NYT’s Best Regional Italian Food – San Francisco

New York Times Declares San Francisco the Top of Regional Italian Food
New York Times Declares San Francisco the Top of Regional Italian Food
New York Times declares San Francisco the top of regional Italian food.

In today’s New York Times Mark Bittman says San Francisco is the world’s best city for regional Italian food.

It’s not novel to say that so-called Californian cuisine is essentially Italian (perhaps “Italian-dominated Mediterranean” would be more accurate). But no comparably sized city has more authentic and better regional Italian food — of all the cities in Italy only Rome has the audacity to support restaurants whose food originated in other regions — and, really, with the possible exception of New York, it may be said that San Francisco is the world’s best city for regional Italian food.

We knew that!

Bittman remembers espresso at Caffe Trieste in our North Beach but picks 4 restaurants in other neighborhoods as the best of regional Italian fare: the Piemonte at Perbacco; Neapolitan at Delfina; Ligurian at Farina; and Sardinian at La Ciccia.

I’m a North Beach guy but I can attest to the wonders at Perbacco, one of my favs. I was there Monday for dinner with friends. As is usual at my restaurant table we ate family-style. Order several dishes in each course for all at the table to share. You’ll get to taste more dishes and create a deeper common dining experience for those at the table.

Too bad Mark didn’t try some of North Beach’s best authentic regional Italian fare. He would have discovered great restaurants cooking authentic regional food from Tuscany, the Veneto, Lazio, Sicily and Campania. Join me for one of my February North Beach tours and I’ll introduce you to all of them. Reserve your spot early. (Today’s tour is once again sold out!)

Stay tuned – we’ll be posting an invitation to join me at my first private dinner party at one of my favorite North Beach restaurants. We’ll share a family-style 4 course authentic regional meal with wine. Plus we’ll get the skinny from the chef about what we’re eating and why the wines are a perfect match for each course. Great food and a chance to deepen your appreciation for the regional food of Italia right here in North Beach. I can’t wait!

Saturday, April 30th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, April 30th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you authentic Italian-style pizza and the city's best cannoli. Tour length: Approx. 2 hours. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what you will see on your receipt.
Available Qty: 15
Price: $25.00
Quantity:  
Saturday, Feb. 5th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 5th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Feb. 12th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 12th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Feb. 26th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Feb. 26th, walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95
Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 15th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.
Price: $12.95

25% Off North Beach Walking Tour This Saturday

Alcatraz
Gianni stops walking to do some talking
Gianni stops walking to do some talking

If you’re in San Francisco this weekend, come spend 90 minutes with me. I’m excited to be guiding another walking tour through North Beach – always an opportunity for meeting great folks. I’ll tell you all about my Italian village, its history, its food, its characters.

And, you’ll sample some of my favorite pizza!

If you want to discover the hidden North Beach, join me this Saturday. Enter promo code “walker” to get 25% off. The tour is limited to 15 walkers. RSVP early:

Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Saturday, Jan. 29th walking tour of North Beach, 2pm
Gianni walks you through the heart of North Beach, and feeds you some authentic Italian-style pizza. Purchases are processed through “Hungry Village,” our parent company. This is what PayPal will display.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for announcements of future events.

Caffe Pascucci: Bastard Caffe

“A decaf latte with skim milk,” an outraged North Beach barista snorted just 10 years ago. “Whaddaya think this is, a pharmacy?” He only had espresso and milk at his caffe. How far espresso drinks have come.

I got excited when I heard that Caffe Pascucci was opening this week near the ballpark, the Italian company’s first caffe in the US. The coffee menu (PDF) is huge. My excitement was extinguished when I read it, but unfortunately, this won’t be their last location.

In Italia, you never see a menu in a traditional caffe. You can ask the barista for an espresso, macchiato, cappuccino or latte.

You can order your espresso ristretto or lungo, a shorter pull for a denser espresso shot or a longer pull to dilute it a bit. Maybe you can get a caffe correcto, a “corrected” espresso with a shot of Fernet Branca or other liquor.

Pascucci is spreading its version of Starbucks around the world. They should have spared us. Thank God I can still get an authentic doppio espresso macchiato here in North Beach, and chain stores are not allowed.

Gianni’s First Live Demo – Success!

On Saturday, we did our first live cooking demonstration with 12 folks in my small apartment. Strangers were brought together by the allure of The Village and its Italian food, braving the rainy day to reach the top of The Hill: A couple from San Carlos; a few emissaries from The Mission; a young couple new to The Village; a personal chef from Brazil; a few old-timers; and a former resident jonesing for a return to North Beach.

It was a fun bunch of guests.

Gianni's Free Cooking Demo
Diggin' in!

