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Italian Food for Thought

Almost 600 quotes — displayed in blown-up, mismatched fonts — span accent walls at Credo in the Financial District. All of them begin with the words “I believe,” the translation of the new restaurant’s Italian name.

Ostensibly, owner Clint Reilly, a former seminarian and political consultant, wants to incite civic discussion through these soaring art panels. And though the range of extractions from moguls as diverse as Mark Twain, John McCain, and Howard Stern may inspire some political engagement, they’re more likely to help Reilly achieve his other unsaid goal: running a profitable restaurant that keeps ‘em coming back for more.

Earlier this year, Reilly expanded the reach of his real estate investment company, teaming up with 65-year-old chef and restaurant vet, Mario Maggi, to open Credo. Like Perbacco and Barbacco — the other architecturally modern Financial District Italian hotspots to which this newcomer will inevitably be compared — Credo’s interior is impressive, benefiting from the lofty ceilings of a former Chinese bank, large modern windows that riff on classic Victorian style, and the aforementioned attention-grabbing art.

Florence-born Chef Maggi developed his culinary prowess in Milan, and then established a name for himself at global Italian restaurant group, Bice International, successively serving as Executive Chef for New York, Chicago, and Tokyo outposts. When the Bice era ended in 1992, Maggi traipsed all over America, helming the stoves at notable Italian kitchens in Long Island, N.Y.; St. Paul, Minn.; and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Maggi’s itinerant nature reflects in Credo’s encyclopedic ten-section menu, spanning various regions of Italian cuisine. Fettuccine alla Bolognese ($16) and risotto alla Milanese ($29), bear the name of their origin; when offered, veal saltimbocca represents Rome; and the house standout, sedanini alla Credo ($18), smoothes a Southern Italian recipe for the San Francisco palate.

According to our server, almost every table orders the show-stopping sedanini. An earthenware bowl arrives blanketed with baked pizza dough that diners cut through to reveal a steaming heap of tube-shaped pasta and sliced fennel sausage, swathed in pecorino and tomato sauce. Expecting an unwholesome gut-bomb, our party was surprised to find the most exciting dish on the menu.

Despite an exhaustion of choices (antipasti, zuppe, carpacci, and insalate), most of the starters we sampled missed the mark, with the exception of olives all’Ascolana ($11), enclosed in neat fried bread crusts alongside kicky tomato dipping sauce. Sautéed baby squid ($14), though beautifully tender, lost steam in bland tomato sauce; we would’ve paid more for a beef carpaccio ($11) with higher quality pecorino; and we wondered why Maggi deconstructs panzanella ($10), placing naked slices of bread atop the ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, and dressing from which it could gain needed depth if marinated per Tuscan custom.

Craving redemption, we were met with undercooked risotto ai frutti di mare ($20): a pool of translucent liquid resting around the overly al dente Arborio grains.

Things perked up when the special veal saltimbocca came to table. Thinly pounded veal melded with thin prosciutto wrapping, meeting a reduction sauce and scamorza mashed potatoes in velvety, balanced bites.

Our group noted the walnut-zest-herb-encrusted Ahi tuna ($27) with piles of Provencal diced tomatoes and green and white tagliolini was similarly successful with components combined. When eaten piecemeal, however, the tuna was under-salted and noodles were blah.

Many dishes fall short of excellent, but a glance around the noisy dining room reveals pleasantly tipsy, conservatively clad groups enjoying themselves. Our server told us the crowd skews to post-work FiDi workers on weeknights, and tourists filing in from neighboring hotels on the weekends.

Indeed the elements of mild satisfaction are all in place. Service is eager, but not overly so. The 100-bottle Italian-leaning wine list is more than adequate and affordable, topping out at a $275 Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon. Even the dessert menu includes solid renditions of favorites like tiramisu and molten chocolate cake.

Credo offers enough to substantiate one truth that likely unites all at table no matter which quotes they align with on the wall: It’s hard to be unhappy while sharing ample portions of pasta, bread, cheese, and wine with friends.

Financial District
Reservations Essential? No