Bravo Italia

An authentic restaurant that you'd be happy to find in Italy, much less on Union Street

I considered the coniglio alla cacciatore (rabbit roasted with white wine and vegetables), the pan-roasted veal chop with white polenta (which did give me a bit of sticker shock, topping the menu at $32), and almost went for the short ribs braised in barolo with mashed potatoes. But I felt like something simple and light, and opted for the scallopine al limone, classic veal scallopine (four dainty, pounded-thin scallops of the pale meat) topped with a lemony wine sauce dotted with capers, with delicate yet sophisticated accompaniments: a pure-white risotto enriched with Parmesan and dusted with chopped parsley, and, hiding under the veal and seemingly barely cooked by the heat of the meat, spinach Florentine. Capannina's version had the tiniest baby leaves, with pine nuts, honey-tasting golden raisins, and a bit of slivered onion. I wanted more!

Peter was mildly disappointed by the rather unimaginative assortment of sorbets and gelatos he received (chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnut), though they were prettily served in lacy cups made of tuile cookies. But I adored the lavish cheese assortment, all Italian, all ripe and delicious: a pungent, runny Robiola, mildly goaty Capretta, velvety Blu del Moncenisio, nutty pecorino Lucano, and creamy, young Scimudin, accompanied by shavings from a supple nut brittle and slices of crisp green apple; altogether one of the best cheese plates imaginable.

This was just as good a meal as the dinner I'd had with my parents and our friend David. I think my father was the most pleased with his unusually tasty carpaccio de manzo -- the classic, raw, thin-sliced beef topped with peppery arugula leaves and slivers of aged parmigiano, showered with cracked black pepper -- and, again, an unusually juicy and succulent version of pollo al mattone, the classic Tuscan dish of a splayed half-chicken cooked under a brick, served with nicely bitter broccoli rabe. My mother surprised me by ignoring the crab cake with saffron sauce in favor of the lobster and crabmeat ravioli, and further surprised me by not liking the dish very much. (It certainly wasn't as stellar as the two pasta dishes the four of us shared in between our antipasti and secondi: fat house-made pappardelle with a wild -- but mild and sweet in flavor -- boar ragu with slivered artichokes, and silky gnocchi topped with chopped tomato, basil, and diced buffalo mozzarella, i.e., caprese.)

Looking out on Union Street from Capannina's chic, 
sleek setting.
James Sanders
Looking out on Union Street from Capannina's chic, sleek setting.

Location Info

Map

Capannina

1809 Union
San Francisco, CA 94123

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Marina/ Cow Hollow

Details

Corn soup with clams $8

Beef carpaccio $12

Risotto nero $14

Gnocchi alla caprese $16

Pollo al mattone $17

Cioppino $24

Cheese plate $11

409-8001

Open for dinner Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30. Closed Tuesday.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult

Muni: 41, 45

Noise level: moderate

1809 Union (at Octavia)

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She was attracted by one of the offerings on the $25 prix fixe, a lamb stew with pancetta and polenta. Several people who'd sat near us at 6 p.m. had gone straight for this bargain menu, which offered the soup of the day or two salads (organic greens with tomato and pecorino, and baby spinach with a fried oyster); followed by salmon with fregola; bow tie pasta with meat ragu and spring vegetables; chicken paillard on a bed of arugula, asparagus, and artichokes, or the lamb; and then your choice of the dessert menu. Our server checked with the kitchen: There was one portion of lamb stew left that we could order a la carte. The homey dish turned out to be my favorite of everything we had that night, even more than my own beautiful plate of tender, falling-off-the-bone veal osso buco in a pearly sauce full of spring vegetables (yes, in August!) atop soft polenta, after a wonderful salad featuring a roasted peach wrapped in pancetta set off against spicy arugula and sharp, aged ricotta. David's gently roasted Alaskan halibut, on Sicilian couscous, with bell peppers and clams, followed what was a close second for favorite dish, that day's soup, David's starter: the sonorously named zuppa de lenticche con gamberi e fegato d'oca, and nicknamed "surf 'n' turf" in translation. It was a purée of green lentils with whole lentils, enriched (literally) with prawns and foie gras, subtle and exciting. I've had two of the best soups in recent memory here. But everything exhibited the same care, in conception and, especially, execution: I'm seduced by the kitchen's philosophy.

For dessert, I speared bits of cheese from my dad's excellent assortment, and also scored one of my mom's cream-filled profiteroles, served with both chocolate and caramel warm dipping sauce. This was a divine dinner. I asked our server what "Capannina" means. "The owner was raised in Capri," he said, "and he grew up next door to a five-star restaurant called Capannina, which could mean different things: a hat, a shelter. But he wanted, always, to have a wonderful restaurant." Well, he does.

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