Communal dining spirit enlivens new spots: Mission Bowling Club, Mozzeria, Castagna, and Claudine
The dining bar is my preferred perch, particularly to engage with chef Russell Stein (who co-owns Mozzeria with wife Melody). He's hilarious and reads lips like a master, joking with diners as he spreads ingredients over wheels of dough before popping them into a wood-burning oven. His heartwarming Neapolitan pizzas ($12-18) are topped with the likes of caramelized onion, pancetta, mozzarella or goat cheese and eggplant. I must admit, my favorite item, Mozzeria bar ($8), isn't the most gourmet, but hearkens back to my Jersey youth. Let's call it what it is: a fried mozzerella cheese log doused in pomodoro sauce and basil. Sheer comfort.
3228 16th St., SF. (415) 489-0963, www.mozzeria.com
Claudine's chic cafe charms. Big picture windows and corner space on an alley up a half flight of stairs appeal, while a u-shaped bar creates a convivial dining experience, the bar is so small so you can't help but exchange good will with neighboring patrons. You can dine at a table, but the bar is far more fun, and works for a casual meal all day.
Much has been made of the meatball, kale, and fregola soup ($7/10), and rightly so. It is an unexpected culinary delight: olive oil-laced broth, laden with Parmesan, onions, carrots. I can be bored by broth soups at times, but this one holds my interest with plump veal-pork-beef meatballs and pleasantly soggy kale. Roasted mussels ($12 and $17) arrive aromatic with fennel sausage in lemon and white wine, while even avocado toast ($12) delights topped with dill gravlax, Spanish black radish, and lemon. Leave room at the end for Claudine favorite s'mores ($7) baked in a glass bowl with layers of marshmallow and chocolate on graham cracker crust. My meals at dinner have been more satisfying than at lunch, but each visit improves my opinion.
8 Claude Lane, SF. (415) 362-1988, www.myclaudine.com *
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