Truffles at Cavalli Cafe Again

Cavalli Tuscan Treasures

We had lunch yesterday at Original Joe’s. (I had the breaded veal cutlet Milanese with a light lemon sauce and a side of ricotta ravioli in a bolognese sauce. Both were delicious renditions of classic North Beach Italian-American fare.)

Original Joe’s bombolini puff pastry with vanilla gelato splashed with espresso and the butterscotch pudding were tempting but we decided to walk over to Cavali Cafe. We had to have one of Santo Esposito’s cannoli, the best in North Beach and an espresso.

As we entered Cavalli I noticed a handwritten sign in the window. “Truffles, Porcini, Chestnut Flour, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Arrived  From Italia.” The shipment from Tuscany came in yesterday. I’ve been waiting for this day for over a month.

Inside were bianchetti, spring white truffles out of the ground for just 2 days, dried porcini, just-milled chestnut flour and last fall’s first press extra virgin olive oil from a small producer near Arrezzo in Tuscany.

I told you about the fall shipment from the same Tuscan couple. This one’s just a good. The spring truffles are not quite as aromatic as the fall white truffle but they are quite good and much less expensive. Santo is selling them for $1.50/gram.

Check out my pasta recipes with truffle from last fall. You can use the bianchetti in either pasta dish. Today I shaved some bianchetto atop eggs fried in olive oil. I was in heaven.

At this price I’ll use the biachetti to flavor a good extra virgin olive oil. Maybe I’ll use one to flavor some Sicilian sea salt. And if there’s any more left I’ll chop it and mix it in with room temperature unsalted butter to store in the freezer. I’ll be all set until next fall’s truffle harvest.

The dried porcini picked last autumn are big fat slices full of flavor. Just reconstitute them in hot water and you can add deep earthy flavor to many dishes.

The olive oil is emerald gold with a full buttery taste and a nice peppery finish. This is a finishing oil that I use in salad dressings and to finish a dish. When sprinkled atop a plate of pasta or a bowl of soup just before serving the olive oil adds an extra taste dimension to the dish.

Run don’t walk to get these goodies before they’re all gone. Be warned they ain’t cheap but if you can get some you’re in for a real treat.

CSI in the Kitchen

Satisfy Your Longing for Mama's Cooking

Have you ever craved a dish your Mama made for you? Did you eat a dish in a restaurant that you just had to make yourself? Can’t get the recipe?

I read an interesting article last week about everyday kitchen detectives re-creating lost family dishes so I thought I’d share one of my quests to bring a dish back to life in my kitchen.

I had a fantastic pasta with a baby back rib sauce at Vicoletto’s street stall during last year’s Noodle Fest. I couldn’t coax the recipe out of the owner. The memory of this dish haunted me so I had to figure out how to make it myself.

My food memory and the dish’s profile were intact. The ribs were fall-off-the bone tender. The San Marzano tomato-basil sauce was sweet and rich. The Calabrian chile oil drizzled on top heated up my throat with every swallow.

First, I made a list of ingredients.

Second, I searched my cookbooks and the web to see if I could find any recipes. I learned a lot and refined my recipe.

Third, I planned out how I would make the sauce. The ribs had to be browned before adding the tomatoes, garlic and basil to the pot. The ribs have to braise for at least an hour to be fork tender. The dish has to be finished with the oil from a jar of Calabrian chiles.

I nailed this one on the first try. You can too with the recipe I created from this food memory.

Read more about kitchen detectives in a recent Wall Street Journal article on how others have resurrected a favorite lost dish.

By the way Moma’s is a great breakfast/lunch place on Washington Square. There’s always a line to get in.


North Beach’s Food Oscar Nominee!

Park Tavern Beard Best Restaurant Nominee

I’ve been telling you about Park Tavern on North Beach’s Washington Square for a while. It is one of the nominees for Best New Restaurant Award. The semi-finalists were just announced by the James Beard Foundation.

The James Beard Awards are the food industry’s Oscars. There are many other San Francisco restaurants and chefs on the list too but I’m most proud of our North Beach semi-finalist Park Tavern.

Park Tavern opened last summer in the Moose’s space on Stockton facing Washington Square Park. I enjoyed a wonderful dinner there during the holiday season with seven of my office-mates. The menu is diverse and can satisfy the tastes of anyone in your party even those with food sensitivities. The staff is knowledgeable about everything on the menu and can cheerfully guide you to a memorable dining experience for everyone at your table.

