A16 might just have the best southern Italian food in San Francisco - certainly the best I've had since leaving Europe. For a place smack in the heart of the Marina that's filled with striped-shirt wearers, it's remarkably without pretension and attitude, the service is efficient and the staff is personable and witty. The challenge is getting seated...
Tonight was our second trip to A16, and the food just gets better. We started with perfect meatballs - light and almost fluffy made with pork, proscuitto and ricotta cheese which was quickly followed by the mozzarella burata (handmade partially formed mozzarella) with crostini and a fried cheese dish - amazingly crispy and chewy with a radiccio and arugula salad on top.
We all had pizza next - and my rapini (broccoli rabe) pizza with pancetta and chili oil was amazing. I've always been a fan of broccoli rabe, and the preparation was spot-on: garlicy and spicy with a little fat and salt lent to it by the melt-in-your-mouth pancetta. The crust was perfectly charred and had a fresh dough flavor.
The point doesn't come off for the food, which is a clear five stars. A half point is lost due to the physical layout of the entrance/bar area - it's way too crowded, making it almost impossible to physically get up to the bar to actually order a drink. Because the restaurant is so popular (read: prone to crowds) and they offer food service at the bar, the turnover up front is very slow making it an uncomfortable place to park yourself while waiting for your table. Still, once you make it to the restaurant area, it's quite relaxed, with enough space around each table so that you don't feel like you're listening in on your neighbor's conversation.
The second half point is due to the 45 minute delay we incurred waiting for our table. Even though we had to wait, the maitre 'd did a very good job keeping us informed about the delay (a table wasn't clearing out fast enough) and arranged with the owner, who stopped in to check on us, to comp us a significant amount off of the bill for the delay. For the record, I do expect that a restaurant open for more than 3 months should know their turnover rates and arrange for their seatings appropriately. I know we were not the only table waiting to be seated this night.
Still, when we had our first bite of the food, the four of us unanimously agreed that it's practically impossible to be angry, because the food completely lived up to our expectation.
Highly recommended if you miss the bold flavors of Southern Italian food.