Man, did I lag on going to ~LA CICCIA~. Sometimes I kick myself for not going to places sooner, especially when your friends are telling you it's good. Damned good, in fact. I even had a gift certificate, a thoughtful present from a friend, gathering dust on my desk. And it's a regional Italian restaurant for crissakes, what on earth was my problem? So I finally scooted my culo to the two-year-old La Ciccia, a name that has a variety of meanings, from "belly fat/sweet fat/baby fat" to "buddy" to the meant-to-be-endearing "cute chubby girl" (I've heard that one before, grrrrrrreat). Well, belly fat is no buddy of mine, so my friend and I actually had a standing rule that once we lost ten pounds from our increased exercise/dieting regimen, we'd come to La Ciccia to celebrate, no holds barred. Yes, this is how our minds work, which is how we get into trouble to begin with.
This cozy neighborhood restaurant is run by the charming husband-and-wife team of Lorella Degan (front of house) and Massimiliano Conti (chef and wine wizard). They are friendly and personable, with chef "Max" even coming into the dining room during the evening to answer questions, say hello to guests, and see what everyone thinks of their meal. That kind of care translates into the excellent and attentive service you'll encounter here--it comes from the top down.
The menu is all about authentic Sardinian dishes, with many that can potentially throw our local Tuscan-cuisine-lovin' dining public for a loop. Lots of seafood, unique pastas, and different flavors here, like saffron. The dishes really reminded me and my dining pal of being in Italy (both of us have lived there), and I even had an Italian amica, who as a people are notorious for being the pickiest diners ever, and even she was raving about the food, and how true to Sardinia it is.
The menu is pretty tight (it's a small kitchen) but there's plenty to contribute to your ciccia status, starting with their fresh bread and spunky olive oil. We tried a special of gorgeous, juicy sardines one night, and then dove into the pastas. My friend blissed out on her house-made spaghetti with cauliflower and bottarga ($14), a perfectly cooked and seasoned tangle of pasta, topped with dreamy olio nuovo (we were there in February). The bottarga is preserved mullet roe, so it has a milder flavor than tuna roe--scrumptious. We also tried a delish special of house-made tagliolini with beans, calamari, and octopus.
Being a porker myself, I opted for their imported semolina gnochetti ($13), piccolo nubs of tender pasta with a pork sugo that, shocker, wasn't too salty--it was just right, and topped with pecorino. It was a monster portion, so I had them pack up half of it for munching at home later. Now that I think about it, nothing we had was salty--the kitchen is a bit more restrained, which might made the food seem under-seasoned to some diners who are used to saltier food.
I'm completely matta for fregola, the Sardinian pasta that's like Israeli couscous--it's prepared here with mushrooms and pancetta. On my list for next time. Ditto on the house-cured salumi ($14), so hard to pass up, and the pizzas ($11-$13)--they looked extraordinary (the previous location was a pizza joint). My next meal here is shaping up nicely, I gotta say. There is also a whole-roasted fish of the day (AQ), which makes me think I want to come back in a group of four so we can do salumi, pizza, pasta, and fish. And order lots and lots of wine.
We finished with the wild boar stew ($22), rich and satisfying with a tang of saffron and the dusky addition of dried porcini and fresh mushrooms. The juicy and tender boar comes from Texas. Please note the menu is Italian-style, so you have to order contorni, like a side of vegetables--the smashed potato with carrot was spot-on with the boar ($5).
We were dying, like, mamma mia, but had to finish with something sweet. (Come on, we're professionals.) I honestly can't recall how I felt about the ricotta and saffron cake ($7), because it was quite overshadowed by the incredible locally made gelato. We had a trio of gelato, with flavors of saffron, olive oil with pepper, and vanilla with saba. Fantastico.
The décor here reminds me of some of the bare bones neighborhood places you see in coastal Italy--weird wall color (in this case, it's a sea green-aqua), funky lighting, and not the most attractive bar. Tables are close together, and it's boisterous. So folks who need aesthetics to be on par with the food will be a wee bit fussy here--either cool it, or go to Farina.
I liked how casual and relaxed it felt, with couples and small groups having a good time, drinking fab wines off the list. Blame it on Massimiliano, a former sommelier--he's the madman behind this jaw-dropping and extensive all-Italian list, with some serious winners from Sardinia. (Get your bifocals out--they all barely fit on the legal-sized back page of the menu, at something like a size six point size. Not unlike this column.) For a neighborhood restaurant, having 16 wines by the glass is downright commendable, and this lovingly selected list, well, it's worth the visit alone. Don't fret if you're overwhelmed--the capable staff, or even Lorella, will steer you to a winner. Hopefully I'm doing the same thing right now. Eat, drink, relax, and be merry.
291 30th St.
Cross: Church St.
San Francisco, CA 94131