On Monday, my grandfather and his girlfriend took me to Venticello, at my request. My goal was to stay out of the Big 4 (his favorite) and go somewhere less stuffy but still walkable from his home by Grace Cathedral.
In summary, it wasn't an outstanding meal, but it was perfectly serviceable for those like my grandfather, belonging to a more old-school sensibility of what a restaurant should have and what it should serve. (asian food is not an option for him)
we were seated at a lovely table by the window and the french doors; fantastic view. i had the heirloom tomato salad, which was forgettable, but not bad. tomatoes weren't stunning, and there was too much balsamic vinegar in the dressing, but it was fine. grandfather had a caesar salad that had too much dressing on it, but nice lettuce and anchovy. girlfriend had a carpaccio, and neither exclaimed in delight or regretted her choice.
entrees: i went for the house-made spinach pasta with tomato sauce and shrimp. there was way too much sauce and not enough pasta. by the time i finished the noodles, there was still a good 1/2" of sauce at the bottom of the bowl. it was okay. grandfather had the pesto, which i ended up stealing from. too cheesy, not enough basil, but pretty good. again, too much sauce. the table next to us had the gnocchi, that looked good.
the big winner was the girlfriend's bruscetta pizza, which was delicious. venticello has a wood-burning oven, resulting in a delicious crust. would i go out of my way to get pizza here? no, but if i'm eating in nob hill, it's a fine choice. the tomatoes on her pizza were tastier than my caprese salad, and there was lots of basil.
other big winner was dessert. the panna cotta was just great; not too gelatinous or too custardy, with a light and refreshing flavor. also got the fresh berry zambione, delicious. needed more berries, less custard sauce, but still very good. i was fairly unenthused through the meal until these appeared.
service was fine, unremarkable, but just fine. grandfather and gf had a great time and repeatedly exclaimed that they were going to be regular guests.
venticello's not a destination restaurant, but it's certainly one where most people can find something they'd like to eat, especially if someone else is paying.
if you're paying, go to pasta pomodoro :) or just come to venticello for pizza and dessert. that would be worth it.