It's Time to Drink Wine at AltoVino on Russian Hill

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Benvenuto to AltoVino! Photo courtesy of Sasha Bernstein.

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The front bar at AltoVino. Photo courtesy of Sasha Bernstein.

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The dining room at AltoVino. Photo courtesy of Sasha Bernstein.

Last fall, I broke the news that Claudio Villani of Cole Valley’s InoVino was taking over the former Mason Pacific in Russian Hill and opening ~ALTOVINO~, and now it’s opening this Thursday March 15th.

Villani, a Tuscan-born sommelier, previously worked at Incanto, Perbacco, and Quince, and is featuring lesser-known Italian alpine and volcanic wines (hence the “alto”), along with Tuscan and Piedmontese classics. Look for a big focus on nebbiolo, and there are also sparkling wines, some excellent pinot nero from Alto Adige, and plenty of sangiovese, from Chianti Classico to Brunello. You’ll discover many well-priced selections on the menu, along with some magnums and other large-format bottles too. There will be 30 wines by the glass, starting at $8. You’ll definitely want to find time to sit at the bar and have Villani talk to you about his wine selections—he’s very passionate and loves to educate.

There will also be aperitivi, including two seasonal spritzes (right now there’s one with a housemade ginger shrub, white vermouth, prosecco, and tonic water) and a selection of three vermouths you can enjoy over ice.

And now, the food! Villani met chef Nick Kelly while they were both working at Perbacco, and Kelly has been the chef at InoVino since January 2017. At AltoVino, he has assembled a menu of seasonal Italian dishes from regions that will rotate (think heartier Northern dishes for the winter, Tuscan dishes in spring, and Southern in the summer). Kelly has really been able to stretch his wings with the large pasta room they built out, and he is committed to a no-waste kitchen.

You can come by for an aperitivo and stuzzichini (bar snacks), like grissini with speck, Gorgonzola Dolce, and pickled radicchio ($9), or assorted crostini ($8), or ascolane (fried olives filled with braised oxtail and Parmesan, $8). Larger antipasti include squid with braised winter greens, tomato, Calabrian chile, red wine, preserved Meyer lemon, fennel, and grilled bread ($14) or burrata with roasted red kuri squash, chicories, balsamico, and bread crumbs ($14).

The menu (please note this is a draft!) of housemade pastas is extensive (just the spaghettoni and risotto aren’t housemade), from cavatelli with slow-roasted lamb ragù, preserved Meyer lemon, braised cavalo nero, olives, pecorino romano, and rosemary ($21) to cappelletti filled with roasted winter squash, amaretti, and fresh ricotta with candied hazelnuts, fried sage, and Parmigiano crema ($18).

Mains (secondi) include lemon and ricotta polpette (pan-roasted pork meatballs, $18), sea bass roasted under a salt crust ($29), and a showstopping La Fiorentina, a 1-kilo dry-aged porterhouse steak with grilled Treviso, corona beans balsamico, gremolata, and roasted bone marrow ($79).

The space got a nice refresh—the dining room has walls that are an inky indigo with panels of Italian fabric, and there’s a light tobacco-colored banquette that runs the length of the room. Outdoor tables with heatlamps will also offer quite the SF atmosphere as the cable car trundles by.

Dinner is served Tue-Sun beginning at 5:30pm; the restaurant and wine bar open at 5pm for aperitivi and snacks, both in the bar and at sidewalk tables. 1358 Mason St. at Pacific.