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A16 update (longish)

Mad Russian | Jan 19, 2005 06:45 PM

I finally managed persuade enough friends to have dinner last night at A16 to ostensibly be able to taste my way through the menu for a real review. In this I was almost successful, as I will explain below.

The reservations were made a week previously for 6:00, the only available time. There were to be eight of us. 6:00 being a difficult time for many, half of our group was very late. The hostess very graciously allowed us an hour’s grace before we finally sat down, but we spent that hour very profitably tasting our way through Tim the wine guy’s selections at the bar and picking up on single women.

Andrew the sommelier greeted us even before the water came for the food order. We quickly settled on our choices so that we could select the wines. Andrew came up with two selections for us, a 99 Terredora Taurasi to accompany the starters and fish dishes, and an 01 Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco for the meat course. Both wines proved exceptional and well matched to the selected dishes, the former being bright and peppery and the latter mellow, soft, and full of butter and brown earth.

Us being eight, we were restricted to the more limited group menu. For starters we ordered the pizza con funghi, the ciccioli, and the finocchiana. The pizza was earth-shaking: full of porcini goodness on a soft thin crust that perfectly reproduced the best I’ve had in Italy. It was so good that we seriously considered canceling the rest of the food to eat more pizza. The ciccioli and finocchiana were both house-cured, one being a scrumptious, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth delicate pork belly terrine, and the other a spicy dry pork shoulder sausage.

Having thus whetted our appetites we tucked into the pasta, of which we ordered both available kinds: maccaronara with ragu and ricotta and laghane with porcini and pancetta. I will tackle the laghane first: it is a fresh (really fresh!) pasta in the shape of thickish al-dente squares and served with a surfeit of porcini, drowning in porcini, with a porcini topper, and with a bit of cream-based binding to keep it all together. I could have eaten that all night. The maccaronara was a fresh long pasta, like spaghetti but thicker, almost as thick as Shanghai noodles, made perfectly al-dente, and served with the best tomato sauce that I have tasted since my last trip to Italy. I must admit, I am not a fan of tomato sauces for the most part, but in this one I could taste the volcanic soil of Naples backed with an immensely deep flavor from a much-reduced meat stock. It was a revelation.

We managed to share tastes of the pasta and starter courses, not without attempts to hoard, but by the time the main courses rolled around nobody was willing to share any. After much deliberation I had the beef short ribs in tomato sauce with a side of braised kale. The ribs came boneless and were cooked to the melt-on-my-fork perfection and drowned in a deeply flavored sauce that gave the pasta a run for its money. The bitter kale turned out to be a perfect foil for the richness of the dish. I was eying the sole filets and lamb riblets on others’ plates with impotent covetousness, but nothing was doing.

Despite being stuffed very nearly to capacity, we seriously considered reviving the Roman custom of visiting the vomitorium to make room for the dessert. If those senators ate half as well, they should have our understanding.

In the end we forced ourselves to partake of the three-cheese plate (with a cacciocavallo, a creamy and strong Italian bleu I had not previously encountered, and another hard cheese made of blended sheeps’ and cows’ milk), a deliciously balanced semifreddo, and a complex and deep spice cake that, frankly, I think cannot be given justice as a mere dessert but rather deserves to be eaten in its own meal. All this we washed down with an unctuous 03 Ben Rye Passito di Pantalleria made from the zibibbo grape.

I will be back.
Mad Russian

A16 is at 2355 Chestnut St. (415) 771-2216

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