For one guest, it was a surprise Christmas present. North Beach resident, Jeff, brought his wife, Karla into my place without telling her why. You should have seen the look on her face when she peered into the kitchen and saw me: “Oh my God!”

Call MasterCard, ’cause that moment was priceless.

And thank God for everyone’s help during the demo. Mary tended the red bell pepper we were charring on top of the stove. Dan did a nice job bringing the cream for the gorgonzola sauce to the proper texture.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Dan Stirs

Half the group had roots in Sicilia and shared stories of their families. Good thing one of the pasta sauces I was making was from that exquisite island. Old friends Marie and Stephanie remembered details of our trips to Italy and many meals at my table. Marco offered to cook us a seafood meal from his village on an island off Brazil.

In addition to an antipasti platter with cheese and salumi, I prepared:

  • String beans in a tomato sauce
  • Steamed broccoli the way my family likes it. Simple but delicious
  • Baby Italian eggplant in the oven (melanzane al forno)
  • Red bell peppers charred on top of the stove and marinated
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Sauteed broccoli rabe

Later I made 3 quick sauces served with choke the priest pasta–strozzapreti

  • Pesto trapanese (Sicily)
  • Gorgonzola e crema (Northern Italy)
  • San Marzano tomato, garlic and oregano sugo (Campania)

For wines:

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Lacryma Christi Bianco from near my mother’s birth village in Campania
  • Terradora Di Paolo Aglianico, a medium-bodied red from the noble Campania grape

Three and a half hours after we started we ran out of wine. The group decided to walk off some of our meal. We ambled down Macondray Lane to bug Ron and Mike at Little City Meats. Mike told us that the Christmas sausage was a Sicilian base with aged provolone and basil added. A really rich and delicious concoction. Dan bought a bunch to add to his luncheon the next day. Karla had just roasted the porchetta she bought there (after explaining to Mike she wanted it “butterflied like a HoHo” – ha!). Jeff grabbed a gallon of the Ciuti EVOO just in from Sicily.

Gianni's Free Cooking Class
Bugging the guys at Little City

As we were gathered under the awning saying our goodbyes and Buon Natale! all around, we heard “Gianni! – from the internet!” A couple and their son Massimo (great name) in from Napa. They were shut out of the demo (sorry) but came into Little City anyway. Gonna have to start wearing sunglasses when I go down to The Village.

Grazie, everyone who came out, and for those of you we couldn’t squeeze into my apartment, I hope you’ll come out to the next demonstration, which will happen soon, I promise!

PS: My first cooking e-book is in production, with the six recipes from the demo plus four more. Stay tuned!

Scranton, PA Does North Beach Italian

Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Cioppino: North Beach to Scranton; photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick

I’ll do The Scranton Times Tribune a huge favor and refrain from telling any Dunder Mifflin jokes in this post. It’s the least I can do, since this article they ran explains how the fabulous one-pot alternative to the traditional Christmas Eve  7-fish meal that originated here in North Beach – Cioppino – was a winner in their “Recipes We Love” contest!

Cioppino, for the uninitiated, is a seafood stew made with crab, clams, shrimp and various other types of fish. It was created in the late 1800s by Italian fishermen from San Francisco’s North Beach area. As the story goes, a group of them gathered after a long day at sea and began throwing that day’s catch into a large soup pot.

In addition to giving the recipe, the article tells the lovely story of how its owner, 91-year-old Lithuanian immigrant, Ann Randazzo, inherited it from her Italian-American mother-in-law who’d worked in a cannery in San Jose early last century. It’d been given to her by a Portuguese-born friend of hers. The head spins at the global span of this recipe’s history!

But it’s travelled too far for me.  Let me bring this recipe back to its North Beach roots. I’ll post my cioppino recipe soon. But here are some suggestions in the meantime.

Ingredient Modification

  • No stewed tomatoes. Use San Marzano from Italia.
  • No green onion. Rough chop a half of yellow onion.
  • Save the chopped parsley to spread over the finished dish. Throw in 2 parsley sprigs to the sauce instead.
  • No king crab. 1 or 2 fresh dungeness crabs, broken into pieces. See my linguine with crab sauce to see how to handle fresh crab.
  • No imitation crab. Put in a couple filets of fresh sea bass or your favorite fish.
  • No chopped canned clams. Just use 2-3 fresh little necks/person instead. You could add some mussels too.

