Thursday, December 20, 2012


 It's about time that I finally talk about Ragazza, my favorite neighborhood Pizzeria. It was a long time in coming, but the North Panhandle finally was presented with a good Italian restaurant and it was quite a present. Everything is cooked on a wood burning grill and that takes some doing when you're serving pasta and polenta. In truth, there is one gas burner, but no stove, so pasta is limited to one kind only. No matter because pizza is what people flock to the restaurant to order.
How does smoked mozzarella, sausage, potato and wild nettle sound for a unique topping? This pizza was delicious as are all the pizze served here and in part because of the dough.

Are you a traditionalist and need tomato sauce on your pizza? You won't find a typical pizza at Ragazza, so no cheese on this Puttanesca version, but you will find authentic Italian flavor combinations with sun cured black olive, capers and anchovies. You can always add the grated Parmigiano that is placed on your table along with red chili flakes.

If you have simple and traditional pizza cravings you can easily find a Pizza Margherita with both tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese, but most of these seemed to be ordered by families with small children.

Thankfully the menu changes quite frequently, so there are so many choices at Ragazza if you are able to go there each month. Eggs are often an option for the pizze and this one was particularly good with smoked bacon, potato, red onion, Fontina and parsley.

Here's the same without the bacon and eggs, just in case that seems too much like a breakfast to you. Both are excellent choices and this works for the vegetarian. The fact that it's not overloaded with cheese is the best part of the Regazza pizza, because the other flavors are not smothered by the richness of the cheese.

I have always been attracted to mushroom pizza, but until I tried the Ragazza version with chanterelle mushrooms, I hadn't had the best. The caramelized onion and small amount of radicchio added a bittersweet (literally) taste that was the perfect complement to the mushrooms. I believe Fontina was used on this pizza also.

Just look at that chewy crust. Of all the pizze I've eaten,  my favorites always have a flavorful, chewy crust. Pizze with no puffy, chewy edges just leave me, well, flat. You can see that the exterior has a great little crunch to it. this was a Pizza Bianca. Again, no tomato sauce, but cheese, arugula, radicchio and white truffle oil.

Pancetta, portabello mushroom, mozzarella, red onion and stinging nettles make as fantastic a pizza as has ever crossed my lips. I wish this one were on the menu all year long, but the seasonality of the ingredients is what makes all the Regazza pizze so wonderful.

I've eaten so many great pizze at Ragazza that I don't even recall the name of this one. all I know is I've never met a pizza i didn't like at this treasure of a restaurant. This one had yellow crookneck squash, tomato and garlic among other toppings for their wonderful crust. But man does not eat by bread alone...

                                                                   Two memorable starters were  roasted pork belly with a piquant salsa verde, served upon a large white bean salad. the idea was good,, the execution even better. Then there was a roasted pickled pepper stuffed with tuna on a fresh corn salad. Both dishes brought so much to the table in the way of flavor and uniqueness. The salads involved were so refreshing and wonderful counterpoints to the richness of both the tuna and roasted pork belly. Oh! speaking of pork belly... yes, the restaurant did make a pizza with pork belly, large square chunks of it, but I haven't downloaded the photo yet.

The charcuterie plate was one of the best I've ordered in San Francisco but ask them to toast the bread, because the lardo is better eaten warm and the residual heat of the bread does the trick. That's fava puree and the carrots were pickled. Nice contrasts in flavors and textures were on this plate.

Salads are inspired at Ragazza. I believe this one was inspired directly by Sicilian cuisine because of the combination of oil cured, bitter black olives, blood oranges and fennel. We've also eaten broccoli salad, corn and orchietti salad, and radicchio salad that were very different from what you find in other Italian restaurants.

As far as grilled meats go, who could resist a perfectly cooked pork chop? Not I. It was blushing pink in the center and so juicy I had forgotten it was a pork chop.

The chicken cannelloni has been my favorite pasta thus far, but it's not on their menu often enough, however, the baked pasta with winter squash is a staple at the restaurant and provides a pasta dish  that's hearty and filling.
They also serve a variety of vegetables such as winter squash and Brussels sprouts that are  nicely roasted and very flavorful and seem much bigger than a side dish for a main course.

