Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Restaurant Review: Pane e Vino: A Whole Lot More than Bread & Wine

Pane e Vino
There is a restaurant on Union Street in San Francisco that is so good the first time I went there I returned two days later. Since then I have gone there many times and I have never been even remotely disappointed. The name of the place is Pane e Vino. I guess there are several other restaurants throughout the United States with the same name, and I don’t know if they are in any way connected to this location, but it really doesn’t matter. Pane e Vino in SF is multo bene. The food is authentic Italian; the portions are generous; the service is prompt and professional, and the menu has a little something for everyone. From fresh fish and meats to great thin-crust pizzas, all the way to some of the best pasta dishes you’ll find anywhere – Pane e Vino is a whole lot more than just bread and wine. I met one of the owners, Bruno, down on Union Street several times before I tried the place. He wasn’t bragging about it or anything – he’s a nice, very humble and rather soft spoken guy – but he kept telling me I need to stop in sometime. Well, it took me a couple months to get around to it, but when I finally ate there, I said to myself, “What the hell took me so long? Man, have I ever been missing out!” The place has a great atmosphere. The people – both the staff and the patrons – just all really seem like they’re in a good mood. Good food and fine wine will do that to you! What should you try when you visit Pane e Vino? To be honest, I don’t think you can go wrong ordering anything on the menu. If there’s a bad item on that menu, we haven’t found it. Nor have any of the many people who we’ve recommended the place to. (I put that in there because I’m always lobbying for a free meal. Why else do you think I do these reviews, for my health?) To kick off the meal right, we always get the best appetizer they offer at Pane e Vino, which in our humble opinion is the Antipasto Della Casa ($14). I am so tired of restaurants that throw a couple pieces of salami and some peppers on a plate and call it antipasto. This is the true version – with a cornucopia of things like bruschetta, cured meats and house-marinated vegetables that will have you racing your dinner guests for the last little piece of proscuitto. They also have a seafood salad called the Insalata Mista ($8) that consists of bay lettuce, tomatoes, leeks, oil and vinegar with an assortment of marinated squid, shrimp, mussels and clams that will make you feel like you’re at a seafood grotto on the coast of Italy. For your main course, I would definitely try one of the magnifico pasta selections. I’ve had the Pappardelle alla Contadina ($14), wide egg pasta with chicken and porcini mushrooms in a light tomato cream sauce. The pasta is homemade, cooked al dente the way the experts who know what they’re doing make it, and the sauce is not weighted down with too much cream like in many Italian restaurants. Or sample the Pennette Rigate con Salsiccia e Cipolle ($14), which is a great combination of penne pasta with sausage, onions, tomatoes and Romano cheese. This is truly a penne you will not forget. Or should I say it’s a penne for your thoughts? (sorry.) I was really surprised when we went there the other night and Angelina ordered the Bisteca alla Fiorentina ($28). Whenever I’ve ordered steak at an Italian restaurant, I have been disappointed, to say the least. Italians aren’t known for their steaks, at least not in this country. But, let me tell you – it was one of the biggest, juiciest pieces of prime-quality meat that I have ever seen or tasted – right up there with Ruth's Chris or Morton’s or any of your so-called great American steakhouses. A carnivore’s dream come true! Fan-tas-tic!! They also have an awesome selection of fish dishes at Pane e Vino. Order the Pesce Fresco del Giorno Aq (Fresh fish of the day – price varies) and you will not ever be unhappy. The thin-crust pizza is also outstanding. They have a big brick oven which I guess is the only way to go, because the texture is light and crispy and right on target. We like the Napoletana ($12), with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, anchovies and oregano. Sweet and simple. We have also had the Diavola ($14), with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, spicy salami, hot pepper flakes and oregano. Sweet and spicy. For dessert, maybe you’d like the tiramisu ($6), which is better than a lot I’ve tasted. My personal favorite are the Profilteroles ($6), which are white chocolate gelato filled cream puffs topped with hot chocolate sauce. Pane e Vino has an extensive and somewhat expensive wine list, and they even have those Italian sodas I love so much. They remind me of my days in New York when my grandma owned and operated an Italian family restaurant in the Bronx right down the street from Yankee Stadium. Pane e Vino is located at 1715 Union Street in SF, just far enough away from the yuppies and the drunks. There is never any parking, so walk there or take a cab. On the weekends, be sure to make a reservation, because the place gets packed. If you can, request to be seated on the patio in the back. It’s less noisy and it’s got a roof and heaters, so you won’t catch pneumonia. For more information about Pane e Vino, visit their web site at:

No comments: