THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE FORMER POLK STREET LOCATION, DATED FEB 28, 2006 For a town known for its seafood, it sometimes feels mighty challenging to indulge in some quality and tasty fish here. What gives? And I'm not talking sushi, or crab and garlic noodles. So yes, there is Yabbie's and Café Maritime, and sit tight--a review of Bar Crudo is coming up soon (which I loved). And while I adore Swan Oyster Depot, Tadich Grill and Sam's Grill, sometimes I'm just not up for the time warp. I want something of this millennium. That's where ~PESCE~ floats my boat. (Sorry, I'm a dork like that.)
The format is based on "cicchetti" (say chee-ketti), the Venetian variation of tapas/small plates. I used to live in Venezia, and it's how people there would eat because they're so damned social. They cruise from bar to osteria to bar, nibbling on small plates of tasty fish dishes and other savory delectables, slinging back numerous glasses of "ombra" (Venetian slang for a little glass of vino) and gossiping about their neighbor who's cheating on her husband, or the signora across the street whose mink coat looks cheap. Man, Venetians can be fierce that way.
But fear not: Pesce has only imported the cicchetti style of eating, and no one will be talking smack about you (unless you deserve it). It's owned by Ruggero Gadaldi, the same mastermind behind Antica Trattoria (also on Polk) and most recently is the new owner of the Last Supper Club. Granted, Pesce has old-school bistro chairs and penny tile floors, but the vibe and crowd that sometimes packs in at the zinc bar are definitely new school. Actually, I prefer to dine here mid-week to avoid all that primetime mayhem, because it's a cute and cozy place to hang out.
So, about that bar. They make some killer cocktails here. Being a Sazerac queen, I can definitely give them a high-five on their mixology skills. You can just sidle up to the bar and have a couple small plates and a glass of ombra and you'll be too legit to quit.
Or, like most folks, you'll park it with a pal at a table and start grazing. Pesce has a menu of 7-8 cold cicchetti, like their oyster shots (not Venetian but totally tasty, $3) or the messy but finger-licking-good roasted pepper bruschetta topped with alici ($8), a type of anchovy that is similar to Spanish boquerones. I personally can't resist the traditional plate of house-smoked salmon, trout, and sturgeon with horseradish, capers, onions, and some sourdough bread ($14). And don't think you need to go straight for a Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc--consider the nicely acidic '03 Lagrein Rosato, Cantina Terlano, from Alto Adige ($9). Delish with the fish.
As for the hot plates, octopus salad ($8) is always a winning combo in my book: potato, celery, and a lemony vinaigrette, done. The Sicilian swordfish rolls ($11) may be a little too puckery for some, with their sharp spoonful of green olives and capers on top, but I love both of those ingredients. I'm Calabrese, and those two items are practically considered food groups in my family.
For the record, not everything is fish-oriented: Pesce also has some meat dishes, like a heavenly braised pork with cream, bacon, and polenta ($12). Yeah, really light, I know. Some folks swear by the black olive gnocchi ($11), and they usually have great daily specials.
The hands-down finale for me is a sgroppino, a fantastic frothy blend of lemon sorbet, cream, vodka, and prosecco that is then poured into a champagne flute. Molto Venexiano. Cin cin!
2227 Polk St.
at Green St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Small plates $3-$14
Daily for dinner starting at 5pm
Brunch Sat-Sun starting at noon