Two polentas have tempted me so far.
The first had sauteed chanterelles  with creme fraiche on top. They were creamy tasting to begin with and the savory mushrooms gave the polenta a very complimentary earthy taste that seemed so appropriate for a chilly evening.

The second was also creamy on its own, but  the added dairy,  the Fontina melted upon it made it even richer and the basil confetti added its perfume and sweetness to the dish. Both were very good and both were eaten on chilly evenings.

Desserts are also on the menu, if you have any stomach room to spare. I ask you, how does one bake a cheesecake on a grill? Perhaps there's a small oven somewhere, thankfully so, because the ricotta cheesecake is simple and satisfying. I've seen it served with fresh figs and caramel sauce or amareno cherries in syrup, both quite good. The tiramisu was done with a light hand on the whipped cream, that made it better than most. The chocolate torte was rich and would thrill any chocoholic in the room.
Ragazza's Website 
311 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 255-1133

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Since the food in Portugal seemed to be prepared in the same way, with the same classic dishes, no matter where we went, we needed a break. While in Lagos, in the Algarve, we succumbed to a need for some heat and spice and entered Shalimar, an Indian restaurant. In the heat of the noon day sun, it seemed like a good idea, and it was.

Naan, glistening will melted gee was like manna from heaven. The minute we bit into it, we knew we had made a good call. Remembering that the Portuguese colonized India, it seemed fitting to find an Indian restaurant here in Portugal.

Just to eat something not indigenous to Portugal was enough of a change for us, so we settled down to  our favorite Indian curry selections. This photo depicts a Lamb Vindaloo, which was exceedingly spicy, more so than what we are typically served at home. Because the Portuguese have such a longstanding relationship with Indian food, the cooks here evidently do not need to temper their recipes for European tastes.

Lamb Korma is difficult to find fault with anywhere, however, the best I have tasted was in Amsterdam. Shalimar's interpretation was more than adequate and I was grateful to eat what has easily become a comfort food for me.

Our only disappointment was in the steamed rice. It was plain, with nothing to flavor it, not even one cardamom seed, nothing.

Rua Cândido dos Reis 8
8600-681 Lagos Portugal
+351 282 180 743

O Cofre Churrasqueira

Not much to look at from the outside, this churrasqueira, or grill, and meat/fish market packed a whole lot of punch for a hole in the wall near the port of Lisbon. We found it by accident as we were working our way from the lower part of the Alfama towards downtown.

We arrived just as the lunch rush was over, and they were out of lamb and rabbit, my first two selections. Grilled chicken seemed a good enough choice, so I ordered it at $8 for the plate. As my companion was deciding on his order, the waiter was encouraging him to order a $10 chicken dish from a different part of the menu. Since they were both grilled chicken, it seemed odd to push for a larger dish, but my companion ordered it. This was tasty and an excellent value. How much better could it get for $2 more, a 3rd piece of chicken?
This is how much better! When the order arrived we were both in shock that a platter with three times as much food was placed on the table. With the language difficulty, we suspected that the waiter was encouraging us to order only the platter. What a bargain!
Rua Bacalhoeiros 2
1100 Lisbon Portugal
+351 218 868 935

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Le Ragueneau

For us, Le Ragueneau was a port in the storm, a rain storm. On our way to the Louvre, it made a convenient stop for a quick bite before starting our day. In truth we were searching for Gosselin Boulangerie, that I had read made the best baguettes in the city, but couldn't find it. Time was awasting and Le Ragueneau was there, so we walked in and sat down. No service within the first 10 minutes lead us to believe that it was bar service, so I walked up to the cashier, waited in line, and was told that the waitress would take our order at the table.

Back to the table, we placed our order within a few more minutes and waited. The napkin caught our attention and subsequently I discovered that the bistro was located in the very place where the friend of Cyrano de Bergerac, Ragueneau, owned a bakery. Up until the Google search I had thought them both fictional characters.

We received our petit dejeuner and it was adequate but a bit pricey for 9 euro. The comfort of being out of the rain was well worth the cost and the slow service was actually beneficial to our particular need. After reading more about this bistro, a return trip to try the first floor dining room may be a better bet.

