

Make your own pizza at home with my easy recipe. The dough is foolproof. Make Pizza Margherita or the Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear pizza (Agostino might not approve of this one) or use your favorite toppings.

EaterSF’s Pizza Week 2012 posts are a goldmine for everything you need to know about pizza in San Francisco, including Del Popolo, the new monster pizza truck with a wood-burning oven.  Don’t miss A Snob’s Guide, a virtual SF pizza encyclopedia. You can read Chloe Schildhause ‘s full interview with Agostino Crotti and his sister Carmen too.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara from Roma

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

A Roman friend’s son Luca shot a video of Claudio, the chef/owner of Osteria Dar Bruttone making spaghetti alla carbonara, a classic Roman pasta dish. I had to share it with you.

Claudio is passionate about Roma and about its food. His osteria in the San Giovanni neighborhood where he serves simple traditional Roman fare is popular with locals and tourists alike.

Claudio beams as he talks about the virtues of the most beautiful city on earth and Roman culinary tradition, a vital part of Roman life. Walk with Claudio as he shops in the markets near his osteria for the food that he will cook at his restaurant that day.

The spaghetti alla carbonara video is in Italian but even if you don’t speak the language watch it anyway. The shots of Rome, the markets and the kitchen techniques are priceless. Everyone I know who watched the video, fluent in Italian or not, had to make spaghetti alla carbonara right away. Here’s my translation of Claudio’s recipe for you to enjoy in your kitchen.

Spaghetti alla carbonara only has 4 ingredients and is ready to eat in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. Search out guanciale. It’s integral to the dish. (In a pinch you could use pancetta.) Use a dried durum wheat pasta extruded through bronze dies imported from Italy so the sauce will cling to its rough surface. Don’t be shy with the black pepper. Use pecorino for it’s more robust flavor, not parmigiano.

The spaghetti takes on a golden hue. Creamy, silky sauce coats every strand. Rich pecorino flavor plays off salty, crispy guanciale and black pepper tickles your throat with every bite.

I miss Roma. Buon appetito!


A Peek Inside Capos on Vallejo

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Tony Gemignani’s Capos in the former Pucinella Pizzeria space on North Beach’s Vallejo Street is taking shape. The brick facade on the front of the building is in place. Soon a big black awning will hang out over the sidewalk. A beautiful custom-built wood Art Deco bar is in place on the left just inside the front door and red leather banquettes sensually line the opposite wall in the dining area. This is going to be a hot eating spot.

A while ago I noticed a wood-burning beehive pizza oven in the open kitchen. Since Capos will offer Chicago deep dish and stuffed pizza this traditional Neapolitan pizza oven puzzled me. One of the pizza makers told me that pasta dishes will be baked and steaks roasted on a rack in the beehive to impart a smoky flavor. Can’t wait to taste these delights.

I’m off to Chicago soon and my first stop will be at Gino’s East for a deep dish pizza. I know we’ll wait at least 40 minutes for the pie to bake. They won’t take that long once Capos opens. I’m told Tony and his pizza makers have come up with a way to get their pizza out of the oven in about 20 minutes. I hope so. This place is going to be mobbed and I hope the tables turn quickly. I only have Chicago deep dish pizza a couple of times a year when I end up in the Windy City. Now I’ll be able to eat it any time I want right here in NoBe. My guess is that Capos will open by the end of the month.

Thank God for Capos. It’s the last North Beach business on this critical block of Vallejo. The big Piazza Market space near Columbus is still for lease. Victoria Pastry on the Stockton corner soon will move to Filbert near Washington Square. So the Vallejo Street bookend spots are still in play. Will the new tenants maintain this as a North Beach block or complete its attachment to Chinatown? I’ll keep you posted.