There is, quite simply, too much great pasta in the Bay Area. In submitting our nominations for today's feature, Pasta Porn: 101 of Americas Most Delicious Noodle Dishes, we at Grub Street San Francisco found ourselves angling to have our corner of the country occupy about a third of the national list, and that, our cohorts in New York said, just wasn't fair. The dishes that made that list, while great, by no means reflect all the amazing and varied regional pastas around town and around the Bay especially from the many restaurants that delve deeply into specific regions of Italy like Perbacco (Piemonte), Da Flora (Venice), Bar Bambino (Friuli), and Farina (Liguria) and thus we had to do our own feature to recognize a group of dishes that all belong on a best list, but for reasons of interstate diplomacy, had to be cut to get the list down to 101. (Now we know how Bauer feels!) Here they are, in alphabetical order by restaurant. Now, please forgive us but we're going on an indefinite carb fast.
Fregula With Asparagus, Almond, Meyer Lemon
A16, San Francisco
2355 Chestnut Street
Newly installed chef David Taylor is doing a delicious spring preparation of fregula — the toasted pearl pasta that he imports from Puglia is the only pasta on his menu that's not made in-house. The dish includes a light creamy sauce of pecorino and mascarpone, and is brightened by the addition of Meyer lemon zest. Crunchy almonds contrast beautifully with the tender, equally nutty fregula.
Ridged Pasta With Foie Gras and Marsala
Acquerello, San Francisco
1722 Sacramento Street
415.567.5432; Part of a multi-course tasting menu starting at $64
One of the only dishes to have stayed on the menu year after year at 22-year-old Acquerello is this decadent dish of rigatini (small rigatoni), and with good reason. It's the kind of sauce you can't stand to run out of and want to lick clean — the perfect mix of foie gras, cream, black truffle, and marsala, with no single ingredient overpowering the other. All of Acquerello's pastas are excellent, but this is the one you dream about afterward. (Selected by Marcia Gagliardi, of Tablehopper fame.)
Spaghetti With Braised Lamb Shoulder, Mint, and Peas
Bar Agricole, San Francisco
355 11th Street
An amazingly simple but stunning dish from chef Brandon Jew, combining spring flavors of lamb, mint, and peas with a touch of chili flake and parmesan to make something incredibly layered, sophisticated, and Californian.
Goat-cheese-ricotta-semolina Malfatti with Black Kale and Walnuts
Bar Bambino, San Francisco
2931 16th Street
At one point they were calling them topfenknodel, which is what they'd be called in parts of Friuli and Tyrol, and to avoid customer confusion they changed the menu description to say "dumplings," but as owner Christopher Losa says, "Anywhere else in Italy these would be malfatti," or malformed gnocchi. The semolina gives them structure, but these comforting, onion-y wonders from the German-influenced corner of northeastern Italy are unique even in a city rich with specifically regional Italian menus. Paired with kale, a light vinegar-based sauce, and walnuts, they speak to a type of fusion cuisine we long to learn more about.
Orecchiette with Cavolo Nero and Sausage
Barbacco, San Francisco
220 California Street
These little ears of pasta, served with black-leaf kale and fennel sausage, are a classic dish in the Northern Italian canon, but chef Staffan Terje's version at his Roman off-shoot of Perbacco are brilliantly bright and flavorful, garnished generously with Pecorino. We'd even argue this dish rivals Lupa's version with broccoli rabe
Saffron Risotto With Osso Bucco
Beretta, San Francisco
1199 Valencia Street
One of the best dishes of risotto we tried, complimented by one of Beretta's excellent cocktails, was this bowl of saffron risotto topped with a rich almost-ragu of veal osso bucco. Risotto purists might balk at all that distraction on top, but this risotto, cooked perfectly al dente and beautifully creamy, is made all the heartier with the addition of the meat, and we probably wouldn't call ourselves purists with regard to anything.
Farm-Egg Tagliatelle With Duck Sugo
Bistro Aix, San Francisco
3340 Steiner StreetStreet
Chef-owner Jonathan Beard makes some of critic Patricia Unterman's favorite pasta, and the one she calls out in particular is his simple spaghettini with tomato sauce, which she calls his "Cinderella dish." We prefer the tagliatelle, which varies a bit by season — pictured here, it's with a duck sugo and morels, but he also tosses it with coq au Riesling and matsutakes, or something similar, depending on the week.
Ricotta Gnocchi With House-Cured Lamb Belly
The Blue Plate, San Francisco
3218 Mission Street
Blue Plate remains one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants in town, and these ricotta gnocchi, light as can be, are a shining example of why we still love the place. Here they're paired with crunchy scarlet turnips and some divine cured lamb belly, and doused in a deeply flavorful lamb jus.
Tagliolini With Dungeness Crab
Cotogna, San Francisco
490 Pacific Street
Pastas take a starring roll at Quince's casual little sister, and by all accounts they're just as amazing — if not so daintily plated — as they are at Quince. The tagliolini with Dungeness crab may not be on the menu much longer, but fear not: you seriously can't go wrong with any of the ever-changing fresh pasta options (Jonathan Kauffman at the Weekly is especially a fan of the pappardelle with oven-braised lamb, if you happen to catch that one).
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Da Flora, San Francisco
701 Columbus Avenue
At this cozy Venetian restaurant with a touch of Hungarian influence (owner Flora Gaspar is of Hungarian descent), the sweet potato gnocchi have long been a signature. The well-seasoned cream sauce is flavored with sage, brown butter, and pancetta, and it's another of those lick-the-plate-clean situations. This dish has been called out more than once by the citizen reviewers on Check Please! Bay Area, and Tablehopper's Marcia Gagliardi also named this as one of her favorites in town.
