The lights are back on at the corner of Chestnut and Scott, with the reopening of ~RISTOBAR~, after being closed for a building retrofit since 2017. Owner Gary Rulli decided the timing was right to overhaul the layout and look of the spacious restaurant—it has now been divided into a restaurant and an upcoming pasticceria/caffè, due to open in late April.
The restaurant side features a long and curving bar, flanked by high-top tables and a tufted banquette along the wall, with more seating in the back and a semi-private room (with the original red booths). It has a classic look, with blue-and-gold patterned wallpaper (almost the same blue as Pantone’s color of the year, so on-trend), comfortable blue bar chairs with nailhead accents, touches of bronze, and lots of warm wood.
It straddles that line of being nice, but not tooooo nice—you can come by for a cocktail at the bar or a casual bite, or have a date at one of the tables—a quality that will make it a great neighborhood hangout. The vibe over the weekend was very upbeat, with music and already a social scene at the bar. There are also a couple TV screens above the bar, so you won’t miss an important game (Gary is a big 49ers fan, and even has an off-the-menu pizza right now, the Jimmy G. More on that in a moment). The beautiful mural on the ceiling is still in place (I was pleased to see it).
They soft-opened in the beginning of the year, and chef Francesco Brevetti is just ramping up and working collaboratively to implement Rulli’s vision for what the neighborhood wants. Appetizers will highlight quality ingredients, like burrata with peperonata ($16) or San Daniele prosciutto and mozzarella ($18), along with a seasonal winter salad ($12), and pepata di cozze (sautéed mussels in tomato sauce, $16). Housemade pasta ($20-$26) is going to figure prominently—we had some wonderful tagliolini with local Dungeness crab and a light cherry tomato sauce, and a special with fresh porcini. Our neighbor’s cavatelli with burrata also looked amazing.
There are some pinsas ($18-$19), made with a soy, rice, and double-zero flour that is easier to digest (the pinsas are fired in a state-of-the-art Moretti electric oven). They come out with a spongy and raised crust with nicely developed flavor (the dough ferments for 72 hours), served on a wooden pizza peel. We had to order the Jimmy G., with ‘nduja, peperonata, burrata, green olive, and a light brushing of tomato sauce. Yes, that pizza was as sexy as its namesake. A bonus is this is the kind of pizza that travels well and warms up nicely for lunch the next day (and it’s also much easier to share than a Neapolitan-style pizza).
You’ll find a few rustic secondi, like grilled octopus and oven-roasted chicken, but be sure to save room for dessert, because don’t forget: Gary Rulli is a master of pastries! There’s the Taormina, a small tower of fried cinnamon pastry with ricotta cream layered in between, and topped with a dollop of Sicilian pistachio cream (with pistachios from Bronte). Rulli is also known for his top-notch panettone, which shows up in a bread pudding budino with vanilla cream gelato, and you will enjoy every last spoonful. Need a little something to pick you up? Get the affogato ubriaco: espresso with whiskey, espresso gelato, and cream, oh yeah. If you just want something more on the digestivo nightcap side of things, don’t miss the Whiskey Stellato, with bourbon, Cynar, sugar, five spice bitters, and egg white. That will send you home humming.
Once the pasticceria opens, Rulli plans to launch a rotating calendar of guest chefs in the restaurant, from his talented previous chefs (Angelo Auriana and Michele Belotti) to Paolo Laboa (formerly at Farina, and the master of mandilli al pesto!), and even host chefs from Italy, like Emilia Cuomo of Pastificio Cuomo in Gragnano. Because of Rulli’s pastry background, he also wants to have guests from the pastry academy in Italy.
When the pasticceria and caffè open, there’s going to be a gorgeous jewel box of a case from Italy, and guests will be able to enjoy weekend brunch on the tables outside with freshly baked pastries made that morning. Rulli also wants to offer some casual Italian street food out of the caffè.
We really enjoyed exploring the wine list (we were in such excellent hands with the dynamic and knowledgable sommelier Antonio Tartiglione, who was an opening somm at Roscioli in Rome!), which features unique and quality selections from all over Italy, from a pallagrello bianco from Fattoria Alois in Campania to a chardonnay from Vie di Romans in Friuli, and a delightful Franciacorta from Trentino: Berlucchi 61. You’ll have some fun and make some new discoveries, let them drive the bus.
Dinner is served Mon, Wed-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm, and Sun 4pm-9pm. Closed Tue. 2300 Chestnut St. at Scott.
The sleek new look of Ristobar, with high-top tables and a banquette. All photos: © tablehopper.com.