Just ate at Emma's (North Beach - Mason and Chestnut) tonight. Held out against going to Azie (still really tempted by 9 bites and 9 more bites) and Da Flora didn't have a table for me. I was impressed by Emma's - it was very good quality at a very reasonable price. Ideale last week was good, but this was even better (and cheaper, except that I splurged, got 4 courses and way over ate, but in a good sort of way.)
First the bad parts:
The menu is a bit disorganized, and the selections are very limited - a range of appetizers, 1 pasta, 1 pizza, 3 main dishes. But at least there about 5-6 desserts (including a dessert tasting that I should have gotten instead of an extra middle course.)
Service needs a lot of more polishing, but at least the waitstaff are nice and earnest.
Then the good parts:
Quiet, no crowds. Fairly spacious.
A small (good sized appetizer for 1) plate of mixed antipasti - marvellous olive aroma in the chickpea and celery salad probably due to a very good olive oil used, a good bean salad with tomato sauce and olives, great golden beets with a light olive oil and walnut dressing, salami and cheese, delicious sundried tomatoes and mozzarella.
An above average fritto misto - the calamari had good calamari flavor and was tender and slightly crunchy. The batter didn't stick to the whole anchovies very much, but the fish was still good. Also included battered fennel and onions. And a nice but not exceptional aioli. I got a middle course portion of this for $9 instead of a entree portion which was going about $14.
I was leaning toward the tuna entree, but the waiter strongly recommended the fantastic polenta coated fried chicken which I got. I was a bit apprehensive when the plate came bone-dry without any sauce, but after my first bite, I realized that all the liquid was inside the food! It turned out to be the moistest and most delicious chicken I've had in a very very long time. The boneless pieces of the chicken sat on a bed of sweet corn and cherry tomatoes, and the veggies were really sweet and juicy and the little shreds of basil did wonders to lift the corn and tomato.
Dessert was a very good peach crisp (peach is in season isn't it?) that was also recommended by the waiter. The peach chunks were just slightly gooey and the crisp on top had nice oat flakes and flavor, a good complement to the peach.
BTW, this place was reviewed in the chron a while ago, and bauer claimed that it was very inconsistent. If anyone else has been there, I'd love to hear your opinion.