Pizza and Pasta Rule at Osteria Coppa

Perfectly acceptable pasta and mediocre slices of pizza are easy to find.  If you haven’t had a decent interpretation of either in a while, you can easily forget what a great version tastes like.

Let’s just say I’ve now been reminded.

Osteria Coppa in San Mateo is owned by the folks who run Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay; a Peninsula institution.  Executive Chef Chanan Kamen takes pride in his handmade pastas and hand-stretched pizzas, and it shows.  His resume includes Michelin-starred Quince and Jardinere in San Francisco, and Picholine and Tabla in New York City.

Osteria Coppa is a farm-to-table restaurant, meaning they use organic, locally sourced, artisanal ingredients.  They cure their salumi in-house, fire up hand-made pizzas in their stone ovens, and artfully make their own pastas.

I paid two visits to the restaurant and each time focused solely on the pizzas and pastas, the latter of which has been getting some positive mentions in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News and The San Francisco Examiner, lately.

Braised Radicchio, Panchetta and Aged Balsamico Pizza

I tried both the house-made sausage, speck and crimini mushroom pizza, as well as the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico.  Both thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies were fantastic for this simple reason: the fresh, creative topping combinations worked perfectly on an exceptional crust.

The flavors on both pizzas were well conceived, but I was particularly impressed with the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico pie.  It was one of the best pizzas I have had in a while.  I fell in love with the wonderfully tangy sweetness of the balsamico.  It made me wonder why I hadn’t tasted balsamic vinegar on a pizza before!  It was the perfect match for the meaty, fatty goodness of the of pancetta bits.  And the radicchio was an edgier stand-in for the typical red onions.

My dining companion at one point declared, “Even the crust is great on this pizza!”  The crust was perfectly crisp and charred on the bottom, pillowy soft and sweet on the inside.  If you order just one pie while you’re there, this is the one.

As far as Osteria Coppa’s pastas go, the San Jose Mercury News has called them “exquisite”, and even named the Tagliatelle Bolognese one of the Top Ten Dishes of 2010.

Tagliatelle Bolognese

There are plenty of places that make their own pastas, but they either make the mistake of overcooking it so that it becomes mushy (fresh pasta should take no longer than a few minutes to cook), or the flavor is way too doughy and floury, without enough focus on fresh, quality ingredients.

There’s no risk of either here.  Preparation, ingredients and technique all have equal importance.  The Fettuccine Marinara with cauliflower and broccoli rabe was perfectly al dente, and the noodles were delicious with a wonderful eggy, almost buttery flavor.  The freshness of the vegetables was obvious and actually made the dish seem light.

But I can confirm that the recent attention on the Tagliatelle Bolognese is well warranted.  The dish was nothing short of fabulous with its smooth, rich pork and deliciously creamy sauce.  And once again, the noodles themselves were the star in both texture and taste.  But for all the richness of this dish, it never seemed overly heavy.

Blood Orange Lemonade

Aside from the pizzas and pastas, the house-made blood orange lemonade is more proof of the inventive items on the menu.  It’s a fun twist on the typical lemonade and it shows how the restaurant takes full advantage of their access to great fruits and vegetables.  They use unconventional ingredients and combine them in a way that makes you feel like every item is fully realized.

Service is casual but expert.  There’s no pretentiousness from the staff, and families are welcome.  In the Bay Area, that’s a welcome change for a restaurant of this caliber.  They’ve done a successful job of creating a warm, sophisticated yet easy vibe here.  Chef Kaman was an expert pasta maker while at Quince, and the peninsula is lucky he’s decided to bring his four-star talents to suburbia.

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A Foodie Feast at Bruce Hill’s Zero Zero

Zero Zero's Margherita pizza

Hopes were high for famous pizza master, Bruce Hill’s new San Francisco outpost, Zero Zero.  He’s most known for his legendary pies at Larkspur’s Pizzeria Picco, and San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer recently declared Zero Zero the “French Laundry of pizza”.

I’m sorry Mr. Bauer, but I have to kindly disagree.

We’d notified the Zero Zero staff that our table of 15 food bloggers were planning on descending on his new restaurant for Saturday brunch, so there was full disclosure.  We are a critical, fun-loving, pizza loving bunch and Bruce himself decided to come out and say hello. His only request?…That we get loud and have fun while we were there. Check!

Food bloggers @virgoblue @istelleinad @lickmyspoon @brittanypiehl @joanneisafoodie @bonni_bella @inuyaki @mrfredbriones

The space is perfect for large groups and beer loving, bar-hopping foodies. They’ve got two bars and plenty of space for large tables.  The decor is very pub-like, but nothing particularly special or sophisticated. Just casual and comfortable.

