Walk in through the back door, off Belden Place, if you want to get the full Pachino experience.
As you enter from the bustling alley, you follow a series of subtle signs pointing you up and down little stairways, through dark hallways, Martin Scorcese-single-shot-"Goodfellas"-style, by a cook who will look up from the pizza oven, grin and shoulder-nod you past the kitchen. Then you'll finally emerge into the restaurant proper, past a server at a terminal who will glance up at you after a moment and quietly point you to a table in the intimate yet airy brick dining room.
Diners used to the American style of hospitality may be unsettled by the hands-off manner here. You won't be assaulted by smiles or loudly greeted with a memorized spiel. But at Pachino, the folks know what they're doing, and from the service to the setting to the food, the experience is downright authentic Italian.
Pachino's Neapolitan-style pizzas boast a beautifully made crust that manages to be golden and crispy all the way across the bottom, while still being chewy and soft enough to fold. Like pizza done in the true Old World style, the crust takes center stage, as toppings are applied with a light hand.
When the Dei Re hit the table, our noses were immediately drawn to it and overtaken by its musky, sexy scent, a far better aphrodisiac than any scientifically developed perfume — truffle oil, sage, wild earthy mushrooms and the animalistic funk of prosciutto. Not that bland nonsense you can buy in plastic packaging at any supermarket, but real prosciutto, the kind that still smells like a pig and the whey it ate before its flesh was mystically cured and turned into beautiful pink slices of ambrosia.
The tastes and textures delivered, each element playing its part on the palate to create a silky, buttery pie with sophisticated complexity.
Like the pizza dough, the pasta here is housemade as well, and just as expertly crafted. Cavatelli, thin twisted shells, have the perfect heft of texture and toothsomeness to match up to the accompanying cream sauce laced with black truffle. Rounding out the dish are bits of housemade pork sausage, lending a bright fennel aroma to every bite.
It's a rich dish, and maybe not the wisest choice for a warm, sunny summer afternoon. But it was nearly identical to a dish I had on a recent trip to Parma, and each bite was like a time-space transporter taking me right back to Italy. Pachino's sauce is a little bit thicker, and the pasta was a different shape, but other than those tiny nuances, my tastebuds and brain couldn't tell the difference.
The polpettine di carne, four-meat meatballs swimming in marinara topped with a dollop of melting herbed ricotta, were a wonderfully rustic, wholly satisfying version of the classic Italian comfort food staple.
The bolognese sauce served with papardelle was more fresh and tangy than deep and rich, and the Diavola pizza promised more heat than it provided, even when the whole serrano peppers that graced the pie were eaten liberally, seeds and all. And those with American palates might find themselves occasionally reaching for the salt shaker.
But Pachino proves that you don't have to brave North Beach to find yourself satisfactorily, if momentarily, steeped in the halcyon, wine-soaked aura of Italy.
Pachino Trattoria & Pizzeria
Location: 318 Kearny St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 956-4056, www.sfpachino.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; closed Sundays
Price range: $6.50 to $21
Recommended dishes: Dei Re pizza ($18), cavatelli ($17), polpettine di carne ($9), prosciutto e burrata ($11)
Credit cards: All major