Pasta and crudo restaurants are everywhere. This animated SF spot shows us why

Recently, Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg tweeted something so succinct and deadly sharp, it was like a sashimi knife straight to the heart. She compiled a list of what “every restaurant right now” seems to have as a menu template, including roasted carrots, beet salad, crudo and “cacio e pepe (many forms)”. “Every restaurant” means your average 21st century North American culinary hangout zone, of which we certainly have a plethora in the Bay Area.

It seems like you can’t throw a golden beetroot in San Francisco without stumbling across a pasta restaurant that promises to be unlike any other pasta restaurant, and Itria is definitely one of them. Off the top of my head, I can name a handful of its sister institutions, new and not-so-new, where you can enjoy pasta and raw fish: Penny Roma, One Fish Raw Bar, Picco, Daytrip, for example. Common in Italian beach towns and popularized in the United States by Dave Pasternack at New York’s now-closed Esca, crudo has been a longtime focus of Bay Area chefs from Michael Mina to Mel Lopez de Pearl 6101. Established as a restaurant of handmade pasta and crudo specialties, Itria excels in the small niche it has carved out for itself in the culinary moment.

I’ve written a few short notes about Itria over the past year, having watched the partnership between former Al’s Place and Cotogna chef Daniel Evers and restaurateur Min Park slowly transform from an impromptu pizza delivery operation into a full-fledged pasta hotspot that it is now. From the start, Evers’ real plan was to omakasefy the pasta; to give diners the option of snacking on several types of pasta in one sitting, although gluten definitely occupies the stomach very differently than raw fish and rice.

Tuna tartare at Itria in SF


Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle
Local trout in pea vinaigrette in Itria.

Local trout in pea vinaigrette in Itria.


Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle


Top photo: Clockwise from far right: tuna tartar, casoncelli, mafaldine, panna cotta and yellowtail amberjack in saor in Itria in SF de Santiago Mejia/La Chronique

If you want to try what the restaurant does best, opt for this pasta and crudo tasting menu, which includes six courses for $85 per person.

You will have the opportunity to try several crudos and raw dishes from the restaurant at once, and that alone is worth it. (I’m including a la carte prices just for your information.) Raw fish – how hard could that be, right? But as I ate, I marveled at the intense knife work involved in these dishes.

The local trout ($13) was a portrait of spring, dressed in a shocking green candy pea dressing. Tiny rhubarb lozenges, like handkerchiefs for butterflies, added bursts of their cheerful acidity to every bite.

Another crudo worth writing about is yellowtail amberjack in saor ($13), named after the Venetian technique for preserving fish that uses vinegar, wine and wilted onions. Its sweet and sour flavors channel the irresistible power of Italian agrodolce, and the dish’s delicate strips of red onion and onion blossoms give it a curl-like feel. A historic favorite of sailors, the technique has even made its way to Japan, where it’s known as nanbanzuke – which you can loosely translate to “barbaric marinade.”

Pana cotta at Itria in SF

Pana cotta at Itria in SF


Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle
Spaghetti, smoked octopus, red onion and chilli at Itria in SF

Spaghetti, smoked octopus, red onion and chilli at Itria in SF


Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle


The pleasantly tangy creme fraiche panna cotta, top left, is a dessert that resets the palate. Spicy spaghetti, top right, is smothered in a red sauce of chili peppers and red onions and sprinkled with smoked octopus. Photos by Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

I also strongly advise you to go for the wine pairing ($45), with selections from a compelling list curated by general manager and wine director Julie Mackay, also formerly of Al’s Place. It skews Italian, of course, and natural wine nerds will find plenty to like here.

A short list of sakes, a rare find in Italian restaurants, suits a restaurant that embraces omakase-style service. For example, the Matsuno Kotobuki Honjozo ($15 a glass), a light sake with notes of burnt caramel, is a phenomenal accompaniment to the equally prodigious Evers albacore tuna tartare ($12), the luxurious fish accented with smoked leeks. , a yolk egg and a crunchy layer of toasted hazelnuts.