Delfina, San Francisco
3621 18th Street
James Beard Award-winning chef Craig Stoll says you can find dishes of the large tubular paccheri pasta like this, in various seafood ragus, up and down the Western coast of Italy. Stoll's version, made with true cod and a rich, wine-y tomato sauce with seafood stock as its base, is as good as any you'd have in Amalfi, we'd wager.
Fettucine Alfredo With Pancetta
Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, San Francisco
18 Virginia Street at Mission
While the spaghetti and meatballs at this twelve-year-old outer-Mission hang is cheap and solid, our favorite is the similarly no-frills fettucine alfredo, which is hearty, cheesy, well seasoned, and accented with a generous handful of smoky, pan-fried chunks of pancetta.
Mandilli Di Seta Al Pesto Struffuggae
Farina, San Francisco
3560 18th Street
One of the finest plates of pasta in town is also, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the most expensive. Opening chef Paolo Laboa won a competition in Italy for his Genovese basil pesto, and here it dresses some delicate and tender handkerchief pasta, just the way (allegedly), Laboa's mother used to make it. It is wildly delicious, but you'll have to get over the sticker shock to enjoy it.
Flour + Water, San Francisco
2401 Harrison Street
Easily the most delightful pasta shape we encountered on our pasta tour, these ravioli made in the shape of wrapped candies or caramels — hence, caramelle — came filled with a light, lemony ricotta and were topped with toasted pine nuts, pea tendrils, Meyer lemon zest, and butter. We thought the restaurant deserved a second mention with these, since chef Thomas McNaughton, who's up for a James Beard Rising Star award, can do no wrong when it comes to pasta.
Trottoloni With Asparagus and Meyer Lemon
Frances, San Francisco
3870 17th Street
This extruded pasta, which is almost the shape of those environmentally friendly, corkscrew, fluorescent light bulbs, gets a bright spring treatment by chef Melissa Perello with a buttery mascarpone-cream sauce, lemon, chives, and toasted walnuts. It's filling without feeling heavy, and the nuts pair especially well with the asparagus, adding great texture.
Bacon, Egg and Cheese Mac
400 40th Street
Owners and co-chefs Erin Wade and Allison Arevalo recently opened this buzzing temple of mac-and-cheese on a quiet stretch of 40th Street in Oakland, and it's already adding quite a bit of noise, especially from neighborhood twentysomethings in search of a cheap and satisfying dinner. Our favorite among their baked mac-and-cheese concoctions is the bacon-and-cheddar combo topped with bread crumbs and a fried egg. We'd eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Agnolotti dal Plin
Osteria Coppa, San Mateo
139 South B Street
Chef Chanan Kamen, who turns out to be Michael Tusk's cousin and recently left the pasta station at Quince to open his place on the Peninsula, is making some of Patricia Unterman's favorite pastas these days. She writes, "His pasta dishes, like his mentor's, are all about the noodle — noodles that have such springy, teasing yet satiny texture, they enthrall the mouth." Our favorite are the Piemonte-style agnolotti filled with roast pork, guinea hen, and veal, and lightly sauced with chicken jus, butter and parmesan. But you can hardly go wrong with his excellent Bolognese, or his tajarin with black truffle butter (Patty's fave).
Raviora With Meyer Lemon, Ricotta, and Asparagus
Perbacco, San Francisco
230 California Street
We can't come up with any more accolades for the pasta at Perbacco, but suffice it to say it deserves a second mention here, after the national list, for a spring-y dish we had recently from chef Staffan Terje. These delicate ravioli ("raviora" is just "ravioli" in Piemontese dialect) are stuffed with lemon-y ricotta, and plated atop a minty asparagus passatina.
Farro Gamelli With Wild Mushrooms, Nettles, and Ricotta
5008 Telegraph Avenue
Pizza may be the star at Charlie Hallowell's fraternal twin restaurants Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service, but his pastas are noteworthy too. We recently loved these earthy, farro-based gamelli tossed with onion, chanterelle mushrooms, nettles, and topped with the freshest of fresh ricotta.
Spinach-Ricotta Gnudi With Beef Ragu
The star of Poggio's always changing pasta menu has long been these light little ricotta "pillows" in a rich beef sauce. Michael Bauer commends chef Peter McNee for keeping up the quality at his eight-year-old Sausalito restaurant, and he's a big fan of the buckwheat tagliatelle with braised oxtail and horseradish gremolata.
Spaghetti With Seafood Sauce
Rose Pistola, San Francisco
532 Columbus Avenue
At fifteen-year-old Rose Pistola in North Beach, the menu has come back around to being more solidly Ligurian — it had strayed from its original, regional focus in the last few years — and one of the house specialties on the seafood-heavy menu is this bowl of spaghetti tossed with a well seasoned tomato-based seafood sauce, and a generous helping of calamari, mussels, salmon, and halibut.
Saffron Garganelli With Harissa Sausage
Vin Antico, San Rafael
881 Fourth Street
One of the most welcome and flavorful surprises we had on our pasta tour was this delicious, ultra-bold bowl of pasta from chef Ed Vigil. He starts his sauce with an unconventional mirepoix of turnips, carrot, and celery root and layers in a dozen or so spices, as well as house-made harissa sausage and an herb-rich chicken jus. It's highly nontraditional, and wildly delicious.
Casareccia with Short-Rib Ragu and Horseradish Gremolata
Zero Zero, San Francisco
881 Fourth Street
Executive chef-owner Bruce Hill and chef de cuisine Chris Whaley have a hit on their hands with Zero Zero based on the pizza, cocktails and the design-your-own sundaes alone. But the pastas the kitchen's been doing are worthy of foodgasms too, especially these delicious little spears of pasta tossed with a rich short-rib ragu, red onion, crème fraiche, and topped with horseradish gremolata. Once we're over our pasta hangover, we will definitely be ordering this again.
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