202 Rue Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris France
+33 1 42 60 29 20
Metro: Palais Royale - Musee du louvre

Monday, October 15, 2012

La Consigne

Every once in awhile, we find ourselves staying near Gare de Lyon in Paris at the Palym Hotel. The hotel serves breakfast for 9 euro per person and although I've never tried it, I still prefer to eat at restaurants, if the breakfast doesn't automatically come with the room price. On our first stay we found La Consigne just around the corner, well, around two corners to be precise.

It's hard to go wrong with a croissant for breakfast when in France, in fact, most hotels serve them with juice, a hot drink of your choice, and occasionally they'll even throw in a small baguette to sweeten the deal. This deal was sweet enough for 5 euro and 20 cents, and filling too. There were two of us, so don't get over excited by seeing two croissant; we had to share them.


Not having tried a meal there, I can only recommend it for breakfast or a light snack. Their Nutella crepe compares favoribly with any other we've eaten on the streets of Paris. My partner in crime liked his Dame Blanche.

2 bis rue de Lyon
75012 Paris France
01 43 43 2107
Metro: Gare de Lyon or Ledru-Rollin

Osteria Al Bomba


While on our honeymoon, my husband and I were wandering the Cannaregio neighborhood one evening and noticed people lining up in a very small doorway. Our curiosity got the better of us and we decided to go inside to see what was attracting so many people. It was a cichetti bar with a small osteria in the back room. At that time we were only vaguely familiar with the Venetian custom of having small plates of appetizers with an "ombra" (small glass) of wine.

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All the cichetti were lined up behind the bar like regiments of toy soldiers, one company of vegetables, the next of fish, the next of meats and so on. So we stayed and have gone back several times since. There is always a list of wines by the glass and I encourage everyone who drinks dessert wines to try the Fragolino, a wine made from grapes of the same name. It seems it is only available in Venice and Naples. It tastes like strawberries and one sip brings me back to the first time I entered Al Bomba. I never leave Venice without a bottle to bring home.

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The bar itself is as long as the room, but people flow through quickly and many stay on for dinner in the dining room to the left of the bar. On our first visit the bar was filled almost exclusively with locals and that was an important part of its charm for us. The owners spoke very little English, but were happy to try, so in my worst Berlitz Italian I pointed to a cichetto and said, "due, per favore". The owner placed the small meatballs on a plate and handed it to us. I asked what it was called and he responded "polpette". I asked if he knew the English word for it and he leaned close, as if divulging a state secret and said in a hushed tone, "special meat". It wasn't until I got home and was reading one of my Italian cookbooks that I realized that polpette was the Italian word for meatballs. The business was sold to the chef by the original owners within the last two years. There are more tourists there now and fewer locals. The new owner's wife attends to the cichetti customers and speaks English. While we can still order polpette there, we will never again be served "special meat".

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On my 2nd to the last trip to Venice I spent the day showing off my favorite places to my nephew, in hopes of encouraging him to go back on his own one day. We stopped by Al Bomba in the early afternoon for a glass of Fragolino and a zucchini fritter. We were going to Trattoria Ca D'Oro for lunch, so we limited ourselves to only one cichetto, a pity. On my last trip, his sister was in tow and we made Al Bomba one of several cichetti bars we visited that night. It was an all cichetti dinner and we had a variety of items including cod fritters, tuna fritters, ricotta cakes, and a chicory patty, all fried, all delicious.


As you can see by the photos in this post, there were many temptations in this bar's assortment of cichetti. Of all the cichetti I have tried over the years, I would recommend that anyone interested in them should try the mantecato, cod (baccala), whipped into a frenzy with olive oil, into a very fluffy spread that is placed on toasted rustic bread. this was not in the case, but the osteria was willing to make it for us, at a price of 3 euros. If you look carefully at the cichetti photos you will see a range of prices starting at 1 1/2 euros and going to 3 euros. This is not a range of current pricing, but a chronological look at the pricing over a period of 4 years. Most other cichetti bars charge 1 euro per cichetto. I see a major correlation between the increase in tourists and the decrease in locals as patrons.

Calle di Oca 4297/4298
Cannaregio Neighborhood, Venice, Italy
Telephone +39 041 520 5175
Vaporetto stop: CaD'Oro
Walk up to Strada nova, turn left and look for Ca D'Oca on the far side of the street to your right.