Stopped into a new Italian spot on Union Street with friends on Wednesday -- it is called Capannina (I was told it is loosely translated to "little house/cabin/villa"). I guess they just opened on Monday night...look for the red neon sign out front.
Interior design is a nice change from what it used to be -- bright/red orange when it was Merenda. Now it is a very cool and soothing celedon color with dark wood and fresh flower accents, and draped curtains and striped cushioned banquettes along each wall to soften things up. They also have a little stone-topped back bar area serving what looks like a big selection of wines (wine bottles line the bookcase-like shelves all around the bar) and beer only. Makes for a cozy look and tempts you to linger in the slow food style (which is what we did).
Looks like they have mostly Italian wines and I can vouch for a wonderful Barolo we had with our appetizers of tuna tartare (standard but good), crab cakes (yum - very crisp thin coating and moist almost gooey inside), and mussels . The bread on the table had a really yummy crispy crust too and is served with a house pesto. Mains included a wild boar pasta, veal milanese (yum), and a great mushroom risotto. Everything was tasty though I thought the boar dish needed some oomph/more seasoning. I wished I tried the pasta with eggplant and the osso bucco, which tempted me from other tables. I'm not doing the dishes justice by my plain descriptions, but sometimes the simplicity of a few choice, fresh, seasonal ingredients is better than some of the more high concept places out there in SF and to me is what Italian cuisine is all about. So if that is what you are looking for this place is it.
They also had a FAB FAB FAB Italian cheese selection. We had a plate of five -- a goat, a double creme, a triple creme, a blue, and a wedge of reggiano parmesan, along with a nice porto to finish things off. We were told by our waiter that one of the owners of the restaurant is also an importer and supplies these cheeses among many others (including buffalo mozzarella) to specialty stores and restaurants in the Bay Area.
Staff was very cheerful and professional -- no missteps as far as I could tell, and the place was pretty buzzy for a place only open for three nights. If you happen to be there between 4:30 and 5:30 they have a fixed price menu which looks like a deal, and they also have regular daily specials, though the night I was there it was liver, so I had to pass. :) We didn't make it to the dessert menu, which looked tempting, but I was too stuffed after the cheeses. Check it out. It's on Union at Octavia. A nice addition to the neighborhood. Buon Appetito!