The Chronicle’s food critic Michael Bauer only gave it 3 stars when he reviewed Park Tavern last October. I guess the James Beard crowd thinks it’s better than that. Let’s see if Bauer goes back again and gives Park Tavern that 4th star.

The James Beard Awards will be announced in May. I keep you posted.

In the meantime if you’re not in the mood to eat at one of North Beach’s Italian restaurants make a beeline to Park Tavern before you can’t get in anymore.

A North Beach Valentine’s Day

Italian Food Sayings
Italian Food Sayings
Big Night

Many of you have been reading last year’s Valentine’s Day post Accidental Heart a cute memory from when I was a kid in Jersey. It’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday.

I’m not a big fan of going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the worst nights of the year for restaurants. Too many people.  Too many emotions. Too many expectations. I know. I owned one. Good money though. I dine at home. Much more convenient. Here’s a quick but romantic dish you can make at home.

If you want to go out here are places in North Beach cooking authentic Italian regional food that I’m sure you will enjoy even on Valentine’s Day.

da Flora A romantic spot for Venetian food on Columbus. My favorite.

Vicoletto A cool spot featuring zesty Calabrian food from the south of Italia on bustling Green Street.

Ideale Classic Roman food on Upper Grant, a romantic North Beach block.

Rose Pistola A beautiful recently renovated space for Ligurian food from the Genoa coast on Columbus.

Original Joe’s Re-opened in a gorgeous space for Italian-American food San Franciscans have enjoyed since 1937.

And just for good measure here are 2 restaurants that don’t serve Italian food.

Cafe Jacqueline Lovely candlelit intimate French souffle spot on Upper Grant. The chocolate souffle some say is an aphrodisiac.

Park Tavern Wonderful California cuisine right on Washington Square.

North Beach Italian Restaurant List

Two of Many Green Street Restaurants

I found a Yelp list of North Beach Italian restaurants listed 1 to 50. Actually there aren’t 50 places. Some are listed more than once and a couple have closed. Before you get to the list and all of the comments I can’t help adding my updates and observations about North Beach restaurants with links to a few recent posts. I even threw in recipes from 2 of my favorite restaurants on the list.

La Felce is closed. It’s now Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Pulcinella closed but Tony will soon launch Capos featuring Chicago deep-dish pizza in that space. A total renovation down to the studs is moving at a rapid pace. Large black and white photos of infamous Chicagoans like Al Capone and an Art Deco bar with a vintage cash register from Chicago are part of new interior mix. Then there’s that mural found behind a wall during the renovation. The oil on canvas mural that captures Vallejo Street in all its 50s glory will be re-installed. I can’t wait to see the new space and eat a deep-dish pizza.

The list includes some of my favorite places like BaoNecci and da Flora where I hosted private dinners. da Flora’s chef Jen McMahon shared her arancini recipe with us. A star at the Tuscan dinner at BaoNecci was Stefania’s Ribollita vegetable soup. I was able to coax the recipe out of her after the dinner.

Ten on the list are included in my North Beach walking tour. Sotto Mare is one of them. I’ll tell you what I think of the others too and let you know my favorite North Beach places for souffles, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, po’boys and more.

North Beach is on fire. A new place just opened last weekend. Don’t miss out. Visit our Village soon. I’m sure you’ll find a good place to eat. Here’s the Yelp list of North Beach Italian restaurants.

Washington Square Park Now Complete

Original Original Joe's Sign

There was just one shuttered space left on the blocks surrounding Washington Square Park. Now there are none.

The historic Original Joe’s restaurant re-opened in North Beach Thursday more than four years after a fire shuttered its Taylor Street location in the Tenderloin.  “Joe’s Special,” a combination of hamburger, steak and eggs is iconic.

We learned last April that after years of searching for a suitable location the owners settled on North Beach. John Duggan, whose  grandfather opened the restaurant in 1937, told the Chronicle’s Paolo Lucchesi:

Obviously, it’s been a long and intense process to find a space that fit our concept. When you have 70 years of history, with a restaurant your grandfather started, you want to be deliberate, We wanted to make sure we go somewhere we can be for another 70 years.

