I read the Chronicle story about pasta in North Beach and Caffe Puccini got high marks, so I thought I would try it out for lunch today.
I had the Penne Rigata alla Marinara. And as it was mentioned in the Chron, the marinara sauce is very good. For the life of me I couldn't tell what the flavor was that made the sauce so good. I'm still burping up the flavor, so maybe by the end of this article I'll be able to tell you.
The pasta wasn't al dente but it was very firm and not over cooked. I could tell it was finished in the sauce.
It came with a basket of fresh onion foccacia (good, almost cake-like) and a side of Kraft grated parm (very bad, obviously to please the tourists, like the woman in the ugly Burberry scarf I wanted to strangle...anyway).
The place wasn't very busy, but then I noticed not many places were today, except, oddly, for Busters (the hotdog/cheesesteak place). At Puccini, there is no table service so you have to order at the counter and they bring it to you. The service was not friendly (or rude), but then I wasn't there to chat either. If I had out-of-town guests, I would take them there with a caveat. That is, we're going for the food, not the ambience or the service. But then, there are so many places in North Beach and Chinatown like that, isn't there? Which brings me back to Busters...they have the nicest guys that work there! Those guys rock! Medal of honor, all the way. And for $3.20 for a polish dog, definitely the deal of the neighborhood.
Anyway, since I've been working in North Beach and eating a lot more around the neighborhood, I've kind of gotten a feel for the area. Caffe Puccini's prices are low for the area, so this is good if you're in the neighborhood to eat simply. And walking by that side of the street, don't be surprised if someone says "buon giorno" from the door of a restaurant. If they do, reply "buon giorno" (BOHN-jorno) or "salve" (SAHL-vay). For some reason, it really surprised me that Italian is still spoken fluently in this neighborhood, even though so many of the people in it are either Anglo, Chinese, or Mexican.
Also, for lunch, try Palermo deli for the arrancini. They are really yummy and Molinari's doesn't carry them. They also have very good stuff peppers and they're usually not as busy as Molinari's. Speaking of, Molinari's $13.50 salame is a steal and very good. Washington Square park is great to sit in during lunch.
Mmm, I think that flavor could be anchovy, but it's really hard to tell. It's almost like a barbecue flavor...oh my god, I just had a horrible thought. What if they added a squirt of store-bought bbq sauce to the marinara!? I've heard of weirder things!