Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dish on Dining: Beretta

Hip to Pizza and Cocktails in the Mission
1199 Valencia St. (at 23rd), San Francisco
Mission District
PH: 415.695.1199
Dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., lunch on weekends
No reservations (except for parties of 6 or larger), major credit cards accepted

Sometimes it takes me awhile to get to a restaurant with buzz, and Beretta is one of those places. Lucky for me, it’s still a place that’s buzzing even after making its debut early last year.

Beretta is in the spot that was formerly home to The Last Supper Club, which was taken over by Beretta’s owner-chef Ruggero Gadaldi more than three years ago. Gadaldi reinvented the space into a casual but elegant restaurant that’s capitalizing on the city’s current mixology craze with its extensive cocktail menu.

Gadaldi’s Italian menu, including thin Neapolitan-style pizzas, are also drawing the crowds, which not surprisingly can be epic on Friday and Saturday nights. Which is why I checked it out on a Monday (OK, call me a wimp but I hate waiting on the weekends for dinner).

I actually was meeting my friend John Vlahides, who some of you may recall I interviewed about travel dining awhile back. John came home a few weeks ago from a trip to Morocco, where he was shooting a new TV travel show for Lonely Planet. (John will be one of several hosts of the show about off-the-beaten-path travels. For now, the new show is only scheduled to air outside of the United States.)

As I lived vicariously through John’s traveling adventures, I ordered a drink recommended by our waitress. It was called the Nuestra Paloma ($9) made with tequila, elderflower, Cointreau, grapefruit and bitters. I’m a big fan of any citrus-based drinks, and the Neustra Paloma was pretty and fresh. But I wasn’t necessarily blown away given some of the buzz about the drinks all over the Web.

Later on I ordered the Pisco Punch ($10) because Pisco is my latest favorite alcohol since this Latin staple became more readily available in the states last year. While it was mixed well, again I wasn’t floored. The lesson learned, for me, is maybe I need to venture past my favorites and try something different, like the Acadian made with rye, sloe gin, lemon, honey, absinthe and rosemary. That’s definitely on my list to try next time.

For our food, John ordered the Monday special (there’s one for every day), which was a braised pork hock, cavolo nero and polenta ($14). It looked like what you would think something called a pork hock would look like, meaning it was a chunk of meat on a bone. I tasted a bit of it and the pork hock was nice but the flavors didn’t hit any unusual notes, just solid slow-cooked pork.

I started with the Roasted Beets with Ricotta Salata ($6) from Beretta’s long list of antipasti. The small bowl of red and golden beets were covered with thinly sliced ricotta drizzled with a light vinaigrette. The ricotta slices looked almost like butterflies covering any sign of the beets.

This is a slightly better view of the beets after dishing them out from under the ricotta. The beets were tender and fresh, and the flavors very simple and clean. The ricotta was mild and added more a textural element to the dish than taste.

I also wanted to try Beretta’s famous pizzas, so I ordered the Funghi Misti pizza ($14). It was a mix of wild mushrooms with tomato, fontina and thyme. While all the flavors were good, I was struck by how incredibly thin the pizza crust was. It was almost like a flatbread cracker.

John liked how the chefs sprinkled salt around the crust, adding another dimension to the pizza. I thought it was enjoyable although I still couldn’t get past how thin the pizza was. (Really, it could almost be as thin as paper. OK, I exaggerate, but not by much.)

Wanting to try more, I decided to order another antipasti, but Beretta leans toward several deep-fried items, which I generally avoid. So instead I ordered the Monterey Sardines en Saƶr ($7). This is a classic Italian antipasti that marinades the sardines in vinegar. It definitely was sour, but I did enjoy the fresh and meaty sardines.

Our food came out pretty quickly as we ordered, even as the restaurant filled up (and that’s a Monday night). Some people have complained about the service during peak times, so I can’t say that I’ve tested this. But I can say that eating early at Beretta definitely gives you a chance to enjoy the ambiance and receive efficient service.

The dessert menu seemed a bit lacking, made up mostly of gelato. But John and I decided to try the Panna Gelato with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt ($7). You might think it’s weird eating ice cream with olive oil, but I’ve mentioned before one of my favorite things to do at home is to drizzle lemon-flavored olive oil over French vanilla ice cream.

The Panna Gelato had an incredible texture and simple flavor, but I felt the scoop of gelato was sitting in way too much olive oil (yes, even for me). And the olive oil didn’t necessarily have a premium flavor. It seemed a bit generic, lacking any grassy or floral undertones.

While I definitely would go back to Beretta, it’s not the type of buzz-worthy place that I would wait an hour or more for a table (which is reportedly the case on the weekends since they don’t take reservations). Note: You can call 45 minutes before you plan to arrive at the restaurant to put your name on the waiting list.

I can see how Beretta is a fun place to meet friends and nibble and drink. There’s a huge communal table running down the center of the dining room and everyone’s in a festive mood. The price points for the dishes are excellent for the current economy (one pizza and a drink makes a perfect dinner), but I didn’t fall in love with Beretta the way others have in the food buzz world.

The dishes are all made with fresh ingredients, but the taste profiles aren’t any different than any other fine Italian restaurant. It’s a place to check out if you’re in the neighborhood, but I wouldn’t travel far or wait long despite the buzz.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Clean Fresh Italian)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Beretta on Urbanspoon


Passionate Eater said...

The beau and I have been looking for real Italian pizza (really, really thin crust), and I think you just found a great place for us to try! Wow, Chef Ben, it is neat to be mingling with Lonely Planet elite! I think they need a Lonely Planet tv correspondent to Argentina or Vietnam, and you would be the perfect pick!

David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

I went to Beretta recently and really loved it, especially the thin-crust pizza. If you go back try the rattlesnake cocktail(rye, lemon, maple, bitters, egg white) -- delicious and unlike any cocktail I've had. -- David

Anonymous said...

The pizza sounds really good! Thin crust stuff has really turned me into a pizza girl. I don't like thick crust or lots of cheese or sauce and I love it when there's salt on the crust. Thanks for pointing this place out Chef Ben!

Anonymous said...

Beretta is the bomb -- and I do think they have a particular take on Italian food. It's far different from, say, Incanto on the experimental end, and your workaday red-sauce Italian restaurant. It's not regional, but they have a modern take on Italian food. And oh yes, the cocktails! It's really all about the cocktails.