Piccino, a hip little cafe and pizzeria that opened in the Dogpatch five years ago, has a new home in a bright yellow renovated Victorian it shares with MAC, a designer clothing boutique, and Dig Wine Store. As part of an enclave of smart shops in a neighborhood that still harbors the Hells Angels headquarters, dive bars and tire shops, Piccino basks in the balmy weather and the edgy diversity of this nine-square-block area of The City.
Pioneering owners Sher Rogat and Margherita Stewart Sagan moved their original operation, which exulted in good design, Italian-inspired local food and sophisticated European wines, to an airy, 70-seat space, filled with light and finished with natural materials: blonde-wood floors, two long wooden communal tables, comfy bucket chairs and stools and a wide, L-shaped counter around an open kitchen from which diners can stare at the inventory at MAC, visible behind a glass wall. With one eye on a long white shirt at MAC and another on the meticulous cooks working in front of me, I unfolded a soft organic cotton napkin and ordered a two-course lunch. The clean cooking at Piccino keeps its patrons sleek enough to aspire to chic.
An antipasto salad of braised broccoli di ciccio — broccoli sprouts — with cracked farro and toasted almonds in citrusy vinaigrette ($5) was piled on a seemingly torn strip of glazed pottery. It could have come out of the Mediterranean diet handbook. Delicate semolina gnocchi ($13), three puffy disks glazed with toasted cheese and topped with a ragout of fresh peas and ramp greens in a parmesan brodo (parmesan crust-enriched vegetable stock), was positively voluptuous in contrast while still staying vegetarian and light. Clarity defines the sensibility at Piccino.
The heart of the menu has always been pizza, which have thin, thin crusts and spare toppings. The oregano perfumed margherita ($10) gets only the barest coating of tomato sauce and dots of fresh mozzarella, yet it has plenty of flavor and engaging texture. The pisello pizza ($18) mounded with bright-green pea leaves looks like a salad. Underneath, the crust is dressed with buffalo mozzarella, a scattering of peas and a drizzle of green herb pesto, which all work together if you fold it up and eat it like a sandwich.
A meal begins with shared little dishes meant to accompany food-centric wines available in glasses and carafes to encourage tasting. A bowl of marinated olives ($5) and shattering crackers dusted with powdered coriander ($3) go with a glass of rosé. Crunchy fava bean fritters ($9), actually fragrant loose-grained felafel served with yogurt dipping sauce; and large pork and beef polpette ($12), tender meatballs with a silky texture, call out for a glass of red. The wines are organized by description — “quirky whites of great personality,” “country quaffing reds” — a system that works, considering that most of us are not familiar with these small production bottles.
After lunch, instead of buying a $300 shirt, I walked over to the groovy Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous ice cream shop on the corner of Third and 22nd streets for coffee ice cream in a still-warm housemade cone. I figure I saved $297 and still ended up buying something that I might wear forever.
Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide. Contact her at email@example.com.
Location: 1001 Minnesota St. (at 22nd Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 824-4224, www.piccinocafe.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday, closed Monday
Price range: Antipasti and primi $3 to $13; pizza $10 to $18
Recommended dishes: Braised broccoli di ciccio, semoplina gnocchi, margherita pizza, fava bean fritters
Credit cards: All major