Instruction Modification

  1. Give the crab pieces a head start when the sauce is simmering just below the boil, 2-3 minutes. Then put in the fish filet and the shrimp. Watch them they might be done in less than 15 minutes. Don’t go too long with the crab, shrimp and filets because they’ll continue cooking for the 3 or so minutes it will take the clams/mussels to open.
  2. When the shrimp are starting to go pink and curl and the filets are no longer very translucent add the little necks and mussels if your using them. The sauce is done when the clams/mussels open. Discard any clams/mussels that don’t open.
  3. Mrs. Rendazzo says she likes to let the sauce stand for an hour or two. I wouldn’t. The fish will be way overcooked. Serve immediately.
  4. Top each bowl with a drizzle of good EVOO and the chopped parsley.
  5. No grated cheese. Savor the fresh unadulterated taste of the sea.

San Francisco vs. New York: Food War?

Panel: Wong, Altman, Unterman, Burns

Remember Stars? The Public Library exhibit San Francisco Eats opened Saturday with a great panel who recounted the last 25 years of San Francisco food, including that Jeremiah Tower landmark restaurant.

Panel: Wong, Altman, Unterman, Burns

The highlight of the discussion

In 1995, San Franciscans didn’t know what they had. That’s why Gene Burns started his KGO/AM food, wine and travel show. He had to convince us that we were the food mecca of America. His interests are broad and deep and he shares it all. The greatest thing he said, though, was that San Francisco should declare culinary war on New York for the title. He even claimed he once tried to organize a battle, but that NYC declined because they knew they’d lose, for the following reasons:

  • We have great local produce, fish, meats, cheeses, artisan food products and wines.
  • Culinary talent, ethnic diversity, and fabulous food opportunities abound.
  • We’re passionate and serious foodies.

The crowd in the auditorium, in true SF style, seemed uneasy with how much they agreed with him.

Other notable stuff…

Joey Altman
Altman was humble, perhaps too humble. His Bay Cafe cooking show was a favorite of mine from 1998, and it became a model for behemoths like Food Network. No bullshit (well maybe a little), just cooking. He couldn’t keep up with the Food Network celebrities as food gave way to glitz.

Patricia Unterman
Unterman seemed very melancholy about the web, calling herself a “dinosaur” repeatedly. I think not. When I arrived in the city, she was my first food guide as the Chronicle’s restaurant critic, and her Hayes Street Grill remains an inspiration of local and fresh food. She’s locked in at the Examiner, a fading print newspaper growing smaller and smaller. She wants room for more words. She deserves it.

Melanie Wong
Wong saw the food web grow for over a decade and her Chowhound discussion board is a must read. She understands food in the cultural context and is a smart, wide-ranging observer of the diverse San Francisco food scene. In countering Unterman’s pessimistic view of the internet and it’s diffusion of expertise, Wong gave the necessary (if predictable) response: Many use their social network to get food advice and with good search tools you’ll find the web cooking resources that are right for you.

I couldn’t agree more!

San Francisco Food History Exhibit

New Joe's Restaurant, North Beach

New Joe's Restaurant, North Beach
New Joe’s Restaurant, 1941, North Beach. Image courtesy of SF Public Library

The SF Public Library is hosting a new exhibit called San Francisco Eats, and it’s all about the unique food history of our fair city:

San Francisco Eats showcases the culinary delights that can be found in the San Francisco Public Library’s collections dating back to the mid 19th century and will serve as a visual feast for visitors of all ages. From the Gold Rush to Slow Food, San Francisco has never stopped being a beacon of gastronomic delight.

This exhibition includes menus, historical photographs, an array of food writers, cookbooks and culinary history, ephemera such as coasters and matchbooks, and San Francisco food inventions, including gadgets and signature dishes.

I’ll be attending an opening-day event, hoping to learn something about my favorite intersection of food and history in SF – you guessed it! – North Beach! Come out and say hello.

Ciuti 2010 First Cold Pressed Sicilian EVOO Has Arrived

Ciuti EVOO

We’ve been waiting for weeks for this year’s press to arrive. Word came that the olive oil, from trees in the foothills near Agrigento, was finally put on a boat in Sicily. It arrived in LA a couple of weeks later. I was there when the pallets arrived at Little City Meats.

Ciuti EVOO

My first tasting notes: fresh, buttery, nice full olive flavor, golden-green hue and a bit of a peppery finish!

At $22/gallon it sounds pricey, but try to match that price per ounce at the supermarket. And this is the good stuff! Who knows what’s in those other bottles you see on store shelves.

You gotta be careful – often the label states “Imported from Italy” or “Packed in Italy” but the olives might be from anywhere (usually not olives grown in Italy). This extra virgin olive oil from Little City is the everyday extra virgin oil in my kitchen. (When you go, be sure to tell the guys that Gianni sent ya!) I also have finishing oils that are expensive – not used for cooking but only to add to a dish before serving.

For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of living in my village of North Beach in San Francisco, there is one place to buy this online that I could find. (It’s $25/gallon plus about $5 shipping, and currently showing out-of-stock.)