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January 29, 2010

Zuppa

Margherita Pizza + Prosciutto Dominic Armato

There's a little more Boston and Vegas before I can start attacking Phoenix, but first, a quick report from a very quick trip. I spent about 24 hours on the ground in San Francisco last weekend to do some business at the Fancy Food Show. The highlight? Enormous wheels of Grana Padano Riserva. The lowlight? Seeing the Baconnaise people still flogging their concoction which, in what may be one of the most brazen fraud ever perpetrated upon the bacon-loving populace, contains neither mayonnaise nor bacon. Sadly, I wasn't there to eat, aside from whatever I could snatch while sailing down the aisles, but we did have one evening to catch something quick and casual. I took the night off from planning, and my compatriots selected Zuppa, an Italian joint not too far from the hotel and not booked solid with the Fancy Food Show in town, the latter of which was a bigger consideration than you might think.

SausageDominic Armato

It's kind of rustic-industrial, if that makes any sense, big and quirky and kinda hip but not so hip that it scared off the family with kids that shared our long, communal table. The fare is pretty much straight-up Italian, with pizza, pasta, salads, a few meats -- nothing too complex or pretentious. Affettati -- that'd be your sliced, cured meats -- looked formidable and were shaved on a snazzy-looking slicer, but having hit the cured Italian meats pretty heavily the night before (more on this shortly), we opted instead for one of the pizzas which, at your option, could be topped with the same. The pizzas are three of the classics -- margherita, funghi and a bianca with prosciutto and artichokes -- though you're encouraged to request a little cured meat on the top, which we did to the tune of a margherita with prosciutto. As simple Italian pizza goes, it was plenty serviceable, but nothing I'd be going out of my way for. Tasty toppings, but the bread was a little flat. Of course it was flat. I mean-- you know what I mean.

Roasted BeetsDominic Armato

Our other starter, on the other hand, was really quite enjoyable. A long length of fennel sausage was coiled up in a small cast iron skillet, seared hot and crispy and hit with a little sharp cheese and fresh basil. It was big, bold, unabashed flavor, nicely presented, and though I should have thought better of it, I even took some bread to the pan drippings left behind after we'd demolished the sausage. My only regret was that we didn't order some kind of bitter, leafy green dressed with olive oil and lemon juice to go alongside it. That would've made the perfect pair. We did, however, have some roasted beets which -- simply roasted and salted with a little fresh basil atop -- wouldn't have passed the David Chang Test, but I didn't mind. Give me some good roasted beets and I'm a happy camper.

Tagliarini with Crab and Nettle Pesto Dominic Armato

Pasta was disappointing. One of my dining companions had one that was dressed with something red and meaty and he wasn't overly impressed. I went with a tagliarini with crab and a nettle pesto, and while it wasn't bad, per se, it had problems. It arrived, a rather saucy-looking tangle with a raw egg yolk seated in the center, and the first problem was that my server grabbed a set of utensils and, before I could say a word, tossed the pasta to thoroughly incorporate the yolk. I sure would've liked to let it ooze a bit. The pasta itself was solid if unexceptional. Could've had some more bite for my taste. It really needed a little more crab, and I would've been happy to pitch in an extra couple of bucks for it. The pesto, though I thought it had a nice flavor that brought out the greens, played too far towards the oily end of the spectrum. And that pesto, combined with the egg, gave rise to the biggest problem. It was pure richness without anything to cut it. No prominent salt, no acid, no sharp cheese -- nothing. So it came across mostly as heavy and oily. There's a reason your basic Pesto Genovese is generally made with a healthy dose of pecorino. And it's too bad, because with some tweaks, I think there was a good pasta in there somewhere.

But hey, the pizza was tasty if somewhere short of memorable, and that sausage was a real treat, so I'm open to the possibility that if you knew the menu well you could pick your way through a pretty tasty meal. Zuppa's the kind of place I might try to get to know if it were local and there weren't other similar, better options around. So... um... I won't.

Zuppa
www.zuppa-sf.com
564 Fourth Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
415-777-5900
Mon - Thu11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Fri11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Sat 5:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Sun 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM

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