I just flew in to the Windy City and I had to have a deep dish pizza for my first dinner tonight.
I can hear my producers yelling at me now. I was starving and the pie’s aroma overwhelmed me. I didn’t think of the food porn still shots until I was sated. This was all that was left of the pie when I remembered I needed a photo.
Luckily for me there’s a branch of all 4 close to the hotel I stay at during my frequent trips to Chicago so I’ve had them all. Lou Malnati’s is one of my go-to places too. They’ve been making deep dish for decades.
While I love a good deep dish my favorite pizza is a true Neapolitan thin-crust pie encircled with a puffy dark crust. That one’s in and out of a wood burning beehive oven in 60-90 seconds. You have to wait for these deep dish pies for about 40 minutes so you gotta be patient.
“That speaks to what we think about it,” says spokeswoman Meggie Lindberg. The chain discontinued its Neapolitan offering since so few customers ordered it, she says.”
My choice this time is the Chicago Classic with Lou’s trademarked Buttercrust that costs 75 cents more and worth every penny. Layers of sausage, tomato sauce and extra cheese atop the almost flaky buttery crust, it’s a 3-inch high slice of heaven.
Just kidding. You know that North Beach really isn’t a beach anymore. If you took my tour you know why.
Look at the new North Beach Library Branch that opened today. The beautiful sleek design looks like a modern ocean liner slipped it’s Fisherman’s Wharf mooring and ended up smack on Columbus Avenue at Mason near the cable cars and below the crooked turns of Lombard Street.
The library’s opening is the culmination of a long-fought battle between those who opposed the plans entirely or wanted to preserve the old mid-century modernist library building and city planners. The Chronicle’s architecture critic provides the full details in today’s paper.
A big crowd gathered in the warm sun for the opening enjoying a children’s chorus belting out songs from Annie followed by Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz dixieland band. An expert was giving lessons in the bocce courts across from the new library entrance.
More change is on the way. The old library will be demolished and the Joe DiMaggio Playground will be enlarged and renovated next year.
Boy am I happy that this northern fringe of North Beach has come alive again. Be sure to visit soon.
BTW, behind me in the video is North Beach poet and visual artist Agneta Falk‘s How Long/The Storm that she painted while watching a violent thunder storm over Fisherman’s Wharf.
How often do you get to put something inside someone’s body?
No this ain’t a sex post but it’s close.
I just returned from 3 weeks in Italy when I sat down with my friends at Hungry Village. Cameras rolling I riffed on what draws me back to Italy each year and what fuels my passion for sharing my food with family and friends in my home and with you on my blog.
I hope you enjoy a short video of my time living in a Roman neighborhood and my Italian-American lifestyle in San Francisco’s North Beach.
“Mean, vicious, and crafty, his main mode of defense is to pretend to be too stupid to know what’s going on, and his secondary mode is to physically beat people.” – Wikipedia entry for Pulcinella
A new mural was going up last year at the North Beach pizzeria and ristorante, Pulcinella. I stopped by once in a while to check on the muralist, Vranas’, emerging homage to Napoli, “Song of Pulcinella.” Pulcinella is the 17th century commedia d’arte character adopted by Neapolitans as their own.
I remember the night we sat under the just completed mural featuring the ancient city and a smoking Vesuvio on the Bay of Naples, eating a great dinner. Neapolitan songs were in the air, mandolin strains drifted from the trio right in front of us. I glanced up and there he was – Pulcinella in all his glory beaming down at me.
When I learned the pizzeria was closing I emailed Mauro Caputo who was overseeing the close-out of the space to find a way to save the mural. It was too late.
I got Mauro’s response the next morning: “Ciao Gianni, unfortunately I just read your email, the mural is already on the floor, we took it off this morning early. Buona Giornata.” Oh no! I rushed up to Pulcinella right after work.
Here’s what I found when I arrived. The whole back wall which the mural had been painted on had been cut out with a circular saw. The mural was in two large sections and there were pieces missing. Mauro and I scoured the floor to find more chunks of the mural. We matched a corner here a border there like making a jigsaw puzzle.
The landlord wouldn’t let us leave the mural there. We had to get it out in 24 hours. What can I do with a 15×6 foot piece of wall, studs and all, weighing a few hundred pounds? The clock was ticking and I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t even sure we could put all the pieces back together.
I hit the sidewalk. I was on a mission. I saw Howard, a North Beach artist, on the corner. I told him my story and asked him to come with me to view the mural. He said the mural could be saved and it should be saved for all to enjoy. I said I had a place in the Mission where I could temporarily store the mural.
“No, keep the mural in North Beach. It will be easier to restore here,” he said. Now I needed a plan.
