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La Nebbia: Noe Valley's New Italian Wine Bar is Goddamn Charming 

Wednesday, Mar 19 2014
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The cured pork at La Nebbia comes in thick, supple, deep-red curls, a generous ribbon of pure fat running along the side that dissolves on the tongue. I tried a slice of 24-month aged prosciutto from Parma, the Italian region famous for it, and was blown away by its roundness, depth, and maturity — it made supermarket prosciutto seem like plastic in comparison. And then there was the jamon de iberico from Spain, widely agreed to be some of the best cured pork in the world, made from a special breed of black pig that only eats acorns and imparts the nuttiness into its meat. At $24 for five slices, such decadence doesn't come cheap. But boy, it was worth getting that close to greatness at least once.

Proscuitto and its close relatives — 15 different varieties of them — make up a good chunk of the menu at Noe Valley's newest wine bar (the name, La Nebbia, is Italian for "fog"). This is the more casual sister of La Ciccia, a rightly revered Sardinian restaurant around the corner, and from the Italian waitstaff's accents to their "slow down, sit back, enjoy your meal" attitude, La Nebbia is the spiritual cousin of the kind of osteria you might stumble across on a side street in a Tuscan hill town.

I was told the owners, husband-and-wife team Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan, made the wine list at La Nebbia first, then built a menu around it. Either way, the list features an impressive collection of Italian wines, as affordable as they are interesting — there are many glasses around $10, and bottles around $40. There are spicy Barberas, soft red blends, a pleasantly long list of by-the-glass bubbles, and many varieties I hadn't heard of. But the friendly waitstaff was eager to steer in the right direction. A bottle of Pigato from coastal Liguria — briny and flinty, with echoes of rosemary and olive oil — carried a friend and me through a dinner with aplomb.

Cured meat is always a nice partner for wine, but the well-crafted menu has many more treats in store, like the intensely pleasurable combo of smoked pancetta with burrata, melted endive, and truffle. The smoky pork melted into the rich, sweet cheese, and the truffle sauce lent a deep earthiness that was countered by a sharp bite of endive. This was a dish so good that when the waiter tried to take it away — there was just one bite left, on a table littered with plates — we begged him to leave it so we could mop up the dregs. Cheese made a second starring appearance of the night in dessert: three spheres of ricotta lightly sweetened with sugar, a bit of citrus zest, and local honey — a subtle, lovely end to the meal.

Other items were less rich but no less engaging. One of my favorites was a beautiful dish of chilled, thinly sliced porchetta plated with braised fennel and blood oranges and dressed in balsamic. It had the occasional burst of woodsy porchetta flavor, but mostly the pork stayed in the background, sparking off the fennel and citrus. And "ethereal" isn't a word I'd generally apply to meatballs, but La Nebbia's beef-and-pork version was incredibly light and tender, and accompanied by a vibrant San Marzano tomato sauce and shaved Pecorino melting slowly into the meat.

I began to realize that the food at La Nebbia was as delicate as the wine, more a sensation of flavors unpacking themselves on the tongue than an experience involving serious jaw-work. And all the better for a restaurant that encourages conversation. Later in the evening, with its jazzy soundtrack and low lighting, it's a good place to fall in love or pour your heart out to a friend over a bottle of wine. But it's also in tune with its neighborhood. When it opens at 5:30 p.m., La Nebbia's marble bar and wooden tables are dominated by as many Noe Valley parents and their well-behaved children as groups and couples. (Heads up: The restaurant doesn't take reservations, but I had no problem getting a seat on either visit.)

And most everyone has at least one thin-crust pizza in front of them. The true test of any pizzeria is its margherita, but I trusted the restaurant so much by that point that I skipped directly into the more experimental flavors. A rich, complicated pizza with a squid ink sauce was deeply oceanic, like we were eating it on a patio with a strong sea breeze, but it was saved from going too far into fishy territory by mozzarella, pine nuts, sweet raisins, and a generous sprinkling of lime zest. Also intriguing was a cheese-heavy pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, speck, and lemon zest. Unlike the lime on the squid ink pie, the lemon unfortunately wrestled center stage away from the funky cheese and salty meat. Still, both pies were saved by the marvelous crust: just doughy enough to have some chew without losing its airiness, and with enough structure to keep the slices from going flaccid.

And then, as if all the rest weren't enough, there are also two worthy lasagna dishes. A cold version laced with pesto and escarole carried with it all the promise of summer, while the traditional warm version was a gloppy mess of meat, cheese, and soft noodles all wedded together with sauce. It wasn't anything fancy or reinvented; it was just a very good example of why lasagna is such a beloved, enduring dish. These days, a restaurant can innovate simply by sticking to the classics.

About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Bio:
Anna Roth is SF Weekly's Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.

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