Rose Pistola Still Blooming After All These Years

Asparagus and lamb pizza at Rose Pistola.

There’s no denying that North Beach has to be one of San Francisco’s most touristy neighborhoods.

But it’s also full of enough charm, vivacity and quality Italian food to continue draw locals, as well.

That’s one reason why after 15 years Rose Pistola, a short hop from the Hilton San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf, is still going strong.

The Ligurian-inspired restaurant recently got a face-lift with a new, softer color scheme in grey, burgundy and brown. The tile floors have been restored and the rich mahogany gleams.

Last month, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to try the updated menu by new Executive Chef Mark Gordon.

All around me, tables were full of locals, as well as out-of-towners carbo-loading for the next day’s spirited Bay to Breakers race through the streets of San Francisco.

We started with stuffed calamari ($13), tender soft tubular bodies stuffed with seafood mousse, then grilled until smoky.

Tender, charred stuffed calamari.

Grilled, crusty bread spread fava bean puree and lusty olive-oil preserved tuna.

Next, the simple yet sublime bruschette of chunky, mashed favas and tuna conserva ($12). With a glass of racy, white wine, you could make a light dinner of these alone. The creamy, sweet favas were a wonderful match to the the rich, silky tuna preserved in olive oil. It’d be a great nosh to make at home, too.

Spinach papparadelle ($16) brought a heap of wide, toothsome noodles coated with thick, lamb ragu and a scattering of spring English peas that lent a bit of lightness to the dish.

Wide, tender noodles covered in rich lamb ragu.

Pizzas here are formed on very thin crusts abundant with air holes to create a snappy bite. Indeed, the crust reminded me more of a cracker than the usual crisp, yet denser base. We chose one with spicy sausage, rosemary and shaved asparagus ($12) that tasted just as good the next day enjoyed as leftovers for lunch.

Ligurian seafood burrida ($32), which is a lot like boullabaise, proved the only misstep. A veritable cauldron arrived at the table, with an abundance of seafood, including calamari and mussels, in a smoky tomato broth with a slight peppery kick. It was easily enough for two. Because various seafood cook at various times, it’s never easy to get a stew like this just right. As it was, the prawns had turned dry and rubbery while the chunks of fish remained nicely moist and plump.

Seafood stew with the questonable addition of sugar snap peas.

Crostini topped with Dungeness crab.

Normally, I’m all for using seasonal ingredients in dishes, but sugar snap peas had been added to the seafood stew for some inexplicable reason. By the time the dish arrived at the table, the pods had turned limp, negating one of the real pleasures of this spring veggie, which is its lively crunch. It was a clear case of one of these things just doesn’t belong.

The burrida came with crostini topped with Dungeness crab. Tasty, but hard to dip into the broth, which  is really what you wanted to do.

When we finished, hot towels with lemon quarters were brought to the table — a nice touch to tidy up after digging into this dish with your fingers.

For dessert, we enjoyed the sacrapantina ($7), a generous wedge of cake that elicited envious gazes when it was brought to our table. Layers of airy Italian sponge cake are interspersed with creamy zabaglione. Crunchy amaretti crumbs covered the top of the cake and a crisp meringue slab reinforced its side.

Creamy, soft and crunchy -- Italian sponge cake worth the calories.

Coconut panna cotta in mint syrup with citrus.

A tropical coconut panna cotta ($7) was light and refreshing. With a perfectly wiggly texture, it sat in a pool of jade-green mint syrup.

Even after 15 years, Rose Pistola still offers a fun time for soaking up a taste of San Francisco.

Other Italian Restaurants in San Francisco: Quince

And: Il Cane Rosso

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Date: Friday, 24. June 2011 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Pizza, Restaurants, Seafood

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  1. 1

    The food there looks marvelous!



  2. 2

    Ah…just the mention of Rose Pistola brings back fond memories. I moved to SF in ’96 and it was THE restaurant to visit. I didn’t go until a year or two later but I remember it was worth the wait. :-)

  3. 3

    Wow! Incredible photos, this place is amazing! I want to go. By the way that is one of the most delicious looking pizzas I’ve ever seen. Thanks for awakening my senses this early in the morning I really needed it glad I found your site through foodbuzz. =]


  4. 4

    Mmmm, coconut panna cotta sounds really good, but wouldn’t the mint negate the sweet fattiness of coconut? How do those flavors combine?

  5. 5

    Sounds wonderful. Another one to add my list of places to try.

  6. 6

    So great to see them going on so strong. I used to stop by for take out before film in the park on Washington Sq.

  7. 7

    The food looks very tasty. And there are some dishes that I’ve never tried before too. Isn’t Italian food such a diverse cuisine! We don’t have many Ligurian restaurants here I have to say.

  8. 8

    Shame about the prawns, but the dessert had to be worth it!

  9. 9

    All I need is that bruschetta and a slice of that cake and I’d be super happy!

  10. 10

    The stuff squid look really charred and smoky and I’m sure I would love this dish. Seafood is so delicate it needs to be treated as such.

  11. 11

    To this day, I still don’t really know what happened to Reed Hearon. Any insight? Rose Pistola is a SF institution but, everything can stand a little updating occasionally. Great to hear she’s still alive and kickin’…

  12. 12

    Oooh, what a meal! I love how innovative it looks…that stuffed calamari is brilliant!

  13. 13

    I love going up to the bay area, my boyfriend grew up in Santa Clara so we try to get up there as often as we can. Next time we’re in San Fransisco I definitely want to go to this place, all the food sounds amaaaazing!!!

  14. 14

    A couple of years ago my wife and I were visiting Napa Valley and San Francisco and had the chance to eat at Rose Pistola and had one of the bet meals I have ever had. The ambiance, service and food are top notch!

  15. 15

    […] Other North Beach-Area Eateries: Rose Pistola […]

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