Uva Enoteca in Lower Haight offers pig-heavy eats with a dazzling array of wines
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Uva styles itself an enoteca a wine bar but when you step through the door, the first thing you see is a large chalkboard with a butcher's sketch of a pig, with the major cuts labeled in Italian. The restaurant's menu continues the porcine theme; an entire section of the card is given over to a listing of cured pork flesh in its various forms, some examples coming from Italy and others from over here but all of them available for a kind of mix-and-match antipasti experience.
Salume and wine are hardly incompatible, and Uva's wine list is predictably extensive, with a broad array of bottlings available by the glass, in standard pours, or in quarter-liters. The latter are nicely shareable, if you're the sort of person who's inclined to share. Or maybe you just like your super-size-it option in wine as well as french fries.
What is less predictable about Uva is its location, smack in the middle of the Lower Haight. It's like a Mission District restaurant a second cousin of Beretta, maybe that wound up in a neighborhood I associate more with beer than Barolo. A few steps one way is Memphis Minnie's, a barbecue joint, while a few steps the other is a bar where people gather to watch soccer matches. These street cues don't quite point in the direction of an endeavor whose tone is unmistakably that of a boutique. But then, the same sorts of street cues a few years ago didn't prefigure the success of RNM, the neighborhood's first high-style restaurant. The mix of locals and destinationers has been enough to sustain RNM, and from the early look of things, it will be enough to sustain Uva, too.
The enoteca, opened in early spring by Boris Nemchenok and Ben Hetzel, occupies a typical mid-block storefront space: narrow and deep, with high ceilings. The narrowness reminded me of the original Delfina, but there is more woody warmth here (along with a cream paint scheme and gentle glass light fixtures over the bar and on the walls) and less noise, though far from no noise. The crowd is young and well-dressed in an edgy, vintage-fedora way; everyone looks like an aspiring sommelier.
In keeping with the "enoteca" designation, the food is on the lighter side. The menu's most substantial dishes are pizzas, tramezzini (stuffed flatbread rolls), and piadini (flatbread sandwiches sent through the panini press). And while the salume sets an unmistakable north-Italian tone, not all the food is northern Italian or even Italian. We were quite taken by a dish of yellowtail crudo ($8.50) that consisted of four elongated rectangles of flesh, about the size of emery boards, laid beside a pinkish block of Himalayan salt. The salt block could have passed for flavored ice, but its real purpose was for a bit of last-second, DIY curing; you lay your fish strip on the block for a few seconds before eating it. Chopsticks would have been useful here.
Salads abound, including a pile of little gem lettuces ($7), tossed with vinelike pea tendrils, slices of duck breast, and dried cherries. This sounded better than it turned out to be. The breast slices were tough and a little dry, while the cherries ended up on the bottom of the plate like spent grapeshot. They were pitted: a not-insubstantial mercy. But the salad as a whole seemed aimless, like a group of people at a meeting waiting for someone to come in and tell them what to do. How about a nice, assertive, glossy dressing to bring things together?
Pork in one form or another insinuated itself throughout the menu. Semolina gnocchi ($4.50) were seated on tabs of speck, a smoked prosciutto. Visually this was attractive, and the speck brought its distinctive salty-smoke aura to the otherwise rather pedestrian and slightly tough gnocchi. If the latter had been plopped totally naked on the plate, they would have looked like some rocks gathered on a geology class field trip. The way food looks does count, after all. A crock of fresh shelled beans ($4.50) was enlivened by flecks of crisped pancetta, tasty and textural if not quite comely. We enjoyed this dish, but would it have killed someone to straighten the knot and smooth the lapels before sending it out the door a sprinkling of grated cheese, a dollop of rouille, something to say the beans weren't just shoveled in there by some weary hasher?
A pizza ($13) topped with mozzarella, corn, and basil chiffonade was a good summery combination. Also, it featured no pork, which made the pie a kind of intermezzo. The basil was a bit wilted from the heat of the oven, but the pizza on the whole was decent-looking, if not a prom queen. Cured pork returned soon enough: as pancetta in a moist, colorful tramezze ($6) of shrimp and avocado, and as prosciutto in a piadine of asparagus spears and montasio, a mild, fresh cow's-milk cheese from Friuli in northeastern Italy. The asparagus was a little underdone, but the montasio melted luxuriously in the panini press and had a way of making one let go of any misgivings. That's part of the power of grilled-cheese sandwiches.
As at Beretta, the dessert menu is brief and gelato-heavy. Coppetta gianduja ($7), for instance, consists of a small chocolate torte nestled under a tower of two gelato globes and a squirt of vanilla cream. I found myself thinking of a possible new hat fantastication for Beach Blanket Babylon in addition to a new porkpie hat for myself.
Dinner: nightly, 511:15 p.m.
568 Haight, SF
Beer and wine