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Small Space, Big Heart

True to its name (“tiny” in Italian), Piccino has occupied a mere 700 square feet on the corner of a quiet and unassuming street in the Dogpatch district since late 2006. The joint venture of Sheryl Rogat (who spent time at Pizzetta 211) and Margherita Stewart-Sagan (a partner in Hayes Valley’s Blue Bottle kiosk) is a casual and cheerful neighborhood spot with a foodie-friendly menu that's fresh, simple, and unfussy.

Though the space is small and the 11 two-top tables close together, Piccino feels cozy and inviting rather than cramped. Thoughtful touches like copper tabletops and tea lights transform an otherwise raw and industrial space into something warm and welcoming. The exposed kitchen and expansive windows also help to lend an air of openness, while a maroon banquette runs along the walls, seemingly hugging the entire room. There are also a handful of tables with heat lamps outside.

On a Thursday at 7:30pm, it was easy to find parking (the location is a couple of blocks from Third and 22nd Streets) and the restaurant was just over half full. A server greeted us promptly and offered us any open table we’d like, immediately setting the tone for the attentive but unobtrusive service we would enjoy for the rest of the night.

Upon scanning the small and well-edited menu, it’s evident that simplicity is key here. Comprised of roughly eight starters, seven pizzas and only one entrée (available at dinner), the menu is sourced daily and therefore subject to change. The prices fairly reflect their local, artisanal and seasonally-driven approach.

Their wine list is small, too, featuring self-described "under the radar" wineries, many of which practice organic and biodynamic techniques. Wine is offered by the glass, carafe and bottle, while three beers are offered as well.

After settling on a bottle of earthy Chateau St. Martin de la Garrigue ($26), we began with the server-recommended Star Route lettuce and herb vinaigrette ($8). Though deceptively simple, the salad delivered an incredible punch. The fresh greens were beautifully arranged, left whole and tossed lightly in a dressing exceptionally bright, flavorful and clean.

Our second salad of winter chicories with caramelized ricotta, citrus and peppered almonds ($10) was good, but not quite as spectacular as our first. The mild ricotta did not seem at all caramelized–as such it could not quite stand up to the bitter flavors of the chicory and grapefruit. Texturally, however, it was spot on, playing well with the crunch of the almonds.

As pizza is often the real draw here, we were excited to sample a variety. The special red pizza of the night with pancetta, red onion, rosemary and ricotta salata ($14) immediately caught our eye, our decision cemented when our server claimed it her favorite. We put in an order while deciding on two more.

At Piccino, the pizza is delivered on thin slabs of plywood and a sheet of parchment paper, which makes each individually-sized pie feel personal and special. Their Roman-style pizza is thinner than some may be accustomed to, with dough that is cracker-like and crispy. Likened to a bruschetta or a flatbread, this take on pizza garnered mixed reactions -- although some did not like it, all agreed the restrained approach served to highlight the toppings quite well.

Unfortunately, we felt that the pizza so adored by our server was the weakest of the three, perhaps the victim of a little too much time in the oven. While the dough was not burnt, the red sauce atop it was bare and slightly dried out. The red onions were so thinly sliced that they almost disappeared, while the cubes of pancetta were too thick and cooked until crunchy. Just a minute or two less in the oven and more carefully balanced proportions could have easily saved this pizza.

The cauliflower, Meyer lemon and anchovy pizza ($14), on the other hand, was wildly full of flavor. The anchovy’s characteristically strong odor and taste was celebrated rather than disguised, tempered only slightly by thin slices of lemon and the rich, nutty aroma of the cauliflower. It was a refreshing treatment of an often shunned ingredient.

Surprisingly, the Bianca ($12) was our favorite and the clear winner. Made only with three cheeses, garlic and parsley, it was pungent and complex, albeit a little greasy. We added just a pinch of red pepper flakes and the pizza was divine.

If at all possible, be sure to save room for desserts. The chocolate tart ($7) is a rich, bittersweet concoction atop a shortbread-like crust that pairs wonderfully with French-pressed Blue Bottle coffee. We also shared the seasonal dessert of the evening, a blood orange upside-down cake ($7), which was truly exceptional. If available, it is not to be missed.

Whether choosing a light meal and a glass of wine or a full spread, this food begs to be shared. That said, it is not the food alone that makes Piccino worth visiting. Rather, it’s the successful combination of quality ingredients and thoughtful service, comfortably sandwiched in a charming atmosphere.

Pizza, Italian

Reservations Essential? No.