Hubby, who has lived in Bernal/Outer Mission a lot longer than me, claims that there was a time when Verona Pizza, which had been on 30th Street at the end of Church for years, was quite good...However, he never could get me to go there: it was *always* empty, so empty that I used to speculate unkindly about both the food and the true nature of the business, and anyway, I am not a big fan of pizza even when it is good enough to justify crowds out the door....
Nonetheless, I always loved the location of Verona Pizza: very convenient to walk to from our home, tucked away on a quiet street and yet right on the muni line: it just seemed like the perfect neighborhood venue for a small, family operation, and I have day-dreamed for years about the day when a really nice, moderately priced chef-owned restaurant, operated with love, would appear there ..
Well, it will take a few more visits to be sure, but La Ciccia, the new Sardinian restaurant in that location, is a real find, and I left thinking that perhaps my day dream has come true!
We called ahead for a table, and I was glad we had: the place was packed the entire time we were there, and I saw a few groups get turned away.
Upon arriving, we were greeted and seated immediately. No waiting as pate man described below. Indeed, there were almost more staff than seemed to be needed, and it is hard to imagine anyone standing ignored in the doorway for 15 minutes. Either his experience was an aberration, or they ramped up the service staff, or both.
The restaurant is very small, and thus tables are a bit closer spaced than I like, especially the two tops. Looking back on the evening, that table spacing was probably my only real complaint (well, the bread was nothing to write home about, either). There is a small bar area but the stools looked comfortable: perhaps a good place for a solo dinner. I was a bit surprised by the number of families and small children given the relative sophistication of the menu and the fact that this was a Saturday evening, (but then, this is the edge of Noe Valley, and we did go fairly early). Hubby says the décor hasnt changed that much but that it cleaned up nice: amazing what some fresh paint, lighting and getting rid of plastic plants will do...
As one might expect in a small place, the menu, which concentrates on Sardinian specialties, reflecting the chefs heritage, is somewhat limited, with three or four choices each of appetizers, pastas and mains, about five pizzas and just a few specials. While we looked over the menu, the proprietress came over to chat. We learned that La Ciccia had been open less than a week. She also mentioned that they had kept pizza on the menu primarily because the space already had the pizza oven, and that they still do offer pizza to go, although not the rest of the menu. I can see how the pizzas would be popular with the families eating there, but we had no intention of trying them. I did see them going out to several tables, and it is definitely *not* a thin crust pizza for those that care about such things. Id say this is not a location to order pizza (but then, I do have that anti-pizza bias )
She also mentioned that they use the oven to bake their own bread. However, the rolls we were served were nothing special, and certainly didnt taste freshly baked. Just a bit stale, if anything. No butter or olive oil was offered with the bread.
Prices are quite reasonable, with most appetizers around six dollars, pastas in the ten to twelve dollar range, and all entrees priced at 17 dollars or thereabouts.
The wine list is quite a bit longer than the menu, and appears to be all-Italian. Given the relatively low food prices, it is a bit too heavy on upper end bottles, IMO, with relatively few choices under $30, and not that many under $40 or even $50. There are wine flights available, and a fairly decent selection of wines by the glass (which are all relatively reasonably priced). After asking for a recommendation we ordered a bottle of Grotta Rosa 2003 Carignano del suicis, Santadi, a Sardinian wine priced in the mid-thirties, that we both enjoyed very much. Still, there is a bit of a disconnect between food and wine prices if one isnt careful. Ask for recommendations, they do know the list and steered us well.
On to the food: We shared the salumi plate, with about five different offerings all made under the Chefs supervision. My favorite was the fennel sausage. The plate came with some nice flat bread and olive oil. Yumm.
Next, we also shared the mixed green salad with basalmic marinated onions. Simple, not overly dressed, and quite enjoyable.
Hubby ordered the tombo(albacore) tuna braised in a wine and tomato sauce, which consisted of small chunks of fish in sauce, like a stew. Now I am not the biggest tombo fan, but I thought it tasted a little assertive, (perhaps too fishy?). However, hubby disagreed and loved it. Even I loved the sauce: complex but not overly heavy, with a touch of mint. It was quite addictive and I found myself stealing spoonful after spoonful.
I had the lasagnette with cabbage and pecorino: sheets of pasta layered with the other ingredients. Delicious and understated.
Portions were generous, but not ridiculously so.
For dessert we ordered a milk pudding with barley and saba; however, someone made a mistake and brought out a ricotta tart with limoncello, a touch of saffron, and candied fruits instead.. I had just sent it back and was thinking to myself: you ditz: you should have sent it back after you tasted it' ;), when the chef came over to personally apologize, to deliver both desserts for us to try with his explanation of each. The verdict: we both preferred the barley pudding, but barely. Both desserts combined both savory and sweet in a manner that was unusual, refreshing and delicious.
If I wasnt already convinced that La Ciccia is dreamy, that gracious gesture of bringing both desserts would have done it. Indeed, the service was remarkably good for a neighborhood place, let alone one that has only been open a week: pacing was good, everyone was friendly yet professional and wine and water glasses were both kept consistently full.
We ended the meal with an espresso and a cappuccino, brought out after dessert (cudos).
The bill for two apps, one pasta, one main, one dessert (the other was compd) , a bottle of wine, and two espresso drinks, with tax and tip, was $106.
Well be back. Probably often.
291 30th St. (at Church)