wlw18 | Sep 18, 200508:56 PM     4

I know, the number of reports on this place is getting obscene. I will briefly add to the fray.

I was fully prepared to dislike this place, or at least feel it was not worth the hype. I'm one of the few who feel that way about some famed restaurants from the same school (Chez Panisse, Zuni). I also DETEST bad service. However, I was most happily surprised.

I went w/ three others on Friday night. Yes, we waited an hour, but were prepared for that. We were seated right at 9, as they had said we would be. Had a bit of an odd interchange w/ our server at first, but then we started chatting about the Chron review and MB, and from that moment on he was friendly and personable.

The four of us split:
-- Baked Bellweather Farms Ricotta w/ Figs and Saba. DELICIOUS! My only (non)-complaint is that this could have been a dessert, it was so rich and salty-sweet. But yum, i could have liked the plate.
-- Bucatini alla Amitricianna. This is my BF"s favorite pasta, and we had it MANY times in Italy last year. This version was better than most of those. However, I will say if you order it, be sure to have a piece of the crunchy bacon (in the sauce) in each bite. It kind of gets overwhelmed by the pasta and sits on the plate unless you look for it, and it definitely makes the dish.
-- Gnocchi in brodo. OK, this was the only clunker. Three(!) gnocchi ($9!), which i immediately called Italian matzoh balls...that's what they looked and tasted like. Kinda mealy, and I thought the broth was salty. This was not at all what I expected, it's really a soup, and just didn't work for me.
Then, the pizzas. By far the best of all the "new"(ish) pizza places I've tried recently (Delfina, a16). I was worried the crust would be too soft, but it was pleasantly blistered and quite crisp though thin on the bottom. Perhaps they've been reading Robert's comments. We had two:
-- Sweet and spicy pepper w. salami and I can't remember what cheese. There was also crisp, fresh, uncooked parsely (big leaves) which was interesting, unusual, and tasty, on top. I really loved this one. But I also really loved the next one,
-- Al Pizzaialo (forgive my Italian if it's incorrect). This is the chef's whim, and hopefully this whim will strike again. it included sausage, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. I am not a huge person and I managed to put away four pieces between the two pieces (yes, after the appetizers).
-- We also had side of the polenta w/ grana. I've had the Anson Mills polenta before and must say this was a disappointment..it tasted like plain old grits. this polenta can be so lovely and rich on its own, I'm not sure why it didn't work here, but it made me a little sad (though I was so full it didn't matter much).
-- Rapini w/ chili. As others have reported lately w/ this veg, it was a bit stringy and bitter, but I still liked it.

And yes, we got dessert. Good things came in unpretentious packages. I was a bit disappointed when I saw the look of the plum cake, which looked bland and dry. But I was wrong! Moist, vanill-y, plum-y on top...I could have eaten pretty much the whole cake. We also got a panna cotta w/ fig jam, which the others liked, but I don't like panna cotta so didn't eat it. And, yes, my Blue Bottle cappuccino was yummy.

OK, not so brief. But I REALLY liked this place, wasn't expecting to, and given all the heated debate lately, thought I'd chime in. Especially on the service, which either is improving or we just lucked out (they did bring both pastas and the ricotta all at the same time, which was odd, but then we only had another 10 min or so before the pizzas--not bad at all. Maybe later is better bc the place was starting to slow down? Also, our waiter told us that MB had the same (bad) waiter twice, and he's since been let go, for whatever that's worth.)

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