Sunday, January 22, 2012

Espetus Currascaria

Of all the restaurants I've been to, Espetus must be the grandaddy of the Meat & Potato genre, although in this case it's more like meat and yucca root. Even so, when you arrive you'll be greeted by your waiter, said yucca, gourgeres, and potato croquettes. After your order has been taken and you have milled around the salad and hot side dish bar, take note of the gizmo on your table with the small wheel that is red on one side and green on the other; it will come in handy.
Massive amounts of meat must be consumed here each month. If you're a quantity eater you will find this restaurant very appealing. Don't be alarmed, be forewarned; shortly after settling in back at your table,  you will be approached by several young men dressed as gauchos cum servers, wielding large butcher knives in one hand, and  larger swords piercing through various types of animal flesh in the other. They will keep approaching you until you stop them. Like the Living Dead, if I may use the comparison, they just keep coming, but in this case you do not shoot them in the head. That's where the wheelie gizmo comes in. Quickly flip the wheel to red and the onslaught will end. You will have vanquished the approaching evil. It's not all red meat however. Along with the beef and lamb, they also serve pork,  house made sausages, chicken and even shrimp. If it can be grilled, Espetus can serve it.

Although I would not encourage you to bring a vegetarian or vegan to this restaurant, Espetus does offer grilled vegetables, and salads  to amuse the palate between meat courses. They also serve Feijoada, the classic Brazilian black bean and pork stew, as well as a fish stew called Moqueca de Peixe and paella.

Espetus Website

1686 Market St at Gough
San Francisco CA 94102

(415) 552-8792

Friday, January 6, 2012

Una Pizza Napoletana

Within the last few years I was watching a TV program on the food Network about pizza. They were counting down the 10 best pizza in the country and when they got to the last two I jotted down the names and locations of the Pizzerias that placed 1st and 2nd. The runner up was in Arizona and the very best, Una Pizza Napoletana was in New York City. I immediately sourced their address in the East Village and placed it into a travel folder. Since we love visiting NYC, it seemed entirely possible that I would one day be able to try this restaurant. I didn't have to wait very long, because it moved to San Francisco last year. Luckily the owner, Anthony Mangieri wanted to move to the West coast where he could get more use out of his mountain bike than he had in his native New Jersey or NYC.

Mr. Mangieri's approach to pizza is intense, single minded, and artful. Everyone writing about him discusses jazz, zen and inflexibility. From where I sit, he appears to be an artist, working on technique until it becomes second nature and he can literally feel when the pizza (or art piece) is completed. As a former production potter, I know this first hand; the more repetition, the more perfection. We, the dining public, benefit from his dedication, because his dough is remarkable. It takes 3 days to become leavened naturally from the yeast in the air. With our sour dough legacy, San Francisco seems the perfect place for this flour and water artist to indulge his passion. He sets up the dough for the night and when it's used up, he closes the doors. That can be early on some evenings, so our routine is to get there when the doors open and work our way into the first seating. That approach is almost as flawless as his pizze.

Pizza Margherita is one of the 5 or 6 pizze that is offered at the restaurant along with water, Neapolitan wines, and beer. No soup, salads, or desserts. Why, you might ask? Because Mr. Mangieri wants to concentrate on making the perfect pizza. With a limited menu, he can have a small staff, few ingredients  to stock, and low overhead; there is little room for waste. The bow on the railing dividing the oven from the tables was the Christmas decoration. This man must have the lowest overhead in the business; he doesn't even buy yeast! I also suspect he has the smallest garbage pickup in the city, no one leaves a crumb on their plate. I digress, let's talk about the pizza.

The Margherita is poetry in motion. It's simplicity astounds and mesmerizes the palate. Tomato sauce, Mozzerella, fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, along with a bit of sea salt and of course, the dough, are all it takes to be a completely satisfying meal, in the expert hands of this American born pizzaiolo. The dough is crisp on the bottom, due to the wood fired oven, but light and chewy on the top. It's the best I have ever tasted either here or in Italy. It is flawless.

The Pizza Bianca is very good with the introduction of fresh garlic and the deletion of tomato sauce. As usual the crust was remarkable and the taste outstanding. Time to confess, I did bring my own porcini salt to the restaurant one evening and I loved it on this pizza, but I hope Mr. Mangieri never reads this or I may just get barred from his restaurant. There is no Soup Nazi vibe here, but I still don't believe my defilement of the Pizza Bianca would be appreciated. Now I wonder if anyone else has slipped red pepper flakes into their pockets, to smuggle into the restaurant.

Here's the Apollonia, named after Anthony's daughter. I believe it's served only on weekends, but a quick look at their menu should tell the tale. Think of it as the Bianca with egg, salami (looks like cotto salami, cooked) and black pepper flakes. Makes me want to experiment with a Carbonara pizza at home. In summation, I hope the perfect pizza is never achieved to Anthony Mangieri's satisfaction, because I fear he will take off on that mountain bike of his and never look back. I admire his ambition and the fact that he could make more money by adding menu items, but declines to do so because "it's not right".

Una Pizza Napoletana Website

210 11th St. at Howard
San Francisco CA
(415) 861-3444
Open: Wed.-Sat. 5 p.m. (until the dough runs out)