Thursday, January 11, 2007

This Week's Restaurant Review: Cafe Zoetrope in SF

Café Zoetrope is owned by the legendary film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola, who made films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s named after his famous production company and is located in the majestic Sentinel Building in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach. Like an entertaining movie, this place has an opening, a plot and a fulfilling conclusion, all of which will send you home saying “Bravo! Bravo!” Café Zoetrope pulls you in with its warm and inviting décor, wows you with professional and attentive service, and then satisfies you with its fine Italian cuisine. It’s a delightful little European style café with a great menu and an extensive selection of Italian and California wines. Memorabilia from Coppola’s films adorn the walls of Café Zoetrope, including the pieces of cotton Marlon Brando stuffed in his mouth when he mumbled his lines as Don Corleone in The Godfather (just kidding). Café Zoetrope offers dining both inside and out, with heated sidewalks, which enable patrons to eat in the night air of San Francisco, regardless of how cold or foggy it may be. The menu at Café Zoetrope is varied and fun – from hearty pastas to creative appetizers and small dishes – all the way to great pizzas and calzones. We have been there several times and tried numerous items, but the Spaghetti alla Putanesca ($11.00) always stands out. It’s a wonderful combination of fresh homemade pasta, tomato sauce with olives, capers and garlic. Another pasta dish of note at Café Zoetrope is the Linguine alle Vongole ($14.50), with fresh clams, white wine, parsley and red pepper flakes. This is not your standard spaghetti with canned clam sauce, which is what you’ll find throughout North Beach. Café Zoetrope’s version of this traditional dish is exquisite, with fresh ingredients and a pasta that’s perfectly al dente and to die for. If you like things like Broccoli Rabe ($4.25), sautéed in olive oil, garlic and shallots; Sauteed Crimini Mushrooms ($4.75); and Radicchio ($7.00), consisting of treviso radicchio, with an orange and balsamic dressing, then this place will knock your socks off with its simple and elegant approach to just about everything on the menu. The pizzas at Café Zoetrope are also outstanding – from the basic Pizza Marinara ($9.00) to the Pizza Quattro Stagioni ($12.50) with fresh tomatoes, ham, olives mushrooms and basil, you can’t go wrong with these amazing pies – people who know pizza will love these marvelous creations. There’s nothing too fancy here, but everything I’ve tried has been excellent. Café Zoetrope is located at 916 Kearny Street in San Francisco, and is open every day for lunch and dinner. Their phone number is: (415) 291-1700.