Review: Il Casaro – New Restaurant

When I first saw Il Casaro as I was walking by a week ago, the menu was posted as a “soft opening menu”. It looked intriguing, so (with difficulty remembering where exactly it was) I returned yesterday. They are now fully open, and I think they’re off to a good start.

Marinara Pizza - $12

Marinara Pizza – $12

The owners of Il Casaro are not new to the area; they’ve owned nearby Vicoletto for some time. Which, oddly, I’ve never been to. Perusing their menu, I would now really like to try their pappardelle with fresh crab meat, among other things. More new restaurants, yeay!

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Review: 54 Mint

54 Mint is tucked away behind the old San Francisco Mint off 5th Street just south of Market (indeed, in SOMA). It’s a cute space with rustic-chic decor, and a large-ish downstairs (basement) seating area for overflow seating and (I assume) large parties. They’ve got an extensive wine list, a fancy Italian menu, and, most importantly, it is possible to get a reservation.

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Review: Caffe Baonecci

North Beach is San Francisco’s “Little Italy”. As such, you’re never more than a stone’s throw from an Italian restaurant in these parts. Most of them, as far as I’ve experienced, are relatively mediocre, as you might expect in a tourist-oriented area with an overabundance of one type of restaurant. Caffe Baonecci is a nice change of pace.

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

burrata salad with tomatoes and arugula

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Review: Capo’s

Extra, Extra, ReadAllAboutIt! Capo’s Now Open in North Beach!

Say that in, like, one of those Dick Tracy Chicago gangster accents to get the full gist of what’s happening in that sentence, y’shee. Capo’s is the newest gig from world champion pizza tosser Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napolitana, one of the famous SF pizza joints (also the owner of Pyzano’s in Castro Valley). This time he’s gone old school with Capo’s — red patent leather booths, brick walls, and mood lighting chandeliers. And a specialization in Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I can dig it.

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Review: Tommaso’s

Two “m”s, one “s”. Tommaso’s. Opened in 1935 (under the name Lupo’s), this Italian eatery has stayed the course for over 75 years donning the same cave-like location and winning awards for their pizza. They’ve got an interesting story and are one of the great restaurant successes of SF.

Margherita pizza from Tommaso’s

When you ask for restaurant recommendation in SF, particularly in North Beach (technically FiDi, but still), you’ll often hear the name Tommaso’s. At least I have. And since I walk by the place every day (no joke) on my way to work, it’s a wonder it’s taken so long for me to go. But alas, now I can say I have experience the great Tommaso’s.

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Review: Paradiso

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value:3/5
Times Visited: One  ♦   Will I Return?:  Si, Per Favore!
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Ok, you live in the East Bay, but not really in the exciting parts like Oakland or Berkeley. You’re sorta stuck in the Fremont/Hayward/San Leandro no-man’s land of the East Bay*. There are plenty of places to eat, but most of them aren’t particularly exciting. Enter Paradiso.

Like Hayward’s Buon Appetito and a handful of other places around this stretch of land, Paradiso is an oasis of culinary delight. With classy decor, an upscale menu, and service that will put a smile on your face (as well as a hearty amount of water in your glass), Paradiso is a welcome pleasure.

Inside Paradiso: the counter that surrounds the kitchen.

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Review: Buon Appetito — Revisted

Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A Few* ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
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Buon AppetitoHello again, Buon Appetito. My first review of Buon Appetito in Hayward followed my first visit about this time last year. Since then we’ve been back a couple times and I wanted to report on the growth of this place for those who haven’t been in a while.

Last time I commented on the new addition of the bar area to the main restaurant. They have now added a third space as they attempt to take over that entire tiny shopping strip. Sandwiching the bar area is a second seating area that could probably seat another 50 people easily. I didn’t ask who their interior decorator is, but it’s clear that they spared no expense — the place looks fabulous.

Buon Appetito

The newest dining room at Buon Appetito, Hayward

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Spettro

Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
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SpettroSpettro can be found at 3355 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland and is one of a huge many awesome restaurants which I’m only just finding out about in this area. Seriously, Oakland is pretty awesome. Our friends described this place as Mexican/Italian fusion, but after seeing the menu, it pretty much looked like Italian to me.

