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Beretta: Small plates, big taste

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In today’s price-sensitive restaurant scene, antipasti and pizza are a proven formula for success. Observe the lines outside SPQR on Fillmore, the A16 group’s antipasti and pasta concept, and the milling crowds in front of Pizzeria Delfina, Craig Stoll’s always packed Delfina adjunct. Now Ruggero Gadaldi, an actual Italian, has thrown his pies into the ring at Beretta with his own version of sharable small dishes, plus the added attraction of cocktails. Now, The City has one more spot so popular it doesn’t take reservations.

Serious eaters come at off hours, such as 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, when the dining room may be full of amazingly well-behaved little children, parents of all ilk and ethnically diverse Beretta loyalists. The noise level is bearable and the wait delightfully nonexistent.

Begin with luscious vegetable antipasti ($6 each): al dente cauliflower with a salty, crunchy topping of bread crumbs, fried sage and capers; slender grilled stems of broccolini dressed with hot red pepper and slivers of toasted garlic; chunky roasted eggplant mixed with crisp bits of celery, cherry tomatoes and capers, called caponatina. Ask for a dollop of burrata ($3), a soft, creamy mozzarella, on top.

Beretta’s sardines en saor ($7) are exemplary, delicately pickled filets with a whisper of allspice. I’ve never tasted better. Likewise, a salad of warm radicchio and escarole in pancetta vinaigrette ($7) has just the right balance of acidity and salt.

At this point, diners may take different paths. Some share a pizza with a thin crust that delivers both elasticity and crunch. I recommend one topped with spicy fresh sausage, cream and spring onions with blackened edges ($14). Others choose a risotto, such as marvelous jet-black squid-ink-tinted rice ($13) topped with sweet, fresh calamari. The creamy grains are infused with gentle garlic, lemon peel and oceanic brininess.

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Finally, the kitchen makes one main course each day. I can vouch for Saturday’s bistecca ($18), a generous portion of grilled steak topped with a salad of arugula, white beans and shaved pecorino.

Though the cocktails are pretty, pastel and well-balanced, I’m a fan of Beretta’s all-Italian wine list, which offers convenient quartino carafes just right for two people who want to drink both a white and a red. A crisp, juicy gavi de gavi ($5 a glass, $12/250-milliliter “quartino”) and a pretty pinot nero from northern Alto Adige ($7/$15) please!

There is no better ending than house-made chocolate gelato slathered with crumbled amaretti cookies and caramel ($7)? Pressed Ritual coffee ($3) continues the run of perfect choices.

Though the menu and name have changed, the decor remains pretty much the same as it was during its last incarnation as The Last Supper Club: pressed-tin ceiling, dark wood floors, a high communal table that runs parallel to the bar and painted wall trim. Every surface riffs on a warm shade of brown — except for the metal chairs, a jolt for those with bare legs. The line in the open kitchen and mostly female floor staff work with precision.

While Gadaldi has hardly come up with a new concept, he delivers just the food, drink and price point that people want. His Italian menu is so spot-on and fun, the whole thing must have come naturally.

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Beretta

  • Location: 1199 Valencia St. (at 23rd Street) San Francisco
  • Contact: (415) 695-1199; www.berettasf.com
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 1 a.m.
  • Price range:  Antipasti and salads, $5 to $7; pizza, $9 to $14; risotto, $12 to $15; nightly main course, $11 to $18
  • Recommended dishes: Sardines, cauliflower with bread crumbs; eggplant caponatina; brocollini with pepper; warm radicchio and escarole salad; spicy Italian sausage pizza; Chocolate gelato with amaretti and caramel
  • Credit cards: All major
  • Reservations: For parties of six or more only

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