I am half Italian and half Irish, which means I can never be in the Mafia. It also means that I love great Italian food. I don’t want to diss Irish food, but let’s put it this way. Comparing the two cuisines is like comparing the Italian Painter Da Vinci to his Irish counterpart, a guy named Paul Henry. Paul who, you ask? Exactly.
And as I have written in many of my past reviews, I truly believe that Italy has produced the finest cuisine in the history of mankind. People can make arguments for each and every culture’s food -- Asian, Spanish, Mexican, German, British, American, Portuguese, Russian -- every country has some amazing traditional dishes that they have been passed down through the ages and each is arguably superior to the next.
We all have differing opinions based on what we grew up eating. But, when you talk about Italian food, you’re talking about the whole package – the passion, the preparation, the stories behind the cuisine – I have always said that there is only one thing Italians like to do as much as eat. And that’s talking about eating.
With that diatribe complete, I want to tell you about an Italian restaurant in San Francisco that represents everything that makes the food from this little boot-shaped peninsula the King of Cuisine. It’s called Venticello Ristorante (1257 Taylor Street @ Washington, SF, CA 94108; Phone: (415) 922-2545. Web site: http://www.venticello.com/) We were there the other night and I’m still salivating.
Tucked away atop Nob Hill, Venticello Ristorante is a quaint little spot with a wood burning oven and fantastic views of the bay. The look that they’re going for, according to the server we talked to, is Tuscan farmhouse. And since I’ve never been to Tuscany, I’ll have to take their word for it. You’ll get a warm, intimate feeling from the minute you walk through the door. If you’re looking for a romantic place, Venticello fits the bill.
The menu is varied and features primarily Northern Italian cuisine. For our antipasti, we had the Melanzane Ripiene ($9), two grilled eggplant rolls with ricotta and mascarpone in a marinara sauce; and the Portobello Con Polenta ($7), a wood oven roasted whole Italian field mushroom over soft polenta. The eggplant rolls were fresh and rich while the Portobello mushroom was earthy and hearty. Both were highly memorable and kicked off our meal magnificently.
For our main courses we ordered Gnocchi Ai Funghi ($17), potato dumplings in a mushroom sauce with gorgonzola; and the Maiale E Balsamico ($23), grilled pork tenderloin medallions with balsamic rum syrup. The gnocchi was homemade and divine and the sauce that accompanied the pork was like nothing we’d ever had. Unbelievable!
Other items we want to try the next time we visit Venticello include the Fettucine Con Salsiccia ($17), fettucine in a creamy fennel seed and sausage meat sauce; Agnello Ai Ferri Con Salsa Di Funghi ($25), rosemary marinated grilled lamb tenderloins with a sweet mushroom Chianti sauce; and Risotto Alla Zafferano Con Scampi ($19), a saffron risotto with basil and tiger shrimp.
I love everything about Italian food and Venticello has some of the best in town. Go there soon and you won’t be disappointed. That I can guarantee.