Although Pdho and I have been talking about going to eat at A16 for some time now, it wasn’t until Farmer Fuji’s recent visit to SF that brought us all together with MC Golfer for a very delicious dinner at this Italian restaurant in the Marina. It turns out that MC Golfer is one of the investors in the restaurant, so although he claims that it doesn’t afford him that much VIP treatment, I think we all still felt very special dining there with him.
Although the restaurant is located on Chestnut St. in the Marina, it is actually situated a little further from the stretch with all the bars and restaurants that make up the stereotypical scene that the Marina crowd frequents. The neighboring restaurants seem quite unassuming particularly in comparison to A16 with its black front facade and enormous green signs. Honestly, the front of the restaurant looks a little odd with the green on black, but it made a little more sense when MC Golfer told me that A16 is the main highway running through Southern Italy, tying in the cuisine which is represented in the food at the restaurant. The restaurant seems quite small when you first enter with a bustling bar on the right and a small collection of high tables and chairs on the left which one would assume was all the seating in the restaurant. However, the restaurant is quite deep and as you walk further toward the back, the space opens up revealing a larger dining area.
I think it would be kind of fun to sit in the back of the restaurant the next time we come. There are some seats along the bar that provide a full view of the kitchen, so customers can see all the action going on behind the counter.
In spite of not being a cheese lover, I have to say I’ve never met a burrata that I didn’t like. Some may mistake it for mozzarella which is understandable, because it actually is mozzarella that has been whipped with cream giving it a lighter, softer texture. It was simply prepared with a light coating of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt which really allowed the burrata to really sing, and the crostini, lightly salted and crispy, made for a great accompaniment. It was amazing how such a seemingly plain looking dish could really rock your taste buds.
The mix of rabbit and duck in the Terrina went very well together. Although I’m sure it wasn’t super lean, it definitely didn’t taste as fatty as most other terrines tend to be. The savoriness was balanced by the pickled cherries which added a nice sweetness that cut the general richness of the meat.
I was quite surprised with how much I liked the Albacore Tuna Panzanella seeing as tuna, in my opinion, is one of the blandest fishes out there. I had never had a panzanella before, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The tuna was surprisingly flavorful and very well-complemented by the mix of green tomato marmella, cannellini beans and peppercress. The entire dish was nicely accented with the some crunchy bread chunks. A very light and fresh tasting dish.
Farmer Fuji is not a fan of pork, so we were hesitant to order anything he wouldn’t be able to share with us, but MC Golfer insisted that the pork belly was delicious. No offense to Farmer Fuji, but this dish was really worth leaving him out. It was very well-cooked with a nice crispy skin. The meat was unctuous without being overpoweringly fatty. The pickled ramps added some nice tang to balance out the richness and the salsa verde perfectly accented the pork belly.
The last of the appetizers (yes, we have only covered the appetizers so far) was another winning dish in my book with the interestingly non-spicy shishito peppers and the subtly salted slices of bacalao. The neutral tasting peppers were balanced well with the punch of flavor from the fish.
After the appetizers, I realized that I needed to start rationing my stomach, because it looked like MC Golfer was going to be ordering a lot of food for us tonight. So with this pizza, I only took a bite of Pdho’s slice. It was topped with tomato, oregano, garlic, anchovies, black olives, calabrian chilies and olive oil. It was a spartan-looking pizza, but the anchovies and black olives added just enough saltiness.
This was my choice for pizzas, so I ate my own slice which was topped with mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, grana, garlic oregano, dandelion greens, and olive oil. This pizza was definitely my favorite of the two, because of the plentiful mix of wild mushrooms. MC Golfer commented that the pizzas were a little overcooked, and although I would agree with him, I kind of enjoyed the crispiness pizza in spite of the bit of charring on the crust.
MC Golfer mentioned that this dish was one that has been on the menu since the restaurant first opened. I expected something like macaroni (because of the name), but the pasta was more like thicker spaghetti. In fact, it reminded me a bit like the Italian version of Shanghai noodles. Nevertheless, the pasta was perfectly al dente and the ragu was hearty and rich.
It’s an even split between which pasta dish was better, because the Fregula ended up being a delightfully delicious dish. Fregula are little balls of pasta which I had never had before. The sweet white corn and crunchy fava beans gave a garden-fresh slant to the dish, and the butteriness of the sauce really brought together the dish. Yum!
The rabbit was on special for the evening, so I can’t recall exactly how it was prepared, but it tasted absolutely delicious. Generally speaking, I think rabbit tastes quite similar to chicken, but has a more distinct flavor and tends to be more moist. This particular preparation of the rabbit was no different. I highly recommend it.
Again, we were faced with the pork dilemma, and again, we gave in and ordered this very large portion of a Berkshire Pork Chop to share amongst the three of us. It was nicely glazed and served with the Rhubarb mostarda, which although seemed like a contrasting duo of flavors, ended up adding a very flavorful twist to the “other white meat.” The toasted hazelnuts were probably meant to added a bit of texture, but I probably would have preferred another nut.
We shared the Cannellini Beans and Haricot Verts between the four of us. Both were solid. The beans were good but not necessarily memorable. I did like the fresh crunchiness of the Haricot Verts though.
I think this was probably my favorite dessert. Although the crostata was not as flaky as I would have liked, it still tasted quite good especially with the honey gelato served on top.
The Torrone Semifreddo was probably my least favorite. It is essentially a dessert made of frozen cream, and in this case, it was lightly dusted with candied pistachio and chocolate. I guess I didn’t find this dessert as interesting. It just tasted like a very plain frozen ice cream, but lighter.
The Chocolate Budino Tart was quite interesting with the use of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil topped on a rich cake of dark chocolate. If I liked chocolate much more than I do, I’m sure I would have really appreciated this dessert.
The Burnt Caramel ice cream was definitely a winner in all its simplicity. There really is no other way to describe the dessert other than to say it tasted exactly like burnt caramel. I really liked it.
Overall, I was really quite impressed with how delicious the entire meal was. The seasonality of the ingredients was obvious, the execution was well-done and the flavors were uniquely Californian-Italian. It didn’t exude the heavier handedness that I sometimes expect with Italian cuisine. There was a distinct Italian slant while showcasing a lot of California flavors and freshness throughout the entire meal. MC Golfer gave us a lot of behind the scenes stories behind the menu and the restaurant, making the meal even more interesting and enjoyable, but even without the insider’s perspective, I am sure the food would have satisfied me on its own. The location is quite interesting being in the heart of the Marina, which I hardly associate with being a delicious dining destination, but I suppose that is part of what makes it stand out from most of the restaurants in the area. It does remind me a lot of Delfina, which I think seems to get a lot of press and publicity, but it’s a tough call deciding which one tastes better since both serve some very delicious food. A16 also has a sister restaurant called SPQR which supposedly showcases Roman cuisine. I have heard some good things about the food there as well particularly their brunch service. Given what I’ve eaten tonight, I definitely look forward to not only trying SPQR, but I hope to come back one day to A16 and enjoy another wonderful meal. Many thanks to MC Golfer for introducing us to this delicious restaurant and ordering up a feast.
2355 Chestnut St
San Francisco, CA 94101
PAFO Ratings for A16:
Ambiance 3½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars