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Bistro Cuisine of Puglia at Belden Place

San Francisco's Belden Place is well known for its French bistros and outdoor seating, as well as a general European vibe that is reinforced by a preponderance of patrons smoking filterless cigarettes in the table-filled alley. Brindisi's Southern Italian menu offers a fair distraction from the hubbub of the street, and the super-charming Italian waiters, when they are not too hurried to bring you water, make for at least 50% of the positive dining experience.

On a recent visit during crab season, we found Chef Fabrizio Protopapa's cuisine to be a mixed bag, ranging from completely delightful to downright reprehensible. That said, we'd recommend Brindisi anytime for its magnificent panna cotta, its relatively sophisticated atmosphere and overall romantic location.

One dish that stood out was a delicate, minty Dungeness crab salad ($13), served cold over creamy, firm, Yukon gold potatoes. We really didn't want the crab salad to end; luckily the portion was large enough that we felt neither ripped off by the price nor sad to see the empty plate cleared.
Unfortunately, Chef Fabrizio's "Mamma's Homemade Orecchiette," with breadcrumbs, anchovy, garlic and rapini ($14), tasted like day old chow fun. It managed to be both dry and soggy at the same time, possibly a victim of poor execution by a sous chef?

Far more redeeming were the pan-seared day boat scallops ($22) wrapped in proscuitto with crimini mushrooms, leeks and basil. Scallops wrapped in pork products are nothing new, and these, while not the absolute best we've ever had, were right fine, though a little overdone. Much more successful was the beef Florentine ($22), a flatiron steak with wild arugula and mushroom salad. It was seasoned perfectly and incredibly fresh -- definitely worth stopping in for.

Items to avoid per our experience were the two most obvious appetizers on the menu: chewy, overdone fried calamari ($9) and the prawn cocktail ($12), not because the prawns weren't fresh and plump, which they were, but because the sauce tasted just like Thousand Island dressing.

Back to the panna cotta ($7): seriously, this is the best panna cotta to date. It's thick, dense, creamy and light all at once, and with a glass of sparkling, sweet Gatti Piero Muscato d'Asti ($8), we challenge you to find a more uplifting dessert in San Francisco -- if you like creamy things, that is -- which we definitely do.

We suggest stopping by Brindisi sometime to enjoy some genuine Old World charm, a terrific wine list, a dish or two and that amazing panna cotta. San Franciscans often forget about Belden Place when they're making evening plans, but with all those outdoor tables and heat lamps it's worth recalling once in awhile.

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