Howard suggested some places where I might move the pieces while we figure out how to restore it. I stopped at a dozen places. It was an Open Studios weekend and there was no room anywhere. People were talking about the fate of the mural as I walked the Village looking for temporary shelter. One more place to try on the edge of the Village. I introduced myself to Della and Lapo at the busy Emerald Tablet, a new North Beach art workshop/gallery and explained my plight. My new allies told me I could bring the pieces there for a few days as I worked out a restoration plan.
Yipee! But how do we get the mural pieces to the gallery? It was only a few blocks away. We can roll it there I thought. I searched the Village for a furniture dolly. John at Focus Gallery on upper Grant had one that I could use.
One of the hottest days of the year and I have to push a wall 3 blocks with hills and balance it on this tiny dolly so it doesn’t tip and smash on the sidewalk. We slowly made our way. Traffic had to stop for us it took so long to make it across Columbus Avenue. Sweaty, dirty, thirsty we finally set the mural pieces in the back of the gallery space.
“Song of Pulcinella” is not smashed in a dumpster. The mural is safe for now. We saved it with 18 hours to spare thanks to my North Beach friends and neighbors. Sometimes it does take a village. And thank you for your help too, Pulcinella!
I’ll keep you posted on the restoration. Hopefully the mural will be installed somewhere in North Beach for all to enjoy. Any thoughts on where it should live?
I heard it on the street Thursday when I returned to the Village from a few days on the Sonoma Coast – Pulcinella is closing. I’m in mourning. We’re losing another North Beach treasure. Our Neapolitan hosts were passionate about the food of Naples. Pulcinella cooked up great street food, fried antipasti treats, true Neapolitan pizza and pastas. The passing of Pulcinella reminds me to be passionate about supporting what’s left of North Beach before it’s all gone. It happened in New York City, Chicago, Newark. Once vibrant Italian neighborhoods all over America have disappeared.
I cringed when I saw the Chronicle’s Inside Scooppost. Its harsh cynicism brought a tear to my eye.
Mauro, Dario and Fabio did a great job and we will miss them dearly. I caught up with Mauro today to wish him buona fortuna and to say good-bye. The pizzeria’s owner in Naples is ill and decided to close this San Francisco outpost. Pulcinella had a good run. I’m happy the boys from Napoli were with us for the last couple of years.
Over seventy years ago, Peter Macchiarini made up his mind that San Francisco needed a symbol. This idea wasn’t a modest one — Macchiarini was looking for San Francisco’s Statue of Liberty, its Eiffel Tower. Something to erect and have stand tall and proud atop the City by the Bay, embodying the city’s ethos. The decision soon became obvious: Emperor Norton. In his combination of progressive thinking and quirky demeanor, few people could represent the city of San Francisco so earnestly. And so Peter Macchiarini set out to make it so by designing and making a statue of the self-proclaimed Protector of the US and All Mexico.
Tragically, Macchiarini’s quest seemed to run a habit of getting very close to completion, but then falling apart. In nearly every decade since the idea’s inception, a statue of Emperor Norton has almost made it into the public view of San Francisco, only to be stopped short by some sort of political or social opponent. Most recently was the effort to have Norton stand atop the Peter Macchiarini Steps (Broadway and Kearny). Makes sense, right? But even that project was halted by bureaucracy.
With the passing of Peter Macchiarini in 2001, it seemed like an Emperor Norton statue would be nothing but a nice thought. But if you sit down today at the Comstock Saloon on Columbus Ave, you’ll look up to see a four-and-a-half-foot tall, 350-pound bronze Emperor Norton peering over you. Peter’s son, Dan, who now owns and runs Macchiarini Creative Design, agreed to have the statue put on display at the request of the Comstock owners. And so now there the Emperor is, perched high above the bar, making sure nobody’s taking themselves too seriously.
Bonus video of Dan Macchiarini in his workshop at 1544 Grant Ave. in North Beach:
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.
Food & Wine Pairing Series
I make an annual pilgrimage to Italy to go on culinary adventures. The trips inevitably turn into a group excursion with yours truly guiding a small herd of friends into markets, kitchens, and caffes.
Great food, great wine, great friends. It’s the highlight of my year. When I can’t be in the Old Country, I find solace here in North Beach. It’s a little piece of Italy in the States, and I love it.
In that spirit, I decided to create a series of private restaurant dinner parties to showcase region-specific Italian cuisines and wines, and the chefs that know those regions so well.
Naturally, I’ve got my favorite North Beach restaurants. I like some of the popular ones, but the real gems are the small, family-owned places with living connections to the Italian villages of their origin. By supporting these restaurants, you can reward their efforts at making the North Beach community the best it can be – through a nuanced mix of tradition and plain old yumminess.
