Beretta, San Francisco

Everything is social about this Mission district restaurant. There are a few regular 2 and 4 tops but most of the seating is around a long communal table that takes about 18 diners on bar stools. The long bar sits another 18 yet many more stand around it. Even high-tables entice social interactions by putting diners at eye level with passersby. No reservations are taken. Seats are assigned only by serendipity.

The ambiance is rustic yet contemporary. Original hardwood floors and vintage ceiling tiles share the space with modern aluminum chairs and stark wenge-stained tables. But must importantly, the lively vibe makes the lofty space unfussy and inviting. Bringing together the energy (and loudness) of a NYC happy hour with the typical laid-back fashion of the San Francisco crowd.

The menu

Like the ambiance, the menu is perfect for social dining. Mostly made of appetizers and small plates, everything begs to be tried and shared. There are about 30 items that change with the season; including several antipasti, charcuterie plates, risottos and salads. Another option (a very popular one) is the specialty pizzette, medium in size, perfect for sharing. But this is no ordinary pizza, there are 12 inventive choices like Margherita with burrata and Potato, rosemary, radicchio & gorgonzola piccante. Finally, each day one special entrée complements the menu, perhaps something for those with a greedy appetite, who prefer not to share.

The meal

Tapa bars have become increasingly popular in the United States. Unfortunately, the understated food often disappoints with understated taste. Not at Beretta. Here, each small plate is carefully conceived and prepared in bite-sized flavorful dishes that leave you yearning for an extra bite; in a good way.

The Bruschette of fava bean & pecorino is a great example. A simple antipasti that combines the flavors of its ingredients in a beautiful way. The delicate pureed fava beans is accentuated with olive oil and the saltiness of the pecorino cheese. Served over a crunchy slice of lightly toasted bread.

The Chicken liver crostini alla Toscana is also very good. Unlike the classic French preparation–smooth, almost mousse-like, this Tuscan version is lumpy and stronger in flavor.

In the fish antipasti category, try the Baccala with grilled polenta. Beretta’s preparation of salted cod served with olive oil and black olives is good, although milder than the traditional Portuguese bacalhau.

Another good choice, this one stronger in taste, is the Monterey sardines en saör. A classic Venetian dish in which fresh sardines are served with onions and red peppers, accentuated with the bright acidity of vinegar.

The Squid ink risotto with calamari is also really good. Rich and flavorful, with a generous portion of calamari and the welcoming contrast of lemon and parsley pesto. Like the other dishes, served as a small plate.

The Gnocchi, fresh porcini mushrooms & guanciale is great. The sautéed dumplings are complemented by the nuttiness of fresh porcini and saltiness of guanciale, a cured meat made of pig jolt.

And finally, the specialty pizzette. Appetizing toppings like Baccala’, potato, panna, onions & capers are served over a crispy thin crust. Delicious. No wonder they are so popular; with both happy-hourers and families with small kids that crowd the restaurant on early evening Sundays. Our pizza took a good 20 minutes to come after we had finished appetizers, but it was worth it.

The sweets menu consists mostly of house-made gelati and sorbetti desserts. One of them is based on the French-invented Baba au rhum; baba al rum with panna gelato. The rum-soaked cake is served topped with a scoop of gelato and orange zest. Much better than Salt House’s version.

Another tasty option is the Bonet-chocolate gelato with amaretti & caramel. The good quality chocolate gelato is pleasantly rich, almost pudding-like. Served over a light caramel sauce and topped with biscotti crumbs.

In short

Beretta is a Mecca for casual foodies and social butterflies. It's the type of place you go once and quickly become an habitué. In the era or gastropubs, this unpretentious modern Italian eatery (a gastrocellar, if you will) takes it up a notch. And proves that comfort food can be as comforting in small plates and sophisticated at honest prices.

Beretta is at 1199 valencia street
Reservations are taken by phone or email for 6 or more (415 695 1199).

1 comment:

Chef Ben said...

I love your photos of the "scene" just as much as the food (which there was quite a bit of). Looks like a fun place.