419 Cortland Ave.
Hard to find factor: 1
1 Not too bad
2 Takes some searching
3 Ask a native
4 Bring a map
Neighborhood: Bernal Heights
On the downlow: Since 2003
Cozy corner: It’s a cold, brisk, autumn night and we’re strolling through Bernal Heights. Looking for hearty fare to warm our wind-nipped cheeks and noses, we find our way to Valentino Ristorante. Soft lighting and the small, yet packed dining room, give off a vibe that is at once intimate and bustling, which is great for first dates because you can go from romantic to strictly platonic at a moment’s notice. Local art hangs on the walls, and random chandeliers — clearly holdovers from when the Hungarian Sausage Factory and Bistro occupied the space — drip from the ceiling. The only thing we found disconcertingwas the undeniable slope upon which our bistro-style table precariously sat. Scratch that. It wasn’t the table’s position that was the problem, as really it was our chair, which happened to be at on the upward grade of said slope, and thus slid down quite frequently almost into our date’s lap.
Northern lights: Since our attraction to Valentina largely rested on its darling atmosphere, we didn’t bother to scan the menu posted outside. It’s Italian, we know the drill. Well, weren’t we in for a pleasant surprise when we discovered a pretty creative menu from the chef’s Northern Italian roots in Liguria. The bruschetta is prepared with three different ways: standard tomato and basil, a lovely warm eggplant and mushroom tapenade and an equally savory goat cheese and roasted red pepper purée. We devoured our entrée, which topped a somewhat bland pile of polenta with an uncased sweet sausage and a side of sauerkraut. Very interesting. Our date’s picatta-style chicken over the same polenta (needs salt or something) was also satisfying. This is definitely a reasonably priced place. We got out of there with a shared appetizer, two entrées, two desserts and two glasses of wine for approximately $70.
Wake-up call: As luck would have it, we first happened upon Valentina for brunch one day. Standard breakfast fare applies, but enjoying the morning over in sunny Bernal Heights is a nice change of pace, unless you live there, then it’s your pace every day. Still, grab a morning bite and then stroll down Cortland and take in all those sorely overlooked sights!
Know any hidden gems? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your favorite off-the-beaten-path haunts.