Restaurateur Francesco Covucci (Il Casaro, Barbara) and his business partner Peter Fazio have decided to transform their two-year-old Pasta Pop-Up location in North Beach into a San Francisco seafood restaurant and retail market: CALIFORNIA FISH MARKET RESTAURANT. It’s exactly the kind of quality and fairly priced SF seafood experience any visitor to North Beach would be thrilled to discover (it’s more elusive than it should be in this town), and one that locals will have plenty to return for, whether they’re coming by for squid ink spaghetti with squid, clams, and cherry tomatoes (fortunately, this dish is a holdover from the Pasta Pop-Up menu) or buying some freshly caught halibut to bring home for dinner.
I went on Friday night for their soft-opening, and the location is in the middle of the lively street party that Green Street has transformed into. It is a SCENE, complete with low-riders and even the fire truck ringing its bell hello as it drove by Gino & Carlo’s. There are shielded tables under a canopy in front of the restaurant (there are heat lamps!), and they’ve also taken over a parking space in front with fake grass and socially distant tables that are partially shielded under Lettieri & Co. pop-up tents (which I have been happy to see all over North Beach—way to support your restaurant accounts!).
Covucci was inspired to help our local fishermen by offering a seafood-heavy menu and market since the demand from restaurants is way down and suppliers are hurting. The menu offers a combination of classic SF seafood preparations, some Italian dishes (there are nine pasta options), and a few Italian-American items to keep those out-of-towners happy (fettuccine Alfredo, I’m looking at you).
You can start with some quality oysters (my first oysters in almost four months, it was a moment). There are choice Miyagi, Shigoku, Kusshi, and Kumamoto oysters, shucked beautifully, and the crudo Calabrese comes with an option of halibut, scallops, salmon, or a combo for $27 (similar to the off-the-menu Sicilian sashimi plate at Swan Oyster Depot).
Some other SF classic starters include crab, prawn, or Spanish octopus cocktail; salads like bay shrimp or crab Louie; and there’s also some fantastic and deftly prepared grilled calamari ($11), with the option of grilled prawns, or spicy baby Spanish octopus stew, or sautéed mussels and clams, or fried Monterey squid, prawns, and zucchini. I like how simply prepared the dishes are, allowing the freshness of the seafood to shine (in true Italian style), and the menu is pretty extensive.
It will be hard to resist the sexy whistle (oh yoooohooooo) from the lobster ravioli in a tomato, cream, and brandy sauce ($21.95), and the rigatoni with octopus, ‘nduja, and tomato sauce ($21.95) let me pretend I was in a seaside town in Calabria for a hot second. I’ll be back for the linguine alle vongole (always a fave) and bucatini with bottarga (both $21.50).
Main courses include local salmon, halibut, a mixed grilled selection, and our SF trademark: cioppino ($39)—it’s a hearty portion you’ll want to share, a tomato broth topped with mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, shrimp, rock fish, and crab (perfect for our foggy summer weather). It’s tough to get all the seafood timed right, but everything was tender and just right. There are also a couple sandwiches ($14-$16): spicy octopus or fried fish (cod) on ciabatta, along with beer-battered fish and chips ($19), if you’re looking for a casual lunch.
The wine list has plenty of seafood-friendly Italian whites and six sparkling choices (of course, I’m happy with that), Italian reds, and some low-ABV Italian cocktails, including a spritz and Negroni Sbagliato, or a Michelada to go with your oysters.
The retail part is just ramping up: you can get oysters by the dozen, king salmon, Dungeness crab meat, whole rock fish, white shrimp, scallops, and more. Fresh pasta is coming soon.
Seafood is such a special treat, especially when you’re in North Beach at a restaurant that cares about quality and sustainability, and it’s one of those things many people prefer someone else prepare for them. Well, here’s your new spot. Open Tue-Sun 5pm-10pm. 550 Green St. at Stockton, 415-757-0918.
Crudo Calabrese (salmon, halibut, scallops). All photos: © tablehopper.com.