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È' Tutto Qua

It's All Here at this North Beach Ristorante

In 2006 a group of friends, all with North Beach restaurant experience, hatched a plan to transform the historic -- and in recent years, cursed -- space at the corner of Broadway and Columbus (formerly a Bank of America branch) into an Italian eatery. Combining the know-how of seasoned restaurateurs such as Enzo Pellico, founder of the Steps of Rome Caffe (now under new ownership), and a Roman chef known simply as "Robertino", È' Tutto Qua opened its doors June 2007.

The menu focuses on the cuisines of central and southern Italy, but it is as varied as the motley assortment of humanity outside, with an ample selection of wines, pizzas, sandwiches, entrées, and 23 rice and pasta dishes. The entrées range from the familiar, like crispy-skinned chicken breast stuffed with proscuitto ($15), to the gourmet, such as roasted rabbit with Italian herbs in a Barolo reduction ($22).

Such variety invariably means that some dishes will miss the mark, but overall, the emphasis at È' Tutto Qua is on quality preparation, attractive presentation, and gregarious Italian hospitality. All pastas and bread are made daily on the premises.

Robertino's hometown influence can be seen in the Roman-style pizzas, which are tortilla-thin, tender and blistered. Variations include the Pizza Tutto Qua with sausage, broccoli rabe and mozzarella ($15); and pizza diavola with anchovies, olives, and chili peppers ($12).

Throughout the winter months, the restaurant promises to never be out of pasta e fagioli ($7), the hearty soup of white beans and pasta. È' Tutto Qua's version is thick rather than brothy; and true to the Italy's culinary philosophy of never wasting anything, on the night we went it contained long strands of house-made fettuccine rather than the typically short pasta.

But while pasta e fagioli is perfect for wintery days, the Insalata È' Tutto Qua ($7) was a miss; the blandness of out-of-season pears, along with oily dressing, failed to balance salty Gorgonzola. Similarly, the chestnut ravioli ($14) could have benefited from more caramelization to bring out the sweetness in the chestnuts and nuttiness of the butter sage sauce.

The restaurant got it right on other counts, though: seared scallops ($14) were topped with (out of season) tomatoes and black pepper, which provided sweetness and bite, while porcini and truffle oil lent an aromatic earthiness. The fresh sardines ($15) were a rare treat; stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and grilled, this entrée applied classic Sicilian techniques to the best of local (Monterey Bay) ingredients. The spaghetti neri ($15) was also a strong dish; the squid ink pasta was flavorful and balanced, and arrived under an artful pile of calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp.

Another standout was the brightly flavored Grand Marinier tiramisu ($5), which Robertino christened "his new baby". It is one of several housemade desserts, which are offered alongside a second dessert menu featuring about 25 imported sweets from Italy.

The atmosphere at È' Tutto Qua is casual, lively and amusing, from the effusive Italian wait staff to the subtitled Fellini classics playing on the muted television. Its bustling location and tall banks of windows make it an ideal destination for out-of-town visitors, who can read the postered screeds at City Lights bookstore or get an eyeful of the Hungry I strip club. For locals it serves an affordable -- albeit slightly loud -- place to gather with friends, listen to live music (Sundays at 7pm), or watch soccer games. Top it off with a broad-ranging but mostly reliable menu of authentic dishes, and it’s easy to believe that indeed, "It’s all here" at È' Tutto Qua.

Italian
North Beach
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Reservations Essential? Recommended.