Across the bay in San Francisco's Marina District is another bold new Italian restaurant called A 16. Named for the autostrada that links Campania to Naples, A 16 specializes in the glorious (and relatively unknown) cooking of that part of Italy. Even the wine list put together by owner Shelley Lindgren focuses entirely on the south, which is a treat. Chef / partner Christophe Hille, who trained as a pizzaiolo in Naples, turns out wonderfully appealing dishes such as tuna conserva and fresh chickpea salad or a zucchini salad with cerignola olives, pecorino and wild arugula. I fell hard for his earthy cranberry bean zuppa studded with little pork meatballs and braised dandelions. He cooks a mean tripe too, flavored with white wine, onions and tomato. And pastas go for the gold with mezza (half, or short) rigatoni sauced with tender stewed octopus, Genovese style. Or freshly made scialatielli (an extruded pasta that looks a lot like spaghetti but has a softer texture) tossed with dried fava beans, cherry tomatoes and black olives. It's all very lusty. And when I tasted his spicy, coarsely textured fennel sausage with grilled bread, and the pork breast braised in the wood-burning oven until the meat could practically be cut with a spoon, I wanted to move right in.
At Cortez in the theater district, co-executive chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield (between the two of them, they have worked at many of San Francisco's top restaurants, including Postrio, plus Spago in Los Angeles) offer a beguiling small-plate menu in a stylish and sophisticated hotel restaurant. Flavors are bright and pure, the inspiration Mediterranean. Dishes range from a terrific foie gras terrine served with a chunky orange marmalade and grilled bread to the day's crudo (fresh, marinated raw fish) or a bright salad of frisee and smoked trout with warm fingerling potatoes, avocado and apple. Do not pass up the delicate ricotta ravioli sauced with fresh peas and mint and a touch of preserved grapefruit or the prawns a la plancha with deep-flavored Basque pimentos and lemon garlic butter. The fries with two mayonnaises, one flavored with the Tunisian hot sauce harissa, the other with the Middle Eastern spice za'atar, are another must have. Playful desserts include milkshake shots for two and sugar and spice beignets with Valrhona chocolate fondue.
WHAT'LL IT BE? Request a drink at Cortez, and Nicole Elwick, left, or Paulina Krohl may fill your order.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Randi Lynn Beach For The Times; A DISCREET PRESENCE: Tucked into a Victorian storefront, Quince is tiny but hot. Reservations, mandatory.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Randi Lynn Beach For The Times; CAMPANIA IN THE AVENUES: Restaurant A 16 is named for the autostrada connecting Naples to Campania. It offers the glorious dishes of the region.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Randi Lynn Beach For The Times; TRANSPORTING: A 16 beckons in the Marina District. The wine list focuses on southern Italy.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Randi Lynn Beach For The Times; TANTALIZING TOWER: A large selection of cheeses tempt buyers at Cowgirl Creamery inside the Ferry Building.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Kim Kulish For The Times; PERSONALITY: Hostess Erika Merritt takes a call at A 16, one of the new neighborhood restaurants delighting San Franciscans. Instead of a broad menu, these establishments are striking out into brave territories -- Basque, Moroccan or, in A 16's case, the cuisine of Italy's Campania region.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Kim Kulish For The Times; A1; PHOTOGRAPHER: Kim Kulish For The Times