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Delectable Fare with a Regional Flair

Remember when metropolitan neighborhoods were more authentic and distinguished in presence? Businesses exhibited notable character, and homes were defined by their cultural denizens, ultimately presenting a quaint blend of commercial and residential? One knew the local shopkeeper, be it butcher, baker, or bartender. The corner store was the place to buy essentials; the owner knew your name and disclosed neighborhood gossip to any receptive ear. Gone are some of these characteristic environs, but, alas, I have found a corner restaurant that offers a charming, cozy setting and delightful cuisine. Frascati's CalItalian fare presents itself with such conviviality and panache that I would venture there just for its distinct personality.

Frascati's managing partners, Rebekah and Rich Wood, harmonize the outside surrounds and the inside décor equally well. The exterior is a burnished-red with picture windows peering into a soft, warm, and spirited room. Looking from inside out, one views tables and chairs placed invitingly on the sidewalk to entice passersby, and directly in front of the building are planter boxes with spring flowers under a protective awning. The main dining room has a bistro feel with white-clothed tables on a hardwood floor. Beautiful mirrors on mustard walls enhance the space. Upstairs, there is the 'Red Room' and a balcony for more private and group-oriented dining.

Food takes front and center at Frascati, and the dishes head chef Kerry Mechler and his worthy cooking assistants create are remarkably delicious and artful. The menu changes with the seasons, the choices ranging from baked polenta cakes with porcini mushrooms and crumbled blue cheese, to pan-seared muscovy duck breast with fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and roasted shallots. Kerry has fun with his tasteful creations, and it shows in presentation and flavor pairings.

Our tasting menu began with grilled Columbia River Quail with asparagus and wild mushroom risotto. This dish was a veritable hit. Next came P.E.I mussels with oven tomatoes immersed in a white wine, roasted garlic broth--another ambrosian delight. Colorful salads followed on a Mediterranean green glass platter. I enjoyed the salad of roasted beets with baby arugula, orange segments and goat cheese, dressed with a hazelnut vinaigrette. For the main event, we had the Alaskan halibut dusted with coriander and accompanied by whipped potatoes, blue lake beans, and a lobster lemon buerre blanc sauce, and the russet potato gnocchi with tiger prawns, prosciutto & basil pesto sauce. A multi-layered Alban Vineyards Viognier (1999) accompanied these equally magnificent dishes.

We had reached saturation point by the time our pastiche of desserts arrived, but they would have tempted the ardent dessert resistors. We conceded to our temptations with black and white chocolate bread pudding with hazelnut ice cream, chocolate espresso torte, and a trio o' tangerine, passion fruit and coconut sorbets. A glass of Navarro Late-Harvest Reisling (1997) married well with this firework finale.

Frascati typifies the quintessential neighborhood restaurant experience in San Francisco. Prices are very reasonable, appetizers being six to ten dollars, entrees fifteen to twenty dollars. One way to sidestep the challenging parking situation in this neighborhood is to valet park your car on Polk Street (Frascati thoughtfully reimburses five bucks per vehicle). Otherwise, you may take the famed cable car along Hyde Street. Once you get there, be sure to give a friendly greeting to Rebekah, Rich, and Kerry. They will get to know you by name if you become a regular like I aspire to.

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