Thursday, October 13, 2011

A16- oh the Marina, How I love you

I have been hearing about A16 for years. From friends, on best of SF lists, in magazines, and it always sounded like a restaurant I would really enjoy. I had been to their sister restaurant SPQR on a date a couple years ago and was completely impressed by their interesting menu and unique selection of Italian wines. When my mom asked if I would like to go out for a nice dinner in SF on her I decided this was the time! The date we chose happened to coincide with our Eat Real Festival adventure so it was quite the culinary day. Being the constant procrastinator that I am I waited till Thursday to make a Saturday reservation... there were none to be had. Thankfully they have a front portion that is seated first come first served so we were able to grab a table at just the right time! (the small bar waiting area quickly filled up behind us, the only draw back was we were right on the edge between the seating and the bar... at one point my dad had to ask a gentleman to stop leaning on our dinner table). Overall the ambiance was nice however. All of the tables our seating area (which had the feel of a large hallway- we were definitely the extra guests) were high with tall chairs which bothered me at first but I was grateful for later when the waiting area filled and my face wasn't level with every one's rear ends. The walls were covered with an interesting cork like texture and you could see that out beyond the main dining room was a romantic little patio area with plants and candles. While difficult to wait for (it's basically in the main service way to the bar) the bathroom was one of my favorite parts! Retro white and black tiling on the walls was really cute and there was a great earthy/eucalyptus smelling candle that just added something really lovely!
I had done a little online reconnaissance to check out the menu and hopefully narrow down my choices a little. I was right to expect some minor changes as the Chef, David Taylor, works with what he can get seasonally and locally and will make modifications to dishes to add some great produce or if something is no longer available. As soon as we were seated I took a quick look at the starters (I can't say no to Burrata, I just can't) and moved on to the wine list. I knew this would be the biggest feat of the night. I will admit I was initially overwhelmed. I'm usually very comfortable ordering wine and try to make a point to try things that I haven't had but know I will like and will match well with what I'm eating (see: the Muller Thurgau we had at Perbacco). A16 & SPQR Owner & Wine Director Shelley Lindgren goes out of her way to introduce more obscure varietals and growers out of Italy to compliment her restaurants unique regional Italian fare. My Pizza Antica wine knowledge (while much more in depth than you may expect) simply could not have prepared me for this. I searched for a few Italian names I recognized and asked for a sample of one (thank god I did because it was much more tart than the direction I wanted to go). I was able to pick better on the second round (the waitress even said after I had asked about it and described what I wanted that that was the same wine she was going to suggest, win one for me!). We ended up with a carafe of Il Feduccio, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Orsogna, Chieti, Abruzzo 2006 (I recognized the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo portion.... and that was enough for me) which everyone, even my mom!, enjoyed. My one disappointment about their wine list was the higher price points. In my more recent experience the expensive wine lists are losing their popularity. Restaurateurs want people to try new wines and expand their palates but at high price points it's hard to take the risk or order more than one glass. I wish there had been more affordable options available as I really would have liked to have gotten a bottle.
Since we weren't overwhelmingly hungry (we had just eaten our lives at the festival an hour or so before) we all agreed sharing a few things was the best route. I had chosen the Burrata (fresh mozzarella cheese filled with ricotta cheese) with herb crostini to start and my Dad decided the Albacore tuna panzanella with green tomato marmellata, cannellini beans and peppercress  (basically bread "salad") sounded interesting to him. The Burrata went too quickly to photograph (I got excited and forgot) but to the right you can see the Panzanella (iPhone Photos in low lighting =... well, that). I really enjoyed this dish. The crunchy yet olive oil dressed texture of the pieces of bread, the smooth grainy texture of the cannellini beans and the flaky meaty texture from the fish all complimented each other well and the bright tangy flavor of the marmellata (similar to a marmalade a tangy jam, I found in this dish it presented more like a dressing but the flavor was great non the less!) really made the dish have some excitement. My mom who is really not a fan of tuna even enjoyed it primarily because there wasn't any fishiness to it.
Next to arrive was the pizza. This was the dish I was most looking forward to since they are known for their Naples Style wood fire thin crust pizza's. Topped with a wide array of wild mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, grana padano, and dandilion greens the pizza was larger than I anticipated but this was excellent since we were sharing. What struck me immediately was how many varieties of mushrooms there were! I can't say I have ever seen that many kinds in one place and I was excited to see how all the varied flavors and textures would mesh. The pizza was only cut into 4 slices which seemed odd but since 2 slices were much larger it stands to reason taht it is normally cut into 6 and the chef may have missed a swipe. As we set to eating the pizza with its many toppings and larger size it seemed most practical to eat it with a fork and knife. Although the crust was a little difficult to cut through it had a great really unique flavor of sourdough. While I can't back this up I have to speculate that the flavor must be attributed to the use of a local yeast in the dough. The flavors all meshed well together although other than color I couldn't really tell you what the dandilion greens contributed. In my experience they normally have a slightly bitter flavor but after having been cooked I didn't notice it on the pizza.  When really rating anything I like to judge like against like so I think for my next visit here I will have to try their Margherita to compare to others (like Pizza Antica's which is still one of my all time favorites).
As we were finishing the pizza the pasta dish we had ordered arrived. Fregula (small ball shaped pasta) with white corn, Fava Beans, & Mascarpone. This dish resembled a risotto to me and while we enjoyed it we found it kind of bland and under seasoned. The textures were nice with the crunch of the corn in combination with the soft pasta. The fava beans added a little more dimension but overall the dish was underwhelming. With the addition of some salt and pepper it came alive a bit more for me but I hate having to season things at the table I feel like it is going against how the chef intended for something to taste. We enjoyed it none the less and were ready to move on to dessert. Our waitress, who had just the right balance of friendly attitude, attentiveness, and personal space (I'm not dining out to make friends. I don't care about your life unless I eat here on a regular basis. I waited tables for 7 years and I found staff who tried to make best  friends with every table invasive and annoying. They came to enjoy each others company not hear about your day) was happy to bring over a menu for us. Even though we were full we had to share a few things. My eye went to the Creme fraiche Panna cotta with Strawberries and saba while my parents agreed the Peach Crostata with Honey Gelato sounded fabulous. Both were exceptional!
The Panna Cotta (seen left) was silky and smooth with just a hint of vanilla sweetness. The creme fraiche gave it a nice tang and contributed to it's lovely not overly sweet flavor. The strawberries were ripe and flavorful and the saba brought the whole thing together. I easily could have wolfed down this whole plate had we not been sharing. This was the perfect light compliment to a carb laden meal. Panna Cotta(which translates to cooked cream) is essentially a firm set pudding similar in some ways to a flan but without the egginess as it uses gelitan not eggs to set up.
The Crostata was a beautiful rustic looking pastry filled with juicy peaches and baked to a crispy perfection. The crust had a great flaky texture and the peaches held up well after being baked still having some firmness to them. The honey gelato added just the right creaminess to the whole thing while keeping the sweetness underlying. This is a dish I would definitely try to make at home. Both desserts really ended this meal on a  high note for me they were both beautiful as well as delicious and I couldn't ask for more. Overall I think we had a great experience at A16. One of the big selling points for me is it's location on Chestnut Street in the Marina. With it's intimate atmosphere this would be a great date spot since you can continue on to the movie theater, one of the many bars along the street, or even just take a walk window shopping or down to the water. As an FYI if it's coffee you crave post meal get it at the restaurant. They offer an array of espresso drinks and all of the coffee shops near by close by 9!
Have you ever tried to recreate a dish you had at a restaurant at home? How did it turn out?

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