Restaurants & Bars

Trattoria Contadina and Caffe Riace - one good one bad

Wendy Lai | Aug 19, 200212:54 PM    

Over the weekend I went to two different Italian places, one very good, one very bad.

Trattoria Contadina is a super busy neighborhood place at the corner of Mason and Union in SF. Many times I’ve driven or walked by and always seen the place packed with people waiting on the sidewalks. Last Saturday I finally went to find out for myself.
Trattoria Contadina serves traditional Italian fare, no California-izing anything there. I ordered their Caser salad and clams and mussels appetizers, while my companions ordered smoked salmon with a vodka mustard sauce and tortallinies with pesto sauce and prochuetto with melons and linguine with clams. All the pasta dishes were prepared very well, al dente and accompanied with the right amount of sauce. The pesto obviously was home-made and not out of a jar, the aroma of basil and garlic was readily present in the creamy pesto sauce. The clam sauce with the linguini was light and fresh, full of garlic and parsley. My Caser salad was refreshing though a big over-dressed for my taste. The clam and mussels steamed in white wine and fresh herbs was fragrant with saffron, something I can taste even after the empty dish was cleared away. Homemade tiramisu and hazelnut gelato finished off the dinner. Both desserts were lip-smacking good! I have to give extra point to the hazelnut gelato; it was creamy, hazlenuty and just sooooo good.
The only downside was the wine by the glass selection weren’t too good, and the place was a bit too crowded and noisy. Customer waiting for their table at the bar basically stood right behind my chair the whole entire time.
Overall Trattoria Contadina is a definitely a winner, we would go back again.

So I escaped the fate of Nolla’s at Palo Alto to this bridal shower I had to go to yesterday. Instead the party was moved to Caffe Riace in the business district in Palo Alto. I’ve not been to Nolla’s, but it couldn’t have been worse than Caffe Riace which was surprising because I’ve been there two years ago (I forgot I did until I got there) and back then it wasn’t bad at all.
The whole restaurant is outdoors in a courtyard of an apartment. I’ll give points for décor and outdoor dining atmosphere, but that would be the end of it. Their pasta dishes were dry and mediocre, practically every pasta dish that arrived looked like something I could’ve have made at home. I didn’t order any pasta; I had the sword fish instead, which came with a small side of pasta and sauté veggies. The fish was done well, not dried, but nor was it especially flavorful. I wouldn’t complain so much about the food if it wasn’t compounded by the terrible service we had. The restaurant was practically empty, yet the waiter was slow to come to our table and forgot two people’s appetizers. When questioned about the forgotten soup when the entrées were served his reply was “oh, you still want that?”
We had to ask for the check many times, and when it finally came, he took it back because he said he made a mistake, we had to wait for another 15 minutes before he reappeared with the corrected version. I would definitely not go back to Caffe Riace again.

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