These custom-designed menus are a collaboration between myself and the chefs, and promise to whisk you to Italia via your taste buds.
Introducing the first in the series: Tuscan Cuisine at Caffé BaoNecci
Sunday, March 6th, 6pm
The first in the series is this trattoria near Grant and Green. Known for its thin-crust pizza, the restaurant might be small, but the family who own it are larger than life. Walter and Stefania Gambaccini, and sons Elia and Filippo, are recent immigrants to North Beach, moving here from the village of Altopascio near Lucca.
Stefania is cooking a four course meal that she used to make in her home village in Altopascio (she may even share a song or two). Walter is showcasing some hard-to-find wines, including a wonderful Chianti from a friend’s vineyard in Montalbano.
Come join us for a typical Luccese meal and gain new insight into the cooking and culture of northern Tuscany.
There are only 40 seats at the table, so buy your ticket now. Bring some friends, and make some new ones, during this evening of fine Tuscan food and wine.
I’ll even send you a recipe or two after our delightful evening at BaoNecci.
In this video, I introduce most of the family, and they talk about the food, as son Elia translates his parents’ Italian…
In part two of the video, Walter talks about the wine…
The Menu: 4 courses paired with 4 wines
Crostini Toscani. Tuscan chicken liver pate on a thin toast. (I’m not crazy about liver, and I love these.)
Bruschetta con pomodoro. Tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt and basil.
Prosecco Negroni NV. From the Veneto with white peach and pear tones in this bright and light sparkling wine.
Zuppa Ribollita. This classic bean and vegetable soup takes two days to make.
Chianti Fattoria Montellori 2007. From Walter’s friends in the Montalbano zone in the Chianti district west of Florance the Nieri family have produced a fine cherry colored medium-bodied wine with soft textured fruit. A reminder of the delicious, haunting Chiantis that flow from the casks of the finest Tuscan trattorie.
Pollo alla cacciatora con polenta. Chicken in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and sage and these tiny multi-colored Tuscan olives cured with bay laurel and clove. Served with polenta to help soak up the sauce. Vegetarian option: Sformato. A molded vegetable souffle-like dish with zucchini, eggplant and carrots.
Bolgheri Rosso Michele Satta 2008. A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot from southern Tuscany, the land of Sassicaia. The wine has a bouquet of red and black fruit, leather and tobacco, good fruit balance and dry finish.
Crostata con marmellata di albicocche. A rustic tart with apricot marmelade.
Crema di savoiardi. Layers of liqueur-soaked ladyfingers and pastry cream.
Vin Santo Montellori. A favorite Tuscan dessert wine with marmalade and sherry aroma and a full flavor of orange zest and roasted nuts.
Tuscan Food & Wine Pairing, Sunday March 6th, 6pm
Tuscan cuisine from the Gambaccini family of Caffé BaoNecci. Four courses paired with four wines.
Recently, my doctor said I should eat more whole wheat pasta. I told her, “Doc, only with certain sauces!”
Some sauces call for a fresh pasta and some for a dried pasta. Most dried pasta is a durum wheat or semolina pasta. The best is from Italy. It is extruded through a bronze die and the surface of the pasta has a rough feel (la lingue di gatto, like a cat’s tongue) so that more sauce is absorbed. (One of my favorites is Strozzapreti.)
I just heard about one producer in Campania that threw out the bronze dies and bought gold dies that make an even rougher surface. They won’t say how much that cost.
Slow drying is the other important step in making quality dried pasta. Many large volume Italian producers and most American pasta producers use a telflon extrusion die and a fast drying method, so the pasta doesn’t absorb the sauce as well. You see in my demonstrations that I always finish cooking dried pasta in the sauce pan. This is where the pasta absorbs the sauce and where the sauce clings to the pasta’s rough exterior.
Organic bronze die durum wheat from Campania may cost $7. But it’s worth the money because the pasta is the star of the dish. In fact, in Italy they refer to pasta sauces as condimenti, mere condiments. You should always taste the nutty flavor of the durum wheat pasta through the flavor of the sauce and grated cheese. A 500 gram box will feed 4, at minimum. You do the math – it’s still a very economical dish and it’s delicious.
Sometimes food tells a story. The camera caught me pausing in the middle of making a Sunday Gravy for our next episode, to tell about an experience I had in my mother’s Italian birth village, Mirabella Eclano.
You’ll notice some similarities between this video and the show’s format. It was during the shooting and production of the Spots Unknown profile that I decided to ask Jeff Diehl if he’d produce my cooking show. The rest is history.