North Beach is quintessential San Francisco. We wanted to choose a place that was part of the fabric of the city, and with this space, with how long Fior d’Italia goes back, people have been eating here for 100 years.

We waited almost a year for Original Joe’s to open. The gorgeous brand new restaurant is on the corner of Union and Stockton facing Washington Square Park. This prized corner is bustling once more.

Mayor Lee was at the ribbon-cutting and declared Thursday Original Joe’s Day in San Francisco. At a newsconference co-owner Elena Duggan said, “This is a real San Francisco neighborhood. And, the neighborhood and the outpouring has been incredible. We feel so supported and lucky to be here.”

Duggan? Is that Italian?

“We are Italian. My father’s Irish though, it’s a mean combination.”

Benvenuti Original Joe’s and the Duggan family. I hope you have a fantastic 75th Anniversary in your new home in North Beach. Centanni! (Another hundred years!)

Original Joe’s serves comfort food and Italian-American dishes. Here’s the food menu and the cocktail menu.

Buon appetito! See you there.

Broadway Corridor Coming Back

Clouds Over North Beach's Broadway Are Clearing

“It takes a village,” was the frequent refrain at a community meeting at Broadway Studios. The group gathered to develop a strategy to bring Broadway back. Call me crazy but after years of decline I think it’s happening. Maybe the transformation of Big Al’s sex shop into a food market is a harbinger of things to come. Instead of blow up sheep and sex toys you can now get a bologna and cheese sandwich!

Broadway from Columbus to Montgomery is an iconic corridor that helped make North Beach famous. Carol Doda was the first to go topless at the Condor (check out the original sign). We still talk about Enrico Balducci and his restaurant many years after the death of both. Tourists and locals jammed the drag queen shows upstairs at Finocchio’s. Balducci’s Hungry i was a national showcase for young singers, musicians and comedians that boosted many careers.

The 10 year slide may finally be over. The Broadway meeting brought together club owners and their group Voice of Broadway and a number of North Beach organizations. Representatives from North Beach Neighbors, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, North Beach Coalition, the North Beach Merchants Association and an aide to Supervisor Chiu all participated. On the agenda was a presentation from San Francisco SAFE on creating a Community Watch. The idea was well received. If adopted the North Beach Community Watch will be an umbrella organization to develop a revitalization strategy, keep all of the individual groups connected, coordinated and in constant communication.

Many said the weekend violence and outrageous drunken behavior is caused by carloads of people drinking and cruising Broadway. They congregate in dimly lit, unsupervised parking lots in the early morning hours and trouble brews. One resident said looking out his window to Broadway on a Saturday night is like watching a Cop’s episode. Club owners said this crowd doesn’t even patronize their establishments. This behavior must end for Broadway to survive.

There are  dance places, nightclubs, pizzerias and restaurants to enjoy on Broadway. The Beat Museum is a must visit. The Enrico’s space is now the Basque restaurant Txoko garnering rave reviews. The owners of Broadway Studios have ambitious plans for the street level retail space. Everyone wants Broadway back before America’s Cup. There’s money to be made!

To be honest I wasn’t a Broadway fan. I didn’t include Broadway on my walking tours, just talked about it from afar. Broadway is now a stop on my North Beach tour and I’m staying involved with the efforts to tame and revitalize the Broadway Corridor. The Village is on the march to reclaim Broadway as its own. I think my neighbors united will win.


North Beach 2012 – A New Dawn

Gianni guiding his first tour
Gianni Leading a North Beach Tour

As 2011 comes to a close North Beach is healthy and on the verge of a new dawn.

New restaurants, shops and galleries brought more visitors to the Village and more choices for me and my neighbors. The evening Holiday Boutique Crawl featuring 26 unique North Beach shops and galleries last month was enjoyed by well over a thousand shoppers! Every day visitors and neighbors fill the caffes, restaurants, markets and art galleries. North Beach’s pulse is strong.

Washington Square is booming. Park Tavern in the old Moose’s space on the east side of the Square draws big crowds and is a fun place to have dinner. Bottle Cap on the other side of Columbus offers comfort food in the old Washington Bar and Grill space. Original Joe’s will open in January with lots of outdoor seating facing the Square.

