Thursday, January 04, 2007
Amarena is a classy little Italian joint nestled in the pristine neighborhood of San Francisco’s Cow Hollow/Marina District. It’s not in a commercial zone, which makes it nice. I get tired of restaurant rows. It’s nice to have a choice, but a large grouping of nothing but eating establishments usually means one of two things: 1.) They’re all going to be mediocre or 2.) They’re all going to be really pricey. Things like competition and complacency all have opportunities to rear their ugly heads when you put a bunch of restaurants in one location. Amarena is just the opposite. When you get there, it’s a pleasant surprise. Imagine a fine dining establishment right next door to your house. One of the drawbacks is that finding parking is literally impossible. We had to drive around the block at least a dozen times before we got lucky and found a spot. By the time my fiancée and I walked through the door at Amarena, we were hungry and starting to get on each other’s nerves. Searching for a place to park for 20 minutes will do that to you. But, once we sat down and had a glass of Chianti, we felt just fine. Amarena has tall ceilings, is decorated in warm colors, and the tables aren’t situated too close together, another one of my pet peeves. I had read in Zagat’s that the cute waitresses at Amarena are renowned for flirting with the male patrons. I was all set to flirt, so imagine my surprise and displeasure when we were waited on by the owner, who is male! And then to add insult to injury, he commenced to flirt all evening with my fiancée. Oh, well – at least the food was good. To kick things off, we had a wonderful salad called Arancio & Finocchio. It was a very simple assemblage of mixed greens, fennel, tiny pieces of orange and olives, lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I like my salads this way – basic and not too busy. Some restaurants, for some reason, feel like they have to throw every type of produce into a salad to make it interesting, when in actuality simplicity is the key. Next, we tried some of Amarena’s small dishes, including the Calamari Ripieni, which is baked calamari filled with sautéed Dungeness crab and shrimp, and then finished with a white wine sauce; and Carciofe e Granchio, a baked artichoke heart fillet with crab in an Argula sauce. Both were superb! We then ventured on to try a couple of the main dishes. First, there was the Sugo di Agnello, which consisted of homemade potato dumplings (aka gnocchi) with an awe-inspiring Bolognese sauce, and Spaghetti and Meatballs. Both were hearty and made with fresh ingredients, but the one thing that stood out the most was the meatballs. They were slightly crusty on the outside, but tender and succulent on the inside. A lot of places overcook meatballs and they come out like something just a little rarer than beef jerky, but these were some of the best I’ve ever had. If I were to say anything disparaging about Amarena, it would be that the dessert menu was unimpressive and predictable. Gelato and biscotti are “been there, done that” items, and I was hoping something a little more innovative. All in all, however, Amarena was a joy and I will surely go back when given the opportunity. Amarena is at 2162 Larkin Street (Larkin & Green) and the phone number is: (415) 447-0441.