A variety of delicious-sounding salads; entrees including chicken marsala, chicken or eggplant parmesan, oven braised lamb and chicken risotto along with pastas and pizzas will start any mouth watering. Seriously, it was super hard to choose between the salads and the pizzas…so Friend #1 and I split one of each. This was a fabulous choice.

Spettro

Inside Spettro, Oakland.

Despite my continual urge to order a Caesar, I deferred to a Marblehead salad of “Tender Butter Lettuce, Tart Green Apples, Candied Walnuts and Crumbled Bleu Cheese In a Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette”. Yeah, it was worth it. Seriously though, there are quite a few salads to choose from that sounded DE-licious. Oh, and you can choose a small, medium or large size for any salad which is so, SO nice of them.

salad

Marblehead Salad from Spettro, Oakland.

Though I really did have my eye on a pasta dish (dude, pesto eggplant lasagna…hard to resist!) we settled happily on a Lofaro pizza: “Thin Crisp Crust Brushed With Garlic Olive Oil Topped With Roasted Shitakes, Spinach Mushrooms, Goat Cheese, Roasted Garlic And Mozzarella”. Cannot go wrong there, as far as I’m concerned. And, indeed, we did not. It was delicious. Everything was delicious.

pizza

Behold the glory of the Lofaro Pizza from Spettro, Oakland

Friend #2 ordered the chicken risotto with which he appeared pleased. Our salad and pizza was gone without a second thought (oh, garlic, you’re soooo good)…and we were on to dessert. I think I got caught up in the moment (and the dessert menu posted on the wall across from us) as I don’t typically order dessert. Since we couldn’t decide between the offerings we chose to all split an ice cream covered brownie and a peach crisp.

risotto

Smoked Chicken Risotto from Spettro, Oakland.

I’m not a fan of fruit crumbles, so I took my mandatory bite of crisp and quickly moved on to the brownie and ice cream wholeheartedly. For $5 each, both desserts were pretty plush, but I must admit that I was sorely disappointed by the brownie. It is, in fact, the very reason I rarely order brownies: it was dry, hard, and seemed old. I have no idea if it was actually old or overcooked or what, but it was not terribly satisfying. As it was the only thing on our table that I didn’t absolutely love, I did pardon good ‘ole Spettro for the single blunder.

brownie

Brownie and ice cream from Spettro, Oakland.

crumble

Peach Crisp from Spettro, Oakland

The service was good but nothing terribly special. I did love the atmosphere: smaller, single open room with brick walls and strings of lights spider-webbed over the room. Upscale dining and great food with medium prices…I like you, Spettro.

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Buon Appetito

Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Yes, please
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Buon Appetito has been one of the classiest Hayward restaurants for some time now.  Amidst all the good things I’ve head over the past many years, this was my first visit.  My conclusion?  It was great.  In short, the menu had many delicious meat-less choices, the decor was exquisite, and the food was very good.  The only problem?  The damn place is on A Street in Hayward.

Let’s talk for a moment about how I love Hayward.  I’m from Hayward, born and raised.  It seems to me that it does a person no good to walk around all day squawking about how horrible his or her hometown is, especially when he or she currently is residing in said hometown.  I would be continuously disgruntled if, for example, my feathers were ruffled every time the bass on the stereo in the adjacent vehicle was overriding the Regina Spektor playing in my car.   Or, if I were upset by the ever expanding stretch of out-of-business car lots on Mission Boulevard.  Or, if I felt threatened by late night, spontaneous, car-side dance parties at the Chevron station near Jackson Street.  If it bothered me when I am stared down by the patrons at the local Food Maxx, then it would make my life a bit difficult.  Instead, I try to embrace the run down shopping centers, to smile sincerely at the Walgreen’s checker despite his lack of front teeth, and to dodge the folks trying to sell me things outside my neighborhood Lucky store with gusto and without remorse.  And I try to be home, or far from it, before dark.