Not all went well. The Neapolitan pizzeria Pulcinella on Vallejo closed but we were able to save the heavily damaged mural “Song of Pulcinella” by Vranas. After a successful restoration we’re looking for a place to display this beautiful view of the Bay of Naples. I miss Pulcinella, the only Neapolitan restaurant in the Village. Here’s a taste of the food and culture that Pulcinella represents now gone from North Beach. The new Pakastani/Indian place Maza on Union couldn’t get a footing and closed earlier this month.

I predict that 2012 will be the year that North Beach is back, updated but stronger than it has been in 60 years. The traditional roots of the neighborhood, Italian food, a vibrant artist community, and great shopping, grew deeper. New arrivals broadened the Village’s appeal. Two stretches of the neighborhood hold the key.

I have my eye on Vallejo Street. Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza will open Capos featuring deep-dish pizza and his pizza school in the Pulcinella space. An oil on canvas mural that captures Vallejo in all its glory in the 50s will be re-installed. (The rolled up mural was found stashed behind a wall during remodeling.) Victoria Pastry on the corner will move to Filbert near Washington Square. Italian-French Bakery now on Upper Grant will move in. Geppetto the new Italian deli (salumeria) will open in January. Vallejo between Columbus and Grant will be transformed into the Poet’s Piazza anchored by the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi and Caffe Trieste. I truly hope Italian-French will be re-born as a great artisan bread bakery. North Beach needs one.

Upper Grant is on fire. Park and Pond opened featuring the work of local artisans. 1814 a few doors away showcases great t-shirts and hoodies by local artists. Al’s Attire moved into a great retro space for his custom clothes and shoes. Tupelo, a new watering-hole, serves southern comfort food. The new Little Vine is an old-fashioned market with a great selection of cheeses, cured meats and carefully selected food products. Emerald Tablet will blossom in 2012 into a fantastic gathering space for artist workshops and other salon events. There are a couple of stores to be had and lots of opportunity for the right business. And it looks like the old North Beach Pizza space is being updated so maybe that long-vacant spot will be scooped up soon.

You can follow it all on Gianni’s North Beach 2.0. My producer Jeff Diehl and I will launch our new website in January. You’ll easily access my Village reports, all of my cooking demonstrations and blog recipes, upcoming private events and soon to be announced culinary tours in Italia on our cool new site. First up on the re-designed site are two new cooking demonstration episodes that you will love.

Felice Anno Nuovo! Buon Anno! Happy New Year! See you in 2012.

My Basil Pesto Gnocchi Is Too Green!

Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!
Don't be fooled by "Italian" chain restaurants!

Olive Garden, Romano’s Marcaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo — I don’t eat in these joints and if you love authentic Italian food you shouldn’t either. The food they serve has been engineered to appeal to the bland American palate that prizes grease, calories and volume. Most of what they serve is a disgrace and has no connection to the healthy simple dishes that Italians and Italian-Americans enjoy.

The Wall Street Journal had a piece in today’s paper about how these chains struggle to keep and grow their middle America clientele with low-brow tastes.

Olive Garden sends its chefs to Italy to taste the real deal. Unfortunately, when they return to their test kitchens in Orlando the chefs reverse-engineer the dish and bastardize it so that it appeals to their customers.

They stopped making basil pesto for pasta because it was too green for their clientele. A great pasta dish they enjoyed in northern Italy was too “rustic” so they added a cheesy sauce and meat to make it more “normal” and to convince their customers that it was a good deal. They don’t use capers often because the salty and pickled flavor is too out there for their diners. Gnocchi was a bit too adventurous so they only serve it in soup. My delicate gnocchi would never hold up in this water bath.

Please, please, please! Do not equate what you get at these chain restaurants with authentic regional cuisine in Italia or with the food that I celebrate on Gianni’s North Beach. Visit Italia, and until you do, cook up some of my dishes for yourself. You’ll feel better after you eat and, even at chain prices, you’ll save money too.

Buon appetito!

Deep Dish in North Beach?

Future Home of Capos

Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Washington Square is taking over the Pulcinella space for a place he’ll call “Capos.” Not sure about the name. (Capo is often a reference to an organized crime boss, and that may not sit well with those concerned about negative stereotypes.)

So, what’s it gonna be? My sources tell me that he will do Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I hear he’ll move his pizza school to the Vallejo Street location, too [UPDATE: This has been confirmed by Eater].

Buona fortuna, Tony! Thanks for another investment in North Beach!