Contrada Delivers On Pasta, Pizza and A Good Time
On an early Saturday evening in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, people were still making their way to bars and restaurants.
But one place was already bustling and nearly full — Contrada.
It’s easy to see why. The Italian restaurant, which opened in January, is the kind of place that’s easy to go to and easy to like. On that Saturday, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, there were groups of hipster guys, families with toddlers, gal groups, and everything in between. It’s the kind of place you head to when you’re meeting friends for a casual night out or want an old-standby, where you know you’ll leave satisfied.
The long, slender restaurant boasts a walnut bar, antique mirrors and reclaimed wood panels on the walls that sort of look like a Jenga game gone wild. There’s a patio in the back, too, where you can dine al fresco on a nice summer night.
Chef Jason Tuley, late of TBD in San Francisco, and Picco Restaurant and Pizzeria in Larkspur, oversees the kitchen. The pastas are made in-house in the production room downstairs. And the pizzas cooked in the wood-fired Italian oven.
One sip of the Negroni Occhiolino (Contratto bitter, Del Professore Rosso Vermouth, and Alvear PX; $10) made me think I need to drink more Negronis from now on. The bitter orange taste was a great way to open and warm the palate.
The crudo ($18) changes, depending upon what’s available. That night it was slivers of medai or Japanese butterfish dolloped with snap peas, pea tendrils, pickled ramps and black garlic. It was a taste of spring with bite and depth.
Tuley offered up a fun fact with the dish. He told us if we looked up black garlic on Wikipedia, we’d see that Chef Bruce Hill, owner of Picco, was one of the first chefs in the country to start using it. Sure enough, that’s what it says here.
Five pizzas are offered, including a daily special, which is what we ordered: salsa verde, pickled ramps, favas, burrata, Pecorino, prosciutto, and an egg. The crust was crisp on the very edges, and softer and airier as you continued inward. The rich burrata oozed all over the top, co-mingling nicely with the herbs and salinity of the prosciutto. The pizza was cut into squares rather than the usual wedge pieces, which made eating it a little strange, especially when you got a center piece that was too soft to pick up with your hands.
The pastas are inspired. The tomato spaghetti ($26) was redolent with plump fresh prawns from Florida, and coated with a thick cioppino brodo that was intensely tomato-y, with a slight sweetness, that amusingly reminded my husband of my late-Mom’s tomato beef chow mein.
The green garlic fiorentini ($24), long, ridged elbow-shaped pasta with a moss hue, was tossed with milk-braised lamb, peas, and smoked ricotta salata. The fresh mint was a delightful way to interject lightness and freshness into the dish.
The Flannery prime hangar steak ($28) arrives already sliced, making sharing it easy to do. You could taste the minerality of the beef, which had a good toothsome texture. Almost even better were the large hen of the woods mushrooms, which took on a vivid smokiness from being cooked in the wood-fired oven.
For dessert, we shared the warm molasses pecan cake ($10). Pieces were torn and strewn on the plate alongside vanilla ice cream and apple-huckleberry compote. With crisp edges, moist center, and full of warm spices, the cake was like a big hug on a plate.
The restaurant was still humming with people when we left.
Not surprisingly at all.