This Ain’t My First Rodeo
It’s not my first time at Vicoletto.
I was here once before for a friend’s birthday dinner I had arranged, and it wasn’t anything like this last time, but this last visit surpassed ridiculous when it came to how long our party of six had to wait for anything.
Our reservation was for 9:30 PM on a Saturday night. Our group was seated downstairs in the wine cellar room at Vicoletto, which was nice for groups with a theater screen (playing “Roman Holiday” on this evening), and we ran into another big group of our friends in the same room who were finishing up their meal when we entered. In other words, when they left, we were the only people seated in the room.
We were seated by 9:40 PM, and suffice to say that when we got our bread, it was 10:20 PM. By the time we received our first course, it was nearing 11 PM. Suffice to say that we were done with one bottle of wine prior to receiving our first course and had to order another bottle to accommodate the meal. (Ingenious, actually, if you think about it.)
Lucky for us, it was the first night of Dine About Town (DAT) in San Francisco, and all of us opted to order something off of the DAT menu. To Vicoletto’s credit, they did what many restaurants in San Francisco do not do: put their most representative and popular items on the DAT menu to help entice diners to opt for the DAT menu. I absolutely hate DAT when you go to a restaurant only to find that the best items at that restaurant are only offered on the real menu and you have to forego the $34.99 DAT price point to end up ordering your choices off the restaurant’s daily menu.
But then Vicoletto went and messed that up, too, by running out of 2/3 of the 3 courses I wanted off of the DAT menu. Essentially, while I still stuck to the choices presented on the DAT menu, I was unable to get the items that were my first choices. Considering this was the first evening of DAT, you’d think they’d have made plenty of each item, given the number of reservations they had.)
Am I being picky? Perhaps; but that is what I’m here for, to give you a full breakdown on the experience of eating at Vicoletto.
One truly noteworthy thing about the evening at Vicoletto that must be mentioned was this wine we ordered: a 2008 San Lorenzo di Gino Verdicchio. It’s a beautifully crispy and slightly fruity blend with a hint of oak that is somewhere in between a Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, medium in body. For the low price of $32, it simply could not be beat. Sure, due to the wait, we ended up ordering two of these, but in all honesty, I’m glad we did as I truly enjoyed this wine. It’s available on this site, which also offers a case discount. It’s truly magnificent and easily drinkable on a daily (if not hourly) basis when cold.
With the items we chose this evening, ranging from pasta to fish to veal, the Verdicchio was a classic pairing and one that worked well with both the first and second courses for the evening.
So, what did we eat?
Well, my first choice of Calamari (described on the menu as “sauteed fresh Monterey squid with herbs, lemon and white wine) was not available so I, along with several at our table, got the Burrata, pictured at the top of this page. The portion was quite generous and warranted the $18 price, in my opinion. The arugula salad was simple and went with the fresh cheese nicely. According to the menu, this particular burrata was voted the best in Italy, and is imported from the southern Italian region of Puglia.
Some others opted for the Insalata Tricolore at Vicoletto, consisting of Belgian endive, radicchio and arugula, topped with parmesan cheese, with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. For $11, this dish was not worth ordering as there wasn’t anything notable about it unless you count the greens being fresh. The dressing was light, but you can find a better salad than this is countless places within this city. Definitely, opt for the $7 additional to get the Burrata for your starter course.
The salmon was generous in portion also. Accompanied by a roasted red bell pepper puree with asparagus, I found it to be slightly bland but extremely fresh and ideally cooked. While I liked the fish, I was not a big fan of the red bell pepper puree which added nothing to the dish. This variety of salmon was on the lighter side of salmon, and would have been better with a polenta side, or something of more substance than the puree that was offered. The asparagus was good.
My friend and I both opted for the Veal dish. Thinly sliced veal was drizzled in a lemon caper sauce which wasn’t too sour, served with spinach and mashed potatoes, portioned nicely on the whole though a bit skimpy on the amount of meat. The sauce was delicious; the spinach was cooked nicely in olive oil; and the mashed potatoes were regular, at best, and not quite the standard I’d expect from a restaurant. The dish in itself was “good”, but the veal in itself was really unremarkable. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty on the whole as it was, and the combination of all the items on this dish worked nicely; it was just unremarkable. Let’s just say no moans escaped my throat while eating this.
Lobster Ravioli, anyone?
I had this dish the first time I came to Vicoletto, and it was equally delicious this time. However, the portioning is on the truly weak side. Five raviolis spread out across a plate does not make a full entree. The price was cheaper, compared to the aforementioned entrees, but Vicoletto would be better served by increasing the price to $23 and offering four more raviolis, at least!
This dish is served with a tomato-cream based sauce with small shrimp here and there on the plate. The sauce was good, and the pasta was cooked perfectly to al dente. I love this dish!
If I had to guess what Vicoletto’s signature dish is, it would be the Tagliatelle. This dish is served with a pork ragu type of tomato sauce, topped with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil. We asked for a lot of fresh parmesan, and the two people who ordered this enjoyed their dish. The portion was decent, and when I tasted it, I felt like it needed a bit more salt to bring it to life (which is fine, as bland is easily fixed; salty is not). That said, I should mention that Mr. K, whose dish I was tasting, disagreed and said it was on the salty side. The pasta, again, was cooked perfectly.
Now, nearing midnight, it was time for dessert. This was the course for which Vicoletto had, again, run out of my first choice — the Panna Cotta. My next favorite would have been the tiramisu, so I gladly ordered that.
The Chocolate cake, pictured above, was what half the table ordered, and it was notably good. The flavor of chocolate was heavy while the sweetness and texture of the souffle-cake was discernably lighter and easy on the palate. This dish is one I would definitely recommend.
The tiramisu was huge, compared to the chocolate cake, and was overall very good. The creamy parts of it were a tad more liquefied than I like, but altogether, this was a good dessert, balanced nicely with the scent of rum and the sweetness of cream.
Keeping in mind that each of us opted for the $34.99 DAT dinner, each individual portion came to $60, including tax and tip, by the time we were done with two bottles of a $32 wine. I missed out when the bill was being calculated, so I am not sure if we tipped heavily or not, but it did strike me as a bit more per person than I’d have expected from this dinner.
I reserve my final judgment on the service at Vicoletto, given that my first time there did not yield the same ridiculous wait for food. Bear in mind, too, that I am not saying the servers were anything but nice, as they were all pleasant, and the owner was simply fantastic. What was ridiculous was the amount of time it took to get the food, or even the bread, for that matter. That said, the food was better on this visit than my first, where even the burrata failed to impress.
Vicoletto is located in North Beach at 550 Green Street. The ambiance, mood, and seating is ideal for groups of friends to dine together; it’s a bit more casual for dates than I would expect, but I suppose that depends on your date. The restaurant is neither quiet nor what I consider romantic dining. Parking can be incredibly difficult in this area, especially from Thursday to Sunday, and strangely enough, there is a valet parking sign up front, but no valet service is offered. The owner allowed us to just park in front of that sign, so it might serve you well to go in and ask. Vicoletto has a nice selection of beers in addition to a great wine list; I’d definitely stop in here to share a bottle of wine with a friend at the bar, over an order of the Burrata Cheese.
Addictive Factor: 7/10
Overall Rating: 6.7/10
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.