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A Star is Born in the Castro

The Castro has been an important cultural destination for locals and tourists, but the Castro dining scene has perpetually left us famished.

Everything changes with Starbelly, the latest offshoot from Deborah Blum and Adriano Paganini, the dynamic duo behind Mission sensation Beretta. Like Beretta, the Castro newcomer features pizzas, but adds rotisserie items and house-made charcuterie to the menu. The vibe and menu are flexible, allowing for easy snacking, sharing, or sit-down meals. It’s open practically around the clock, with lunch and dinner daily and weekend brunch. It features a California/Mediterranean flavor with a few bites of Mexican chorizo here and there.

Be forewarned, it can be difficult to get a table; Starbelly just started taking reservations. The restaurant can be very noisy without much space dedicated to those waiting without a reservation.

The interior has a clean and modern feeling; nothing like the rustic Asqew Grill that came before, except for the accents of wood. Sustainable design elements include reclaimed wood panels and a 30-foot communal table constructed from a bowling lane. With no hard liquor license, the beverage menu does manage to include a number of mixed drinks — a Michelada, a Shandy, a Kir Royale, and a fairly weak Pimm's Cup among the choices. There are also many local draft beers and a small but varied wine list that leans more towards Old World than New. Bottles top out at $54 for a Loire Valley Sancerre and a Paso Robles Cab.

If you love thoroughly crispy French fries, do not pass up the house-cut fries with three dips ($5). The homemade ketchup is by far the most interesting, but even plain the fries are perfection.

We also enjoyed the pan-roasted black mussels with chorizo, chilies and cilantro ($5), but the two best dishes were the house made Chicken Liver Pate, served with cherry-apricot and pistachio chutney, and the Oven Roasted Wild Mushrooms paired with a duck egg, sunny side up (each $9).

Not everything in the Snacks section thrilled us. We didn't like the fishy-tasting octopus salad and the corndogs were ok, but more of a novelty rather than a something we'd order again.

The Apple and Celery Root Salad sadly was a miss, which was surprising after having been highly recommended by the waitress. The textures were crunchless and mushy, dabs of cloying pistachio butter seemed out of place and large chunks of dried cherry dominated the subtle flavors.

Pizzas are the crisp cracker bread style, and we especially enjoyed the topping combination of market peppers, bacon, and tomato ($14). Possibly the best dish of the evening was the Porchetta ($15), as it was tender with crisp edges and served alongside tangy salsa verde and salsa Calabria to cut the richness. A large portion, it's definitely another dish to share.

On the dessert menu the Salted Caramel Pots de Crème ($6) was something we will dream about for a long time to come. It has a balanced caramel flavor, light and nicely chilled with just a minimal crunch of salt. The accompanying herbal rosemary cornmeal cookie was a terrific foil. It was a great ending at an exciting new dining destination.

Reservations Essential? Yes