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A16

Chic, Authentic Neapolitan Cuisine

Chestnut Street's A16, named for Campania's main road, Autostrada 16, opened in February 2004, much to the delight of local fans of high-end food in a casual atmosphere. Sleek, unassuming and comfortable, the space that once housed Zinzino and Savoia has been renovated to house Chef Christophe Hille's gorgeous, easy-going regional Italian fare. After working under Laurent Manrique at Campton Place and in France, Hille became a certified pizzaiolo in Naples, and on our visit, he hand-tossed and wood-oven baked every single 12" Neapolitan treat in the restaurant.

The menu is fresh, light and creative, in line with what Delfina is doing over in the Mission, but with a unique, rustic sensibility that sets it apart. Ricotta and chard involtini get a kick from not-too-spicy radish and whole olive garnish ($7). Shredded cold tuna conserva, a very traditional dish, comes savory with chopped dandelion greens and breadcrumbs ($9), perfect with a glass of dry, butterscotchy white Fiano D'Avellino from Campania, the only wine produced by maker Clelia Romano.

Shelley Lindgren (Bacar, Fleur de Lys), the sommelier and co-owner, provides an uncanny list of obscure regional Italian wines, with a sizable Prosecco selection and a battery of producers and varietals we'd never seen before. She buzzes about the room all night delivering delicate stemware and explaining wines to the patrons, many of whom are of a more mature, culturally edgy demographic than one might stereotypically expect in the Marina.

Our server was experienced, gracious, and knew the menu top to bottom, answering questions like, "What is scamorza?" with ease (it's a mild cow's milk cheese). A uniform that requires only a black outfit of the server's choosing lends to the casual feel of the place, and a vintage foosball table between the front bar and the rear dining room defuses any pretension that may seep in from the chilly outdoors.

As a middle course, we shared a giant, thin-crust pizza with chanterelle and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, smoked provola, pecorino, olive oil and arugula ($13), which easily could serve as an entree for two. Hille uses only the toppings actually used in Naples, so pizzas also come with fresh tomato sauce and items like escarole, anchovy, and manila clams. Note that so far, everything has been seasoned well enough that the coarse salt shaker and pepper grinder at each table are fairly unnecessary.

While our braised pork breast entree with chestnuts, olives and garlic ($17.50) was completely outstanding, original, and oddly light in character, our petrale sole with celery, capers, anchovy and a wedge of Seville orange ($17) was far too subtle to stand up to all of the flavorful dishes we'd has thus far. Sides like dinosaur kale with sofrito and a perfectly dressed salad of chicories and lettuce add a fun variety to the main course. Other options include classics like orechiette pasta with broccoli rabe ($8/$14), and butter bean and octopus zuppa over grilled bread ($8).

For dessert we had a stunning, frozen hazelnut semifreddo with diced pear and shaved chocolate ($6) and a very dear dessert wine that satisfied my dining companion's craving for tawny port. (Currently, the bar serves beer and wine only). While the mocha and pistachio gelatos didn't sing, the lemon sorbetto ($5) was museum quality, worth a trip to the bar just for a bowl of it on a warm night.

A16 provides the sophisticated, unpretentious cuisine and atmosphere of a world-class neighborhood destination restaurant, and we're happy to recommend it for any affair. There's even room in the back dining area to seat a party of 10 or so, and as of March 2004, weeknights are more hopping than weekends, so you can probably have a leisurely Friday night dinner at A16 while everyone else tries to cram in elsewhere.