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Good, but not Suppa Duppa

In June of 2005, the team behind Globe opened Zuppa in a warehousey space in Soma, just across the alley from Fringale. Zuppa’s broad Southern-Italian menu features six categories of food, including pizza and affettati (cold sliced meats). Despite a decent atmosphere and some excellent dishes, Zuppa lacks charm or broad appeal.

The large dining room, with cement walls and a loft, comes across as confused and austere, as if, used to the diminutive Globe, the owners were overwhelmed by so much room. The loft is more comfortable and warmer than the main dining room, which some find drafty.

The food, although generally good, is uneven. Some dishes are excellent. Mussels, with large abundant specks of black pepper ($8), forever changed the way I'll season these bivalves. A simple bone-in NY steak ($32) was nicely charred, nuanced and juicy.

Other dishes widely missed the mark. Pappardelle with arugula pesto, potatoes and blue-lake beans ($19) tasted as if it were made from the clippings of a freshly mown lawn. Lemon-cured tuna ($11) lacked expected brightness.

Desserts were unmemorable -- literally. After returning home from a recent visit, I had to look at my notes to recall which dessert I'd eaten.

Perusing the all-Italian wine list, which is divided by region, is an adventure. With a wide selection of bottles below thirty dollars, it offers comfort to those on a budget. To those without broad wine knowledge, some guidance is necessary. When asked for a recommendation below thirty dollars, our waiter, although polite, seemed flummoxed, reacting as if we’d asked him to unbutton his trousers.

So the service is good, but can be awkward. Other interactions with staff also stumbled, leaving waiter and customer staring at each other blankly.

Zuppa seems to be yet another restaurant trying to emulate Delfina's successful formula of stylish, apparently simple yet well-executed California-Italian. A16 and Range have taken on the model and made it their own, to stunning effect.

Why has Zuppa fallen short? Some speculate that the owners, with interests in Globe, Tres Agaves and the soon-to-open Pescheria in Outer Noe Valley, are spreading themselves thin. In fact, a colleague's recent visit to Globe confirmed rumors that it has fallen far from its once luminous position in the foodie heavens. Whatever the underlying reason, Zuppa, despite its successes, feels uncertain, like our encounters with the staff, staring at us, wondering how to make a good interaction great.