The pasta menu jumps around a bit, with off-the-beaten-path shapes like the wafer-shaped cencioni and the potato-stuffed triangoli ($23), a cynical nod to chip-lovers like me. (I couldn’t resist eating it.)

But of course we have to address the cacio e pepe in the room. Evers’ rendition is technically cacio e uova ($23), the simple formula enhanced with the addition of beaten egg. The silky, creamy sauce clings to the myriad ripples of the curly mafaldine noodles, and a healthy dose of ground black pepper reminds you why this dish thrives on its quirks. There’s nowhere to hide in such a simple dish, and Evers does it well.

Wavy mafaldine noodles are smothered in a creamy sauce with a healthy dose of ground black pepper at Itria in SF

Wavy mafaldine noodles are smothered in a creamy sauce with a healthy dose of ground black pepper at Itria in SF

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

One important thing to note is that if you get the tasting menu, you’ll likely get off-menu items as well. Once I was delighted to receive a bowl of spicy spaghetti smothered in a red sauce of chili peppers and red onions and sprinkled with pieces of smoked octopus. It had the odd taste of pasta amatriciana, which usually includes guanciale, but was much lighter with no pork fat. It was a welcome change, considering how much pasta you can fit in your body over the course of a night.

Desserts are simple and refreshing, with the usual tasting menu being a pleasantly tangy creme fraiche panna cotta ($12). After all those carbs, the panna cotta resets the palate; not a bad way to be sent back to the hectic environment of Mission Street.

You might be wondering what about the rest of the a la carte menu? There are two family-style dishes you could share, like the double fried chicken platter ($38) topped with a tangy Italian chili sauce. In the larger cannon of fried chicken dishes, it was just fine. Fair. OKAY. And basically, a bit dry. If you’re feeling choice anxiety about it, don’t.

Same with starters. Who doesn’t love crispy pork belly ($18), especially when paired with marinated green tomatoes and musky black garlic, like here? But it’s not a smart prelude if you’re saving for pasta, so I’d skip it unless you plan to go light on the latter.

Itria's wine director, Julie Mackay, presents a bottle of wine to diners at the SF restaurant.

Itria’s wine director, Julie Mackay, presents a bottle of wine to diners at the SF restaurant.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

This shotgun-style restaurant space feels like two concepts in one. At the front, a bar with high tables and soft lighting; at the back, a bright dining room with a communal wooden table in the middle. Friendly reception staff connect the spaces like trains going from station to station. Under Mackay’s direction, they make the experience jovial and informal, whether you’re just enjoying a glass of wine and spaghetti at the bar or opting for the full tasting menu.

I can’t stop thinking about Agg’s light jab at restaurant consistency (which she admitted included hers) as I write this. It’s true that in times of economic crisis, cultural expression might be less experimental and more success-oriented, because it’s just not as safe to take risks. You opt for the beet salad and the cacio e pepe because it bolsters your bottom line, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Overall, Itria is a great case study in how a place can use the familiar to create an exceptional experience. It’s all in the restaurant’s attention to detail – through the precision of its rhubarb cuts, the delicacy of its wine list and the flourishes of its pasta.

3266 24th Street, San Francisco. 415-874-9821 or www.itriasf.com

Hours: 5.30pm-9.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Accessibility: Flat space, no steps. Good access to bar tables and seats.

Noise level: Noisy, with difficult conversation at peak times.

Meal for two, excluding drinks: $90 to $170.

What to order: Tasting menu, lemon tartare, cacio e uovo.

Meatless options: Plenty in the starter and pasta sections.

Drinks : Beer and wine.

Transportation: Short walk to 24th Street station. On lines 14, 27, 48, 49 and 67 Muni. Difficult parking in the street, but close to several public garages.

Best practices: The tasting menu, as well as the wine pairing, are great deals. Reservations recommended.



Soleil Ho is the food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @hooleil

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