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Oh-so-fine Cocktails Light up Late Night Mission Spot
by Gloria Tai on Aug 08, 2008
Beretta’s Italian inspired fare is good; its delicately crafted, lip-smacking cocktails are even better. Chef/owner Ruggero Gadaldi’s new Mission pizzeria/bar (in the former Last Supper Club space) is a departure not only in locale, but also in style and location from his other two neighborhood spots, Antica Trattoria and Pesce -- both on Russian Hill.
Late Night Niche
While maintaining that same rustic, casual feel, Beretta leans toward a hipper, more contemporary setting, well suited to its growing base of trendy neighborhood regulars and night owls. Beretta serves until 1:00 am, thus providing the Mission with the type of chic, late-night dining option successfully established in the Western Addition by Nopa.
The understated dining room at Beretta displays minimal accoutrements, with chandeliers, tin ceilings, hand-painted murals and hardwood floors. The 105-seat restaurant maintains a no-reservations policy, except for parties of 6 or more; we walked in recently around 9pm, and after a very short wait had our choice of seating. (We opted for the bar to get a close-up on the much-touted master mixing.)
The low-lit, red oak bar demands attention; unfamiliar and beautifully bottled spirits provide a backdrop as the bartender tinkers with eye-dropper potions and muddles fruit for Thad Vogler's (Bourbon & Branch, Slanted Door and Jardiniere) sophisticated drink menu. The bar staff is well versed in spirits, achieving the right consistency and balance in every drink, and utilizing specially carbonated water, which gives many of the cocktails an ethereal quality. The only catch: you might have to wait awhile — or longer — as the greatest care is taken with every single order.
Around twenty libations ($9), mostly fresh takes on classics, range from the archetypal Hemingway to the bizarro Rangoon Gin Cobbler to an update on the Rattlesnake: a frothy concoction made with rye whiskey, lemon, maple, bitters and egg white. Mine was well-rounded, sumptuous from the slight smokiness mellowed by the bright citrus and finished by a nice sweet ending on the palate.
Our first round -- and all subsequent drinks -- required around ten minutes or more, but they were well worth the wait. The Pisco Punch, a seemingly simple blend of pisco, lemon juice, and pineapple gomme (intensified simple syrup), was refreshing; the flavor of the spirit is nicely rounded out by the fruit and citrus elements.
Not to be dismissed, the wine list, assembled by Jeff Meisel, noted wine consultant and importer, represents most of all the Italian wine regions as well as Italian influenced domestic wines. Wines are offered by taste, quartino, or by the bottle.
All About Antipasti
Dishes are well suited for sharing, nibbling, or multi-course dining. The long, well-priced list of antipasti ($6), fish antipasti ($7-$13) and meat antipasti ($14 for a mixed plate) allows for experimenting as well. A rich, well-seasoned eggplant caponatina (add $3 with burrata) melds capers, celery, pine nuts, olive oil and eggplant chunks that are just right -- not too al dente or too mushy; fresh burrata cheese only intensifies the flavors (and the delight).
We found the chicken liver crostini alla Toscana, on the other hand, to be underwhelming and dry. Our disappointment was quickly forgotten with the arrival of the fritto misto di pesce ($13), a heaping plate of battered and fried fennel, green beans, calamari and shrimp garnished with grilled lemons. Notably, friends recently fell for the zucchini parmigiana with scamorza & basil, a deeply savory baked dish that arrives piping hot at the table.
A risotto with porcini mushrooms and barbera risotto ($14) suffered from lack of seasoning and wanted for richer, robust flavor; plus, the risotto was slightly overcooked. However, a colleague recently reported a far better experience with the saffron risotto with osso bucco ($14).
I’ve gotten into heated discussions with friends who rave about the pizzas here, leaving me to conclude that the pizza station is producing fairly inconsistent results. I found the prosciutto di Parma, tomato, arugula and mozzarella ($14) pie to be uninteresting in flavor and depth. There wasn’t enough tomato. The crust was more bready than crackery. And the spicy Italian sausage, panna and spring onion ($14) pie wasn’t much better: the sausages were little shrivels, and the pizza was quite soggy. In their effort to produce an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, at least on my visit, Beretta fell short. I prefer A16’s version.
Service at the bar was friendly and mostly attentive, mirroring the good but intermittently absent (on busy nights) table service. However, the bartenders, while extremely adept at making and describing complex drinks, missed on menu knowledge and proper dining service. We ordered several different appetizers, which all came at the same time instead of being coursed out.
We were further disappointed by the baba al rum with panna gelato ($8): the cake was dry and too dense, although we did like the gelato, which had great milky texture. A simple order of one of the house-made gelati or sorbetti ($6) might have been a better choice.
It is very possible our experience was a spotty night for the kitchen, since trusted reviewers have sung the praises of the pizza and risotto. But there were certainly many high notes of our evening: magnificent drinks, delicious starters, and a great setting, fine for a date or group of friends. I’ll be back for a Rattlesnake and the caponatina — perhaps I’ll give the pizza another try, too.
Reservations Essential? Only taken for 6 or more
by Gloria Tai on Aug 08, 2008