Since he opened Poesia in 2008, Francesco d’Ippolito’s restaurant has been a neighborhood hangout. Before the shelter-in-place ordinance, d’Ippolito says that some of his customers would come in six days a week. “Sitting at the bar and staying two to three hours every day. It was, for many of us, like a home, where you have your friends and coworkers,” he says.
Since March, his job description has changed. Instead of welcoming customers inside for an Italian meal, d’Ippolito is trying to figure out when the next set of loans are coming out. And his biggest concern going forward is safety. Poesia recently began outdoor table service.
Over the last few months, d’Ippolito has been in regular contact with his friends and fellow restaurateurs in Italy. “The thing that I’m hearing is that customers are feeling a little bit more afraid of dining out,” he says. The Italians are taking similar precautions as we are, including the option of dining al fresco. But, as we all have lamented, San Francisco’s summertime weather isn’t comparable to Mediterranean climates like Italy’s. “We can’t rely on outdoor dining as much as over there. They know that if they start in the summer they’ll have three months of warm weather every day,” he notes. “We don’t have the same luxury here.”
But people are also tired of cooking and staying in at night. D’Ippolito had tables booked before Poesia reopened, so the demand is there. He’s now occupied with making his customers and his staff feel secure in a public setting. It’s a completely different situation than anything he’s had to face before as a restaurant owner. Everyone in the restaurant, from the diners to the servers, will have to understand that eating out, obviously, won’t feel the same as a pre-COVID-19 night on the town. “Mainly, I would tell people to expect a much slower pace,” he says. “I don’t want people to come here and expect their food and drinks to come to the table right away, because safety will be the priority.”
Since the restaurants in Napa have already reopened, he’s planning to eat out there to gain some insight and to experience dining out the way his clients do. The other approach d’Ippolito is implementing is timed table seatings, “so there will be a little bit more safety and structure.” The staff will have fifteen minutes between seatings to sanitize everything.
In the first iteration of the restaurant, d’Ippolito intended to recreate the recipes he grew up with in Calabria. “Considering that the local ingredients you find here in California — produce and oftentimes the fish — are very similar to the ingredients you find in Calabria,” he explains.
My friend Robert, who considers himself a Poesia regular, loved the squid ink pasta. But entrees like that, the staple menu items, weren’t designed to travel. When d’Ippolito hired a new chef in February, Marcello Franceschini, they redesigned the menu to make it more to-go friendly.
For two weeks, they also ran the restaurant themselves. “The menu was initially designed so that it could be prepared by just one person, Marcello himself. It was a simple menu that he could do most of the preparation for early in the morning,” d’Ippolito says. When the orders began to increase and he received a crucial Paycheck Protection Program Loan, d’Ippolito was able to bring back several other employees. But the takeout business that they’ve been doing is less than 10 percent of what Poesia used to bring in.
Franceschini hasn’t really had much time to show what his cooking is like. And introducing his recipes via delivery and takeout wasn’t ideal. He comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, where they’re known for homemade pasta dishes. The chef’s new menu includes several homemade pasta: tagliatelle with a beef and pork bolognese ragu, ravioloni with ricotta and spinach and an agnolotti with veal, pork, rabbit and spinach.
“It’s a little bit of a sad experience for him so far because he doesn’t have the feedback right away from the people eating his food,” d’Ippolito says. But many of their regulars have given their feedback online. Jamey F. writes about his satisfying takeout order on Yelp: “Their spinach and cheese ravioli is just delicious, and the tagliatelle bolognese absolutely hit the spot.”
Franceschini offers his stuffed squash blossom recipe below for you to try at home, while they’re still in season.
Tue – Sun, 12 – 8:30 p.m.
4072 18th Street, San Francisco
Call for outdoor seating reservations: 415-252-9325
Fried, Burrata-Prawn Stuffed Squash Blossom Recipe
By Marcello Franceschini
4 large prawns:
— 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
— 4 ounces fresh Italian burrata, chopped
— 1 tablespoon chopped chives
— 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
— Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 squash blossoms:
— 3 ounces tempura flour
— 1/2 to 2/3 cup cold sparkling water
— 4 cups sunflower oil
— Coarse salt, for serving
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the prawns and sauté for 1 minute on each side. Cool and chop into small pieces.
In a small bowl combine the prawns, burrata, chives and olive oil. Season to taste. It’s the chives that make the filling a little more racy!
Clean the squash blossom removing the small petiole inside. Carefully fill each blossom with the burrata mixture. I suggest using a piping bag but a small tea spoon will work too.
To prepare the tempura batter: In a small bowl combine the flour with enough water to make a smooth paste, gently add more water until the batter looks like heavy cream and remember, don’t whisk it, as you will lose all of the sparkle from the water.
To cook the Squash Blossoms: Pour enough sunflower oil into a heavy deep pot to fill the bottom 4 inches. Heat the oil to approx. 360-375°F.
When the oil is at the right temperature carefully dip the entire squash blossom into the tempura batter making sure that it is coated. Gently drop the blossoms, without crowding them, into the hot oil, cook about 2 minutes, turning a few times so that they get evenly golden and crispy. Using tongs or a spatula, gently lift the blossoms onto a wire rack placed over paper towels. Season with salt. Serve immediately.