My point is: A Street sucks.  It’s old, it’s run down, and it’s not nice.  There’s the new Lucky shopping center which, except for aforementioned jerks who are ALWAYS THERE pedaling something outside the front doors (I just want to go shopping, and I thought that would have been fairly clear by the fact that I’ve pulled up to a grocery store*), has added a splash of modernity to this otherwise bereft stretch of downtown.  But the rest of A Street, from Foothill to Hesperian has been getting progressively older and crummier since I was a child.  So to come back to my originally intended point, this is an unexpected place for such a nice restaurant.

Back to the topic at hand.  Once you park your car (lock the doors), trudge up the sidewalk, and open the door to Buon Appetito, you suddenly enter another world.  It’s a world with clean floors, fun Italian music, fresh food, and *gasp!* tablecloths.  It’s a place made for another town, is what it is.  But, alas, Buon Appetito has chosen to grace Hayward with its presence, and for that I am grateful.

Buon Appetito restaurant review, Hayward

Seating area with bar behind inside Buon Appetito in Hayward.

The inside of Buon Appetito looks really great.  Everything is clean and classy, and the newest addition of the bar area makes it a lot more spacious and multi-purpose.  The service is prompt and helpful; our waiter could pronounce all the things on the menu that I asked him about.  The food is made by a chef with (assumingly) actual culinary training.  And it tastes like it too – no alfredo sauce from a jar here.  They know what they’re doing at Buon Appetito.

The bar at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

Since my mom ordered the Ravioli con Pomodoro e Limone: fresh ravioli pasta filled with spinach, Swiss chard, pine nuts & ricotta cheese topped with a lemon cream sauce – which I secretly wanted, I chose the Turtei di Zucca (I pointed to the menu instead of risking trying to pronounce that word): home-made ravioli pasta filled with roasted butternut squash & ricotta cheese topped with a cream sage sauce.  Boyfriend ordered one of the specials: Pasta Rustica, which was ear-shaped pasta with potatoes, onions, and fontina cheese, served crispy (I was intrigued by this, I’ll admit).  Oh yeah, and while you wait, they provide bread slices with heavenly garlic spread:

Complimentary bread with delicious and addicting garlic spread.

My ravioli was very good; I chose the cream sauce (the more popular sauce), though I also had a choice of a browned butter sauce (I wasn’t feeling adventurous).  My mom’s ravioli was also delicious – the cream sauce on this pasta is pure perfection.

Turtei di Zucca in a cream sauce at Buon Appetito in Hayward.

Ravioli con Pomodoro e Limone at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

Boyfriend’s pasta was good – the crispy-ness made it interesting.  Since it was not completely doused in a cream sauce, I didn’t love it quite as much (go figure), but it was good.  And it looked pretty.

Pasta Rustica at Buon Appetito, Hayward.

They offered dessert but we declined, thought I’m sure it would have been good.  The price of the dishes is a bit above the norm for Hayward, our pasta dishes were running on the order of $14 a plate.  So, it’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for, and it’s not horribly expensive either.  The meat dishes are a bit more expensive (as meat dishes are wont to be), but the salads are reasonably priced and so are the cocktails, of which a plentiful variety is offered.  I wish they had a happy hour or some early dinner specials to get people in the door before 6pm, but it’s a perfect place for a truly nice dinner in Hayward.

And hey, if you need a contractor, notary, and a lawyer, there’s a one stop shop right across the street.  Gotta love Hayward.

*Oh right, I’m not bitter, I forgot for a second.

Boun Appetito on Urbanspoon

Banchero’s

Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A million   ♦   Will I Return?: Anything for Family
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You know how every town has that restaurant that’s been around since the beginning of time?  Banchero’s is that restaurant in Hayward (one of them, at least).  The painted exterior boasts that this place was established in 1948, and I will not contest them on that.  I’m also fairly certain that the façade, the tables and chairs, along with every fixture and most of the gracious and wise employees are from right around then as well.  And, let’s face it, they’re all hanging in there.

I have to grade Banchero’s on a different scale than other establishments.  This is not a place that I, of my own accord, would probably ever patronize.  It’s a restaurant from a bygone era of leather booths, dim lighting, dingy tile ceilings, and uncreative food.  “Modern” is not in the vocabulary of the Banchero’s crew, and they’re working with that (though, curiously, they do have a pretty nice website).  In my own personal world, this place has about the ambiance of a dentist’s office, but when you enter Banchero’s, you’re no longer in your own world anymore.  You’re whisked away to a bar and restaurant whose heyday was 50 years in the past.

