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La Ciccia

Savor Sardinia

La Ciccia is a neighborhood Italian place, but like most of the growing community of great little restaurants out at Church and 30th, it comes with a twist. The menu reflects only the cuisine of Sardinia. There is no Fettucine Alfredo, no Veal Parmigiana, no Insalata Caprese -- but trust us when we tell you -- you won't miss that standard fare.

While the restaurant is small and the tables fairly close together, hospitality rules at La Ciccia. The genuinely welcoming staff is at least half the reason everyone there seems to be regulars. For those who know Italian food and culture, there is much that will bring a smile here. Even those on their first visit are treated liked regulars. The staff knows the menu well, and is keenly aware that most people won't be familiar with many of the dishes and even fewer of the wines. They jump in with recommendations and suggestions and just as in Italy, you won't go wrong taking their advice.

Like other Italian menus, the selections are divided into appetizers, first courses, pizzas, main courses and desserts. And just like in Italy, feel free to order only two courses if you prefer. Keep in mind bottarga, the dried, salted and pressed roe of grey mullet or tuna is a specialty of the region as is saffron. Any appetizers or first courses including either ingredient are likely to be a good bet.

We began with Smoked Tuna Loin and Cured Tuna Belly with shaved bottarga. The saltier, firmer loin and unctuous belly were a mouthwatering way to start off the meal. A special, fresh ricotta with a crisp cracker of Sardinian bread married with a drizzle of saffron olive oil was a perfectly balanced, refreshing nibble, generous enough for two people to share. Also shareable was “Calmaredusu in Birdi,” tender baby squid sautéed with a bracing sauce of mint and white wine.

Our waiter's suggestion, the Fregola with Pecorino Cheese and Saffron Sauce ($12), is a dish to return to again and again. Made without butter or oil, it was creamy and rich with a tangy bite of saffron, a salty topping of cheese and a satisfying chew of rustic, large couscous-style pearls of pasta. This is comfort food at its best. Though Sardinia is known more for its bread, the Fresh Spaghetti with Cauliflower, Capers and Bottarga was terrific; look for the vegetable in this dish to change with the seasons.

For main dishes, we enjoyed the Sea Bream with Olives, Tomatoes and Capers ($18) and the Seared Lamb Chops with Fine Herbs and Oil ($21). The sea bream was perfectly flaky and bathed in a rich broth with sweet fennel, juicy tomatoes and the slightest saltiness from the capers. Only the slightly undercooked slivers of potato underneath the fish marred the dish. The three lamb chops were cooked to medium rare and topped with a mild mixture of minced fresh herbs and olive oil. The accompanying sautéed cabbage was caramelized, sweet and utterly delicious.

The all-Italian wine list is enormous and ranges from around $30 a bottle to over $100 including a wide selection of Sardinian wines. We tried the Cannonau Muristellu Bovale, "Costera" Argiolas; a bargain at $28, it was full of spice and smokiness with a mellow finish that worked with all of our dishes.

For dessert, the Chocolate Semifreddo with Roasted Pear was a bit more like a "biscuit tortoni;" rich with chocolate and a bit of cookie crust, it could have used a minute or two longer to thaw but was otherwise a perfectly satisfying way to end the meal. The not-too-sweet ricotta and saffron cake was also a good choice.

While it's surely off the beaten path, La Ciccia is not just a place to try something new; it's also a place where one can linger and feel at home.

La Ciccia
291 30th St @ Church
San Francisco 94131
415.550.8114

Hours:
Tuesday through Sunday 5:30 - 10

Italian
Noe Valley
$$
Reservations Essential? Yes