Recession? Not at Poggio

Can you guess what this deep, dark dish is?

My husband and I play this game whenever we go out to eat somewhere new.

If the place is a true delight from food to ambience to price, we will invariably turn to one another and say, “If we lived here, this would be our neighborhood place.”

Peter McNee, chef of Poggio trattoria in Sausalito, laughed when I told him we’d already made that declaration about his restaurant from the moment the bread (a special order of just-baked shards of pizza dough, scattered with piney rosemary and drizzled with fruity extra virgin olive oil) was set down at our table. If only we didn’t live some 50 odd miles south, Poggio would definitely be our neighborhood haunt.

Crisp, warm, and delicious fragrant rosemary pizza slab shards.

Turns out he plays that game, too, when he dines out. And so must the throngs of diners crowding the very lively Poggio the recent Saturday night when McNee invited me in to try his dishes. It was my first time at the nearly 6-year-old restaurant. Every seat was taken inside the warm dining room, the bustling bar, and at the outside tables where you can feel the gentle breeze from the Bay.

Seems like a lot of people are making this satisfying Northern Italian restaurant their neighborhood spot.  They’re racking up smaller tabs now, a manager told us. And they are bringing in their own wine more often now to take advantage of the reasonable $20 corkage fee. But recession or no recession, diners continue to flock here.

It’s easy to see why. The cheery sommelier arrives at your table wearing suspenders and armed with the most colorful and memorable stories about the featured wines. Entree prices are moderate, considering the caliber of food and the amount of it. Portions are very generous here. Our half-orders of pasta resembled full-size plates at other establishments.

It’s a place where you can drop in for a Calabria pizza (Calabrian chile roasted pork, gypsy peppers, and picholine olives; $12) or a rustic spit-roasted goat leg with eggplant, and roasted onion and goat cheese gratin ($18).

A taste of the sea with albacore crudo.

The menu changes daily. From time to time, McNee also offers week-long specialty menus, including the “Festa de Pesce,” which we got to try the last night it was offered. This festival of seafood featured both cold and warm small-plate preparations of fresh local seafood.

After McNee told us how painstaking the stuffed calamari ($9) was to make, and how many pounds of squid bodies that he, himself, had to hand-stuff with a mixture of sofrito and diced squid tentacles, how could we not order it?

A shallow earthenware dish arrived as black as a Texas oil pool. The plump squid bodies were braised in their own ink. The squid were tender, and the sauce so deep, earthy, and complex that it was hard not to spoon up every drop.

From the “Festa de Pesce” menu, we also tried the local albacore crudo ($8), a mound of cubed buttery tuna with the refreshing hit of chile, lime, and mint.

Pasta with lamb

Pasta with veal

The two half-orders of pastas were not only ample in size, but plentiful with meat. The cavatelli with lamb sugo featured ridged, fresh pasta in a hearty, robust sauce. The pappardelle with slow-cooked veal and green olive sugo was a soul-satisfying dish with big chunks of fork-tender meat accented by salty, nutty Pecorino Romano.

We saw so many orders go by of the whole fish cooked in salt crust ($29) that we couldn’t resist getting it, too. The whole red snapper arrived at the table looking as if it were encased in bread dough. But it was merely the salt crust baked till golden, dense, and almost yeasty smelling. The server removed the salt crust table-side, filleted the fish neatly, and even dug out the coveted fish cheeks to present on the serving plates.

The whole red snapper baked in salt crust is brought to the table...

The server excavates the fish from the salt crust...

Then presents the fillets on serving plates, along with the prized fish cheeks.

With a squeeze of lemon, the fish was perfect in its simplicity. It was tender, moist, and ever so delicate.

For dessert, we shared the bay leaf-infused panna cotta. The silky, wobbly custard had a haunting taste. Its texture was dreamy and gentle, like barely solid cream. Luscious figs preserved in Vin Santo, the Italian dessert wine, were spooned over the top.

As we walked to our car, leaving behind this most convivial establishment, my husband and I pledged that if we ever win the Lotto, we’re retiring to Sausalito. After all, we’ve already got our neighborhood place picked out.

Perfect panna cotta

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Author:
Date: Tuesday, 29. September 2009 5:15
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, Ginger, Great Finds, Restaurants

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11 comments

  1. 1

    What a lovely review, and what a lovely place! now I am dying to try it! I don’t live in Sausalito either but it sounds as though it’s more than worth a trip over the bridge. Thank you for a great review!

  2. 2

    Anywhere that serves half-size pasta dishes with so much meat sounds perfect! I’ve never had fish encrusted in salt before but it looks really good! I can’t wait to check this place out!

  3. 3

    What gorgeous looking food! Yummy!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. 4

    ohh, looks really good. Thanks for the post, I can’t wait to try it one day. Is it close to the Ferry? Is it open for Sat lunch?

  5. 5

    Would totally be one of my go-to spots if I lived up there!!

  6. 6

    Food Gal you are killing me! Why oh why did I read this now? Dinner is still hours away…

  7. 7

    Haha, I play that game in my head too. Man, I can see why this place is immune to recession! The food looks so hearty and delicious!

  8. 8

    I want to eat dinner with you for a week. We can just crawl from restaurant to restaurant. I’ll order the size whale pants from Lands End and be ready to go next time we’re in the Bay Area.

  9. 9

    amazing photos! that food looks delish – i just had lunch and am already hungry again! poggio definitely goes on my bucket list of restaurants. thanks for sharing!

  10. 10

    Ann, yes, you can reach Poggio by the ferry to Sausalito. Make day of it, and shop the galleries and boutiques there, too.

    Mark: You’re on. I’ll start doing double-duty at the gym right now in anticipation for our gorge-fest. ;)

  11. 11

    Oh my, I know where I am eating out next. Wow – that looks truly stellar and each picture out did the last.

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