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Upscale Venetian in the New Westin Hotel

Ducca is a new addition to the San Francisco dining scene, and while yes, it is located adjacent to the new Westin Hotel on Third, having a bed upstairs isn’t the only reason to visit. Ducca’s 28-year-old executive chef Richard J. Corbo (Mecca, Gary Danko) has crafted a pleasing Venetian menu stocked with trendy paisano treats like salumi and cichetti -- rustic bar snacks similar to petite salami sandwiches, marinated sardines, arancini, olives, and grilled vegetables. Despite a few hitches, the cuisine at Ducca should appeal to most foodies.

With a slick, Venice-inspired design by the folks at the Puccini Group, Ducca doesn’t have your standard Westin feel. Outside, the spacious, concrete patio is a chic spot for an after-work drink or a nibble on those rare sunny afternoons, but with heat lamps and a fire pit even a foggy San Francisco evening will work. Inside, don’t miss the grandiose circular lounge, all done up in brothel red with cut “velvet” wallpaper and a Venetian glass chandelier.

By San Francisco standards, the dining room is quite large, but it’s gracefully divided into smaller zones and set with solid wood tables, white table runners, and curved banquettes. The gold fabric-covered columns and frosted glass windows (highlighted with candles) make for a cozier feel.

On a recent evening, we nestled into our corner spot with a view of the room and tried to decide if any of our fellow diners lived in the city. A quick chat with our very gracious server confirmed our suspicions that since opening in summer 2007, the locals hadn’t been flocking in quite yet.

A perusal of the wine list showed a fairly well-rounded Italian and California mix at a slightly high mark-up, but there were definitely some tasty options. We started off with the salt cod crostini ($8) and the watercress and berlotti bean salad ($7). The salad was dressed simply with a lemon-thyme vinaigrette and topped with crispy pieces of guanciale. The salt cod crostini, however, didn’t impress either of us. The texture was a bit too whipped, and the lemon overwhelmed the delicate fish flavor.

Our pasta course showed a true strength in the kitchen. Pillowy gnocchi was tossed with fava beans, porcinis and shredded chicken ($11). The gnocchi was perfect, but there wasn’t really a sauce to speak of, leaving the dish dry. In contrast, the housemade sweet corn tortelloni ($9) was perfectly sauced in brown butter. Filled with a sweet corn and mascarpone custard, it actually sounded much richer on paper than it was in reality -- a very enjoyable dish! We topped it off with halibut cheek stracotto ($26): halibut atop a “black polenta” in a tomato-garbanzo bean sauce full of flavor and texture.

To finish, we went for the molten chocolate cake with rum-banana gelato ($7). It certainly satisfied both sweet tooth and chocolate cravings, but it was nothing we hadn’t seen before.

Ducca may not be on the cutting edge of a new food trend, but with gracious service, a grand interior and solid food, it should come to mind next time you’re entertaining the boss or using the expense account -- and for now, the patio is the best kept secret in the city for an excuse to leave work early on the next sunny day.