SAN FRANCISCO— Allegro Romano is one of those restaurants where you feel like its a party and you’re the guest of honor.
I’ve been to this Russian Hill favorite twice now and each time I’ve been blown away by the friendliness of chef owner Lorenzo Logoreci and his staff and by the food.
We found this place thanks to our friends Gina and Joe, who in turn found it randomly by walking by one night and thinking it would be the perfect place to pop in for dinner.
Boy were they wrong.
They couldn’t get a table at this neighborhood mecca that is also frequented by Hollywood and city glitterati. Oh Brad Pitt, I’m so glad you’ve shaved off that hideously odd beard.
A few weeks later for Gina’s birthday she was finally able to get a reservation and wow talk about a celebration — dinner for six was a blast even though Joe (perhaps our most important companion other than Gina that night) hunted around for a parking spot for nearly an hour.
But in honor of this column and the fact that we don’t see each other often enough Gina got another reservations for four last Wednesday night and it was on. (Even though she competed Sunday in the Jiu-Jitsu American Cup in San Jose.)
It’s hard to describe this place —the shallow rectangular dining room doesn’t fit all that many guests, it’s got 32 seats; the sounds of Dino in his prime hearten you; and the courses and wine just seem to keep coming and coming.
What’s weird about this place is that it’s not Zagat rated, it’s not noticed by Michelin and yet so many people think it is an incredible spot. (If you want to find them, you can follow the restaurant on Facebook).
On this last visit, Lorenzo was in Italy and so we got to see his staff pick up the slack. I was surprised to find we didn’t miss Lorenzo’s wonderful personality as much as expected or his brilliantly loud shirts.
In his absence we were still treated to efficient, friendly service that propelled the meal along but at the same time halted it to ensure enjoyment.
(I’m not sure if I’m describing it well but at first you feel pressured to get your order into the kitchen and then boom take a break and enjoy the wonderful appetizers and perhaps you need a bit more bread and some more wine and then relax a few minutes before we hit you with your main course, which lets be honest, if you ate all those appetizers, you’re already full and how can you fit in another bite and wow you just did and then boom your plate is clean and perhaps you’re done, but no with a meal like that it would be a sin not to order dessert because lets be honest, these people know how to make dessert and so two shared plates later and you’re sipping some unidentified red wine and you’re so full and you’re so happy and you want to sit there forever but wow, do you need to walk all that off and pretty soon hugs and kisses all around and you’re out the door.)
Did you notice that was one sentence?
So let me backtrack and breath a little bit and tell you about our night.
Oh, what a night.
We arrived early in stages — two by two — for our 7:45 pm reservation. Neither time that I’ve come have I had a car and I’ve been very happy with that decision. Parking in the area is a complete agony.
We started with regular old tap water and a carafe of their Sangiovese house red. We had stumbled on this the last time after ordering a bottle of something expensive only to discover that it needed to open up a bit. We decided to back off the bottle and hit the carafe thinking that perhaps the wine wasn’t going to be so great and boy were we surprised — the carafe of Sangiovese was lovely — so smooth and perfectly balanced that it released this wonderful gentle fruity flavor without being overpoweringly sweet or conversely and more frighteningly — harsh.
So on this second visit we headed straight (after some remembering) for the house carafe of Sangiovese — they do have some very fabulous Barolos though but sometimes you’ve got to economize.
It was a delight and that coupled with the five appetizers that we hadn’t actually realized that we’d ordered through their tasting menu and we were all in food coma heaven.
To begin we received a basket of wonderful Italian bread that made me miss my grandfather in Brooklyn and the trips to A. Litteri Inc.’s Food market in Washington DC or on very rare occasions — Little Italy in Baltimore.
First came four beautiful slices of cantaloupe topped with prosciutto and a perfectly aged balsamic vinegar with small quartered blood red plum tomatoes and a bit of greens — I think arugula but please don’t quote me ($12.50).
At the same time, out came a plate of Bruschetta — four pieces of long thin toasted Italian bread topped with Allegra Romano’s delicious nearly minced garlic tomato mixture in the Roman style ($3.5). A Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella Caprese Style salad with big thick leaves of basil, gorgeous fat steak tomatoes and these rounds of incredible soft buffalo mozzarella all garnished with house-made pesto and truffle oil vinaigrette ($12.50). We sopped all that up with the Italian bread and reveled in the flavor of exceptionally fresh basil coupled with an excellent olive oil.
We also were presented this wonderful plate of Beef Carpaccio all Romana ($13.50) — Kobe style black angus topped with the loveliest shaved dry cheese. I hesitate to identify it as a Parmesan or a Pecorino but it was so perfectly hard and crumbly it just melted in our mouths.
When we had cleaned our plates and left just one loan tomato, basil and mozzarella that Joe and Gina cutely split, we received the finally appetizer — nearly chopstick thin pieces of asparagus baked and then topped with Parmesan and Pecorino and coated in a delicious amount of butter ($10.50).
We could have gotten the check then and walked out very full but instead we pressed onward.
Gina ordered the scallops with squid ink risotto and a balsamic fig glaze — so soft, so sweet so heavenly. Big flat medallions of seared scallop served around this glorious mound of gorgeous jet black risotto that was full of flavor from the “calamari ink and a bell pepper-fig balsamic bisque” ($18.50).
Our other two companions ordered the lobster ravioli, which arrived swimming in a creamy vodka tomato sauce — the ravioli pockets stuffed full of plump pieces of lobster and creamy cheese ($18.50).
Meanwhile I had the homemade fettuccine slathered with wild boar bolognese ($15.00). Oh yes lovely. Loads of the robust creamy meat sauce with flavorful chunks of meat and porcini — so rich so decadent especially coupled with that soft almost creamy fettuccine.
Throughout this we received multiple pours of the hearty thick red wine. And of course when we finished our first carafe we wanted a second despite the fact that it was Wednesday night.
And of course when our plates were completely empty the idea of not ordering from their teeming dessert offerings seemed insane. We split the tiramisu and the tartufo.
How could we think of not enjoying these luscious desserts?
The tiramisu was wondrous — so soft and creamy on tongue. It was thick with cocoa powder and yet deliciously smooth. While the tartufo — drat I didn’t have any. What was I thinking?
After our plates were scraped, out came more glasses into which went generous pours of an after dinner wine that I think was port.
Sublime, heavenly and delightful.
What a fun night. The conversation was raucous. The laughter was robust. And the service was excellent.
In the midst of all of the excitement the lights completely dimmed and the entire restaurant broke into a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday. Sara at the table next to us was turning 30 in style. Waiters carried out a cake that was overburdened by giant 30 candles.
Her boyfriend beamed at the genius-ness of taking her to Allegro Romano.
Hopefully she had fun. I know we did.
You can find a link to Sarah’s last story about San Francisco’s Ferry Building here.
Welcome to Sarah’s life of wine, travel, food and child. Sarah Abruzzese is a former Washington D.C., reporter, living in southern California. She’s working on launching 7 SUNDAYS CLOTHING (www.7SundaysClothing.com), a UPF 50+ sun protective clothing company for children. Beside working on the clothing line, she spends her days running after a toddler and then if there is time left over, eating well, visiting wine country and exploring the West Coast. Follow her travels on twitter #sabruzzese.