I had been wanting to go to A16 forever. Well, ever since I volunteered for a James Beard House dinner cooked by the chefs of A16. They were the nicest chefs I worked for at the Beard House, and their food was delicious. Then, Nate Appleman, who was the head chef at the time, won the rising star chef of the year award (“A chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come”) at this year’s James Beard Awards. Appleman is no longer at A16, but Liza Shaw (who I also worked with) is now at the helm. She was there on Saturday when we dined with Christina and Rich, and I said hello (she looked at me and said, “you look familiar,”) and re-introduced myself (the beauty of an open kitchen is that you can do this with ease).
All of our food was delicious. Rustic Italian food, beautifully presented but not overly composed. As their website says, “The cuisine of Campania and the wood fired pizzas of Naples brought to San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood.”
To start with, Rich had the Manila clams with fresh borlotti and yellow wax beans, cherry tomatoes, marjoram and grilled bread. I had a taste of the wax beans and the broth that they were in was superb.
Dave and I shared the arugula salad with nectarines, fennel, walnuts and house-made ricotta salata and the roasted Monterey sardines with fried breadcrumbs, currants, pickled chiles and herbs. (Christina also had the salad.) The sardines melted in your mouth and the breadcrumbs added a nice crunch to the dish. The salad combined all my favorite things (except for walnuts which I don’t care for but found myself liking despite myself) in a light dressing. I had to fight Dave for my fair share.
These wood fire-roasted peppers arrived as a special treat from Liza. At first we were all apprehensive about a plate full of peppers, but one bite and we were all scooping them in threes and fours onto our plates. The roasting helped mellow them out a bit and I couldn’t stop popping them in my mouth, stem and all.
For entrees, Dave and I shared the pizza funghi: roasted mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, grana padano, garlic, oregano, wild arugula, and the squid ink tonnarelli with calamari, fiorelli, garlic, tomato and fried breadcrumbs. While we were waiting to be seated I had seen someone eating the tonnarelli and it had looked amazing. It was. Soft and chewy in the way that only fresh pasta can be, paired with the pieces of squid and breadcrumbs it was a party of flavors and textures in your mouth. The pizza was also great. Somewhat doughier than the pizzas that I am used to from Italian restaurants (that’s the Neapolitan influence right there), it was nice and substantial. Dave did mention that he missed having tomato sauce on his pizza, but I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t there.
Christina went with the pizza bianca: mozzarella, grana padano, chiles, garlic, green olives, basil, olive oil.
Rich had the roasted beef coulotte with salsa verde, fried Senise peppers and lemon. Dave had a bite and said it, “was sweet like corned beef, and the spicy green sauce contrasted nicely with this sweetness.”
For dessert I knew I wanted to try a pastry as I had had some of pastry chef Jane Tseng’s delicious creations at the Beard House. I ordered the fig and raspberry crostata with ricotta gelato and pistachios. We all shared it. I thought that the best part was the gelato. The ricotta made it so light and creamy and unlike any frozen dessert I’ve had before.
Christina and Dave ordered the blackberry sorbet and vanilla gelato respectively. They were both great.
If I lived in San Francisco, A16 would definitely become a regular spot for pizza and pasta. Now I have something to look forward to every time I’m on the west coast.