Sunday, November 30, 2008

Don't Gnocch It 'Til You've Tried It: Firenze By Night

The North Beach section of San Francisco has some of the most famous Italian restaurants in the country. Words like “authentic”, “old school” and “home style” come to mind when you talk about North Beach Italian cuisine. Just walking through North Beach is a wonderful experience—it’s like NY/SF meets Italy. With Italian bakeries, delis, pizzerias and trattorias on every block, the sights, smells and sounds of this quaint little neighborhood are a delight for all the senses.

The other night, we visited North Beach to dine at Firenze by Night, one of the most renowned Italian eateries in all of San Francisco. Known for their award-winning gnocchi, Firenze by Night makes you feel at ease the minute you walk in.


The layout of the restaurant consists of two small rooms—one features a bar seating roughly eight people and the other is a modest dining room. The d├ęcor is home style Italian; all of the servers are from the Big Boot; and the dishes fly out of the tiny kitchen fresh and fast.
Since this was our first visit to Firenze by Night, we decided that we just had to sample their famous gnocchi. For those who don’t know, gnocchi is basically a small potato dumpling. It has the texture and flavor of a piece of very al dente pasta. One of the best things about a good gnocchi is that it absorbs any sauce accompanying it.

The gnocchi at Firenze by Night has won first place in the “Best of North Beach” contest for two consecutive years. The legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen described it as “So Italian, you need a passport.” It’s perfectly formed by hand, skillfully prepared with a wide range of amazing tomato and cream sauces, and simply served. Its true beauty is in its simplicity. In a culinary world where chefs are always showing off their cooking “skills” by serving complex dishes containing 50 ingredients, the gnocchi at Firenze by Night features a no-nonsense approach. Why mess with the ingredients when the flavors do a stellar job all by themselves?

So, we had the Gnocchi Firenze, their signature dish, and we weren’t disappointed to say the least. Described as “potato dumplings in a light tomato sauce”, this is the best gnocchi I’ve ever had. The sauce complemented the gnocchi and didn’t over power it. The gnocchi itself had the perfect texture and topped with parmesan cheese, it was comforting and satisfying.

We also had the Paperdelle Toscana (large noodles in rabbit sauce); Cappellini Pomodoro e Basilico (angel hair in tomato basil sauce); and Gamberoni Pesacatore (jumbo prawns with calamari in a white wine sauce). Other dishes we saw coming out of the busy kitchen included Firenze’s Maiale alla Maremmama (pork scaloppini with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and a white wine sauce); and Quaglie al Barolo (quail in a Barolo wine sauce).

To kick off meal with a bang, we had two amazing appetizers—a Carpaccio (paper-thin slices of raw fillet of beef) and the Antipasti Della Casa (consisting of all kinds of cold cuts, cheeses, pickled vegetables, homemade buffalo mozzarella and more).

Firenze by Night, 1429 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133 (415) 392-8585 (Open M-F for dinner only)