My long-awaited trip to A16

A16 Storefront

So it turns out that San Francisco does offer well-executed Italian food.

Until now, I’d been convinced otherwise. Italian food seldom tastes terrible, but I find it even more rare that it tastes exquisite. (In my experience, this is the one element that Italian food shares with Chinese cuisine.) A16, despite being nearly four years old, continues to be the kind of establishment that receives the level of patronage a highly-anticipated restaurant hopes to garner in its opening month. I’d never had the patience to nail down a reservation but was ecstatic when a friend booked a late Friday night spot for the two of us.

As a passerby, the space appears smaller than it truly is. The restaurant goes much farther back than I had been able to see from the exterior. Our hostess led us to the back, revealing not only a pool table but a bar, a wood-burning oven, an open dining area and a covered back patio. We were seated at a prominent table next to the open oven at what we now realize is the Bay Bridge of A16 tables: constantly surrounded by traffic. The bar, with a front-row view of the pizza-firing and prosciutto-slicing action in the kitchen, would have been a far better seating option, as would the back patio tables, which were suitable for more intimate conversation.

We began with light, spicy olive oil and rustic country bread. Just as drops of oil began collecting on our butcher paper-covered table, our server brought us a prosciutto sampler. I could have spent hours deliberating which of the three prosciuttos was superior. Was it the American prosciutto, which was sliced so thin it melted in my mouth? Was it the Berkshire prosciutto, with its rich taste and drier texture? Or was it the heftier, saltier, slow-smoked speck prosciutto?

A16 takes its name from Autostrada 16, the main road that winds through Italy’s Campagnia region. My knowledgeable server, J.R., suggested a glass of aglianico, a varietal prevalent in the region. One sip of this complex, earthy, smoky wine and I was instantly transported to Campagnia, sipping the wine that the aglianico had yielded from the ashy volcanic soil. I have long questioned the link between a wine’s origins and its taste, but for the first time in my life I can say with confidence that the terroir was unmistakable. The aglianico was an excellent pairing for the rustic, fire-roasted salsiccia pizza, which arrived covered with rapini, fennel sausage, red onions, mozzarella, grana padano, garlic and chiles.

Maccaronara

The true standout dish was the maccaronara: fat, freshly-made spaghetti in a tomato ragu, topped with just the right amount of house-made ricotta salata. I was quite astounded that a dish so simple could be made so perfectly: Slightly sweet yet tart, the ragu had well-balanced flavor; the maccaronara possessed the perfect amount of bounciness with each bite. It was flawless simplicity at its best. In my mind, I moved the Globes spaghetti over to spot number two as A16 victoriously slid into number one.

Dessert was my friend’s pick, a honey panna cotta accompanied by pears and a cornflour cake. The cake didn’t do much to enhance the dessert, but I was enraptured by the taste of honey captured in the form of a silken panna cotta.

Honey Panna Cotta

I decided there was indeed some very good Italian to be had in San Francisco. As we emerged from A16 at the wee hour of one o’clock, I was a skeptic no more.

A16, 2355 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, Calif. 415.771.2216

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6 Responses to “My long-awaited trip to A16”

  1. Oh, that homepage pasta looks just divine. No fancy cannolis though?

  2. No, that will have to be reserved for the day when I go to New Jersey and try one with you!

  3. Hmm, A16’s spaghetti dish gets the number one vote? I’ll have to go and taste for myself.

  4. This sounds great! “Exquisite” Italian is so hard to find. Making mental notes…

  5. Sus, what a wonderfully written review! I learned a few things AND got hungry just reading this. Wish I could catch this place some day…Keep it up!

  6. Victor Felson Says:

    Thank you Susannah,
    I have just returned from Parma, Como and Bologna, and Milan.
    We ate our way through this region.
    Cannot wait to visit A16 now!

    I appreciate your material and commentary-\\Best,

    Victor Felson

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