By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
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The kitchen proved inconsistent, too. Ignore, for example, the entrées Ardiana has added to her menu; the ones I tried didn't match the quality of her pizzas and small plates. Too-soft strozzapreti pasta were scattered, almost like dumplings, too sparsely through a decent but pedestrian short-rib stew ($17) rather than the other way around; roast chicken breast "diavola style" ($17) turned out to be a pleasant, unmemorable hunk of meat with a spice-rubbed, crisped skin.
A few of the sides had the same fate. One night, delicata squash ($6) caramelized in the oven and ornamented with ricotta, currants, and almond-scented amaretti was the best thing on the table, but when I ordered the dish again, it came out dull and overly sweet. Another anticipated side of roasted brussels sprouts ($6) was supposed to be tossed with Boccalone lardo, but what I received was fat-drenched sprouts wallowing in a pool of oil and melted lard. (And no, that wasn't good.)
But when the kitchen was on, the smaller plates could be as compelling as the pizza. One meal began with satiny roast squid atop blistered padròn peppers ($11), another with sardines ($7) that had been stuffed with herbed breadcrumbs and roasted until the flesh turned buttery. The cooks amped up the richness of the fish with a fat dollop of aioli, then countered it with a tangle of lemony radicchio. Ardiana seems to be relishing winter greens right now — a salad of feathery, spiky arugula leaves with roasted beets ($9), mixed chicories tossed with shaved fennel and sunchokes in a basil-bright Green Goddess dressing ($9), fava greens sautéed with garlic and preserved lemons ($6) — and always to good effect. The more I visited the restaurant, the more I wanted to treat the meal as if Ragazza were a Korean restaurant: surrounding a main course with half a dozen sides.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Region: Haight/ Fillmore
The lack of coordination was hard to define. On each visit, the positives jarred with the negatives in a different way: One night, for example, we had two bad sides, one good pizza, and great service; another night, it was one bad pizza and one fantastic one, plus a few fantastic sides and that infuriating waiter. Ragazza has all the elements of a great neighborhood restaurant, but they're fuzzy and ill defined. Now they just need to come into focus, lest the line out the door move somewhere else.