Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Perfect Meal - Back at La Ciccia

THAT WAS A REALLY GREAT MEAL. How many times can you honestly say that? Every now and then you have a dinner where you take a bite of something and it stops you in your tracks, and makes you take a moment to reflect on just how good it is. Such was our dinner last week at La Ciccia.

The genesis of this event was
my last visit to La Ciccia at the end of January for one of their periodic Sardegnian suckling pig (procededdu arrustiu) dinners. A couple of weeks ago I found a message on my voicemail from my golf buddy Tom, who had joined me at that earlier dinner, and had obviously been impressed. It was quite simple – “when do we go back to La Ciccia?”

Our son, Alex, and his girlfriend, Cass, had not yet been to La Ciccia and wanted to go. In addition, I had been wanting to get together with two other friends studying at Berkeley – Ilaria from Milano and Takako from Nagoya. This was the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together.....

La Ciccia is located in Noe Valley in San Francisco where Church Street runs into 30th. Massimiliano ("Massimo") and Lorella are the owners and always take very good care of their guests.

I had done a bit of reading about the food and wine of Sardegna prior to earlier meals at La Ciccia, but for this one I decided to really explore La Ciccia’s menu and wine list in advance of our meal so we could focus in on the most authentic dishes. There is some good information about la cucina sarda on line, including here and here. I had originally promised Alex and Cass that I would embarrass them by bring a binder to dinner, but when one has so much research material....

Massimo and Lorella greeted us upon our arrival and showed us to our table. Our waiter for the evening was Antonio who comes from Caserta in Campania just north of Napoli. Since they did not have any Sardegnian sparkling wine, we ordered a bottle of Fabio Zardetto’s “Zeta” prosecco to kick off the evening and started straight in with a range of antipasti:


► Mixed Seafood Antipasto
► Octopus Stewed in Spicy Tomato Sauce (Prupisceddu in Umidu)
► Asparagus with Bottarga
► Salumi – Speck and Coppa
► Baked Flat Bread topped with Pecorino and Olive Oil (Pani Guttiau [Carasau])

Of the antipasti the most notable for me as representative of Sardegnian cuisine were the octopus stew (baby octopus in a very tasty sauce) and the Pani Guttiau, made with Carasau, the traditional Sardegnian flat bread sometimes also called “carta da musica” – music paper – due to its thinness.

Bottarga made a surprise first appearance of the evening as a topping for the asparagus that Massimo kindly added to our antipasti selection, just in case a vegetarian might have been lurking among us (he need not have been concerned!). The bottarga served at La Ciccia is made from the roe of mullet (muggine). The roe is extracted from the fish in the sack that holds them, then salted and pressed before being sun-dried for one to two months.

The most famous bottarga di muggine – the so-called Oro di Cabras (gold of Cabras) - comes from Cabras on the west coast of Sardegna.

Mixed Seafood Antipasto

Octopus in Tomato Sauce - One Making a Break

Asparagus with Bottarga

Speck and Coppa

Pani Guttiau - Baked Flatbread


Fregola with Squid in an Ink Sauce (Nero di Seppia)
► Spaghetti with Bottarga di Muggine (Spaghittusu cun Allu Ollu e Bottariga)
Malloreddus (Semolina Gnochetti) with Pork Sugo and Pecorino (Malloreddus a sa Campidanese)
► Raviolli Stuffed with Ricotta and Lemon Zest/ Meat Sugo

We were only going to order the first three pastas, but Antonio said we shouldn’t miss the fresh raviolli. He was right. Plus, it was a nice balance to have two seafood and two meat pastas!

I was excited to try the
fregola which I had never had before. They are a small, round, pearl-like pasta which went superbly with the nero di seppia.

If I could have only one pasta it would be the spaghetti with the bottarga. A very simple dish but with just the right balance of flavors.

The malloreddus pasta is a dish we have had every time I have ever been to La Ciccia, for very good reason. The malloreddus pasta – which is made with saffron, refecting the Arab influence in Sardegna – has a unique flavor which goes very well with the pork sauce.

When I remember the dinner at La Ciccia what stands out most was how perfectly prepared each of the pasta were. Each had the perfect “al dente” chewiness. This is something that is incredibly simple in theory but difficult to achieve in practice.

Fregola with Squid in an Ink Sauce

Spaghetti with Bottarga

Malloreddus (Semolina Gnochetti) with Pork Sugo


► Seared Lamb Tenderloin with Porcini Mushrooms and Chick Peas (Pezza de Angioni cun Tuvara)

Although we were beginning to fill up just a bit after the pastas the lamb dish was something special, and after all, notwithstanding our past suckling pig dinners, lamb is probably the most representative meat from Sardegna. The lamb was perfectly prepared – tender and moist - and who doesn’t like porcini mushrooms!

Lamb with Porcini Mushrooms and Chick Peas


► Ricotta and Saffron Cake with Honey and Almonds (Truta de Arriscottu)
► Selection of Sardegnian Cheeses and Honeys (Prattu de Casu Isolanu)

We shared a light torta and some Sardegnian cheeses for dessert.

Ricotta and Saffron Cake with Honey and Almonds

Sardegnian Cheeses and Honeys


► Al inizio: “Zeta” - Prosecco di Conegliano -
Fabio Zardetto
► Bianco: 2007 “Is Argiolas” – Argiolas (Selegas, Cagliari) - Vermentino di Sardegna
► Rosso: 2007 Rosso Superiore –
Mandrolisai (Sorgono, Nuoro) – Bovale/Cannonau
► Alla fine: "Tres Montes" - Moscato di Sorso Sennori - Cantina Romangia (Sorso, Sassari)

In addition to helping us with our food selection, Massimo also guided us with our wine selection – all Sardegnian with the exception of the Prosecco - and the Argiolas and Mandrolisai were wonderful choices. We also shared a glass of the Romangia “Tres Montes” with our dessert which was very nice – reminiscent of a Vin Santo but not quite as sweet.

Wine Selection

Our Gang: Tom, Mike, Ilaria, Takako, Cass and Alex

Massimo Surrounded by Belle Donne - Cass, Takako, Lorella and Ilaria

1 comment:

chemcookit said...

This is my absolute favorite Italian restaurant in the Bay Area. In my experience, it's actually the only one that makes every dish like you would find it in Italy.

I love your blog and pictures.