When Banchero’s was built, there was no Cheesecake Factory.  There wasn’t Applebees, or P.F. Chang’s, or even Olive Garden.  Can you imagine?  The very idea of “chain” restaurants may not have even existed yet (along with fire and possibly the wheel), so each local restaurant facility was left to their own devices as far as interior design, menu, and all the standard protocols of a money-making establishment.  And so, you get places like Banchero’s, where they made food that people liked and functioned well enough to make a bit of cash.  The thing is, there just aren’t many from that era that have made it into this century.

But Banchero’s has, which says something about the place in general.  Clearly they have a loyal clientele that spans more than one generation, they offer something that people respect and desire, and they function well enough to keep offering these things without undermining their own intents.  To own and operate a restaurant for sixty-some years, (assumingly) keeping much of the same decor, menu, and general appearance is a feat that few restaurants can claim to have conquered.

The interior of Banchero's restaurant in Hayward.

Now, what do I personally think of the food?  I’m not the hugest fan.  It’s diner style – the thick white porcelain plates with rounded edges, no garnishes, heavy with butter and sauce.  The choices are steak and chicken and (thankfully) pasta and offer nothing particularly vegetarian friendly nor terribly creative.  In short – it’s not my style.  But that’s not to say that flocks of people don’t arrive every night salivating over the ravioli, spaghetti, and rib-eye steaks. There is something about this place that keeps the people coming back week after week, decade after decade.

Chicken Marsala at Banchero's.

One fun thing about Banchero’s (that I can’t fully enjoy as a non-meat-eater) is all the stuff that comes with a dinner entrée.  You think bread sticks and all-you-can-eat salad are good at Olive Garden?  Try this: if you order a main meal that isn’t pasta, you receive salad, barley soup (yummy), hors d’oeuvres (olives, pickles, peppers, cauliflower, salami), spaghetti, and ravioli all on community platters for the table to share.  That’s before your meal – then you get a fillet of sole or chicken liver or whatever you ordered after all that!  And also an after-dinner ice cream included as well – choice of vanilla, orange sherbet, or spumoni.  And, don’t forget that you have to order the garlic bread (half or whole loaf) to help carb-up the whole meal (it’s delicious, can’t mess up garlic bread).  I typically order just soup and salad, as those are the most veggie friendly/healthy options, and since I can’t seem to manage to eat those appetizers and a whole fish meal also.

The interesting thing about Banchero’s is that they are filling a niche that I didn’t really think existed anymore.  There’s a reason that the diners of today don’t have off-white walls with nautical paintings from 19-hundred-and-something and lumpy leather booths.  We do the mood lighting, the color matching, the professionally theme-decorated nick knacks strategically placed around the walls for a reason – it looks nicer.  The art of restaurant decoration has been perfected and you and I are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how you feel about it) to be able to enjoy these seemingly elaborately decorated facilities for the price of a standard dinner.  And though I’m describing chain restaurants here, I’m really just harping on the evolution of ambiance as a key role in a patron’s enjoyment of any setting.  Thoughtful, classy, modern, and creative are the new decors of choice, and we now have the ability to enjoy this in almost any restaurant.

For Banchero’s to hang on to it’s old world style, it’s old fashioned menu (I ask you, where else can you order Sauteed Chicken Livers, Ground Steak, Swiss Chard, or Spumoni Ice Cream?), and the same mid-1900’s decor and still maintain a profitable, competitive business is completely amazing.  Kudos to you, Banchero’s, I wish you many more years of success.

Note: To any of my family members reading this, please be neither surprised nor offended at this review.  I don’t mind going to Banchero’s as it makes me happy to see you happy.  And I don’t care if the food isn’t for me specifically, you probably already knew that anyway (“you’re only having soup and salad?”).  We can still go there and I’ll never say a word of complaint; I just like to hang out with you.  :)

Banchero's Italian Dinners on Urbanspoon