So we ordered just about every pizza on the menu, including the Margherita, which is the standard by which all Neapolitan pizzas should be judged. This one had a good charred crust, fantastically flavorful yet mild and creamy mozzarella cheese and a fresh tomato sauce. I would’ve liked a little more zest or overall flavor from the sauce, though.

Zero Zero's Mission pizza w/broccoli rabe

We also ordered the Townsend (garlic, potato and prosciutto), Mission (broccoli rabe, garlic, olives) and Fillmore pies (Hen of the Woods mushrooms, leeks, fontina).  All were somewhat unspectacular and not particularly memorable.

But I really enjoyed the Geary, which had clams, tomato sauce, garlic and bacon. The combo of flavors on this one popped and made for the most memorable pie on the table.

We also ordered some Fried Chicken Thighs with Semolina Waffles. The waffles were slightly grainy because of the semolina but had a great flavor. The chicken, however, had a strange flavor that just didn’t work. One of the plates was even so disturbingly flavored that we informed the kitchen. It could’ve been rancid oil, or a dirty skillet that had leftover bits of flavor from a previous night. The staff was kind enough to offer a second plate of chicken on the house (and comped our other plate as well). I wish I could say it was good but it wasn’t. The breading was too thick and oddly flavored. But the chicken thigh itself was super juicy, tender and delicious.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this place for large parties or as a place to kick back at the bar that’s a definite step up from Bucca di Beppo or your neighborhood dive bar. A good place for groups is a great thing to have in your back pocket.

However, as a food blogger, I can’t say I’d ever go back for the pizza itself.

Zero Zero on Urbanspoon

Is Gialina’s the Best Pizza in San Francisco?

The hubby, kid and I decided to head to the city for something fun, yet family friendly.  Enter Gialina, which foodies in the area have described as one of, if not the best pizza in San Francisco.  It’s also been named one of the Best Pizzas in the country by GQ magazine.

The place is TINY and is a neighborhood joint in the Glen Park area of the city, which means you don’t head there for atmosphere or decor.  Parking is a breeze, but the wait can be torture.  The only answer is to show up before 5:30pm, which we did.  They only serve dinner, but they do it 7 nights a week.

Service is accommodating and friendly, but not warm or inviting.  They’ve got a job to do and they do it well.  However, with the space being so small and the amount of people who are waiting outside, they never make you feel rushed so they can turn the table.  I greatly appreciated that.

We had the Little Meatballs w/tomato sauce & provolone, and the Pork Belly w/sauteed chard studded with currants.  Both these appetizers are fantastic, which is why this restaurant is known not only for their pies but the small plates they put out.  Surprisingly, I LOVED the chard because the bits of currants gave it tang and sweetness that contrasted the flavor of the bitter greens and pungent garlic so well.

Then the pies.  We ordered two: the Wild Nettles pie w/panchetta, provolone and mushrooms was first.  WOW!  The combo of flavors is incredible and not one you would think of.  The nettles give texture and fresh green flavor while the panchetta and provolone give heft and richness.  But the biggest thing about their pies is the CRUST!  It’s paper-thin, so much so that you can practically see through it.  Yet it’s not annoyingly crackly and dry like a cracker.  It had a nice soft texture on top and a thin crispness on the bottom.  It was almost like a freshly baked baguette, but of course, not as thick or doughy.  How do they do that?  I mean, it’s paper thin!  And the crust also had the slightest tang, almost like it was sourdough.   Amazing and very impressive.

Our second pie was just as delicious, but in a totally different way.  The Atomica had a tomato sauce with a little kick from chilies, mushrooms, thinly shaved red onions and mozzarella.   Again, wow!  Such simplicity and quality in its ingredients and preparation.

We were so impressed that my husband declared it the most memorable pizza he’s ever had.  I declared it the best thin crust pizza you’ll ever find in San Francisco.

I’ve tried A16 (the restaurant, overall, is overrated IMHO), Pizzeria Delfina (great Neapolitan-style pies, but it’s a different crust that’s much more pillowy, and the pies can occassionally be soggy in the middle), Pizzeria Picco (a bit dry and boring), and Pizza Antica (can you say inconsistent?).  But none compare to the innovation, simplicity, and sheer expertise of Gialina.  It’s the little unassuming Italian neighborhood restaurant that blows most others like it, out of the water.

Gialina on Urbanspoon