It’s hard not to enjoy a meal al fresco. I, for one, happen to be a total sucker for this brand of dining– especially at lunchtime. I’ve probably recommended numerous questionable establishments to friends and family, saying “I had just the best lunch there,” and been referring to a greasy pile of cheese fries and flat beer at a dive on a creek in Charleston. It doesn’t matter: once I’m outside, given the setting is pleasant, I’m sold.
Food aside, I also think that it’s easy to get away with certain missteps as a restaurant if you have a sunny spot with an interesting view and happy waiters. The equation is not complicated. Dirty picnic tables and plastic silverware do not make or break the experience.
So when Rob and I were searching out a lunch spot in San Francisco on the first day of our honeymoon, we scoped out a few blocks and marched up and down the sidewalks. I hadn’t done any research nor was I sure what I was even in the mood for, I just had my eyes peeled for a table for two—outside. We passed a place on Columbus and Rob scanned a menu in the window while I surveyed the row of tables on the busy sidewalk: 5 or so tables under a politely striped awning, a view of Columbus and its tree-trimmed median, white tablecloths, and a well-dressed older man with a beautiful green salad and a newspaper. Done.
I have to give this place proper acknowledgment of one thing before I even start on the food: the service. I’ve always felt a meal can go from good to outstanding if I land an engaging waiter: someone who loves what he’s serving; lingers around just long enough; suggests his favorite dessert and digestif combination as if he’s letting you in on a big secret. Our waiter at Rose Pistola was the best of the best in this respect. His smile and ease with us made us feel like we were at our favorite local spot, not in another time zone anxiously hoping we wouldn’t blow a single moment of a well-planned honeymoon on a crappy meal. No pressure…
We started with a glass of white each, which was delicious and cool in the warm California sunshine. Cars and buses whizzed by but it really wasn’t that distracting. The wine list seemed hand-picked and was beautifully narrow. It was a nice partner to a menu which was fleshed out with an array of delicate starters, fabulous salads, and hot panini sandwiches. This was just on the inside left of the menu.
We went with an incredible bruschetta which we have since recreated from memory at least 5 times: stracchino cheese spread on a slice of bread, warm caramelized pears, prosciutto di parma, and white truffle oil. Oh, my God.
A split salad of arugula and endives, two glasses of red, and a panini sandwich each and we were in heaven. I went with roasted chicken and Rob further fed his already raging prosciutto addiction with a ham-stuffed one. The sandwiches were big and delicious. We wrapped it up with a heaping, rich chocolate dessert and a glass of rose-infused wine to cut the sweetness. Our waiter came back just to see the look of pleasure on our faces and, happy he’d delivered for us, said, “You guys will have to come back next weekend and try my other favorite.” Being mistaken for a local? Don’t mind if I do!
This place is a must-go the next time you find yourself in San Francisco for a day. North Beach is a great area and you can plan your lunch for right after you’ve explored the amazing digs in Russian Hill and right before you scale Telegraph Hill.
[Check out the web site to download current menus. Bon appetit!]