Chiaroscuro Ristorante

Simple, solid, upscale food
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REVIEW The word chiaroscuro is an Italian art term referring to the use of light and shadow to create a three-dimensional effect — and it's a fitting name to describe this small restaurant's decor (cement benches, a white-gray-black color scheme, and an exposed kitchen) as well as its cuisine.

My companion and I started with the degustazione di salume e formaggi, a selection of salami and cheese. As a salami lover (my roommates always know whom to blame when their salami is missing after one of my nights out), I truly enjoyed Chiaroscuro's options. And the cheese, a spectrum from soft to sharp, was also impressive. Plus, our waitress recommended a matching wine that even pleased my companion, who's more of a wine-no than a wino.

Next came the entrées. I tried fresh gnocchi, which melted like potatoey butter — and with sage, like Mom makes! — in my mouth; lamb chops, polenta, and greens. The lamb was everything it should have been: lean meat, cooked medium and spiced lightly. The polenta came as a mini soufflé with a raw cracked egg in the center — too bland for non–polenta lovers like my dinner companion, but perfectly gritty, dry, and palatable for me. In fact, the polenta was the most impressive dish I ate all night, hands down.

The prices are considerable and the portions are small, but the food is both simple and solid: there's no gray there.

CHIAROSCURO RISTORANTE Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–midnight. 550 Washington, SF. (415) 362-6012, www.chiaroscurosf.com