Sleepy Outer Noe, punctuated by the clanking of the J Train as it rounds the corner of Church Street, is a surprisingly robust haven for Italian food lovers. The last few blocks before the street dead ends into 30th Street are blessed with several solid restaurants — the three strongest of which are listed below. If you haven't been in a while — or you've never made the journey — it's time for an Italian food pilgrimage to this peaceful corner of the city. Here are three very good reasons why:
The Gist: Chef Massimilliano Conti and his wife Lorella Degan opened La Ciccia in 2006 as an homage to the cuisine of Conti's homeland on the Italian island of Sardinia. Eight years later, it's still one of the toughest reservations to get in town. It's also the most authentic representation of this hyper-regional cuisine in the city — and arguably in all of California. Housed in an intimate, cozy, space that's low on the frills, a list of almost 200 Italian wines helps transport you across the Atlantic Ocean.
Order This: House favorites show off Sardinia's seafood, along with the earthy, robust elements of the cuisine. Don't miss prupisceddu in umidu ($13), a hearty octopus stew in a spicy tomato sauce, and spaghittusu cun allu ollu e bottariga ($18), a flavorful bowl of spaghetti doused in spicy oil and bottarga (salted, cured fish roe).
291 30th St.; 415-550-8114
The Gist: A little under a year ago, Conti and Degan opened this casual enoteca, focused on wine, cheese, charcuterie and a few small plates. Italian staff and high-quality food enhance the wine bar's warm glow — as do a few under-the-radar wine varietals. Seats here can fill up quickly and no reservations are taken. But there's plenty of bar seating and always a warm welcome.
Order This: Try a glass of full-bodied, rare 2010 Timorasso Daniele Ricci ($14) with the lasagnetta ($15), pictured below. Order it lapped in a tomato-meat ragout, riddled with creamy bechamel. Don't miss a starter of fluffy ricottina cheese ($8) brightened by citrus zest and honey.
1781 Church St., 415-874-9924
The Gist: We already miss Incanto, which Mark Pastore and Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino opened about 12 years ago as a den of Italian offal and wines. It was ahead of its time. But now the duo have opened a new concept, Porcellino, in its place. Much of the old look and feel is intact behind the new all-day, casual Italian salumeria. It's now an order-at-the-counter restaurant and a market for the duo's popular Boccalone meat products.
Eat This: The generous Italian Dip ($9), a marinara-laced sandwich packed with meatballs or lard-fried potatoes ($8) smothered in Cosentino's popular ndjua, a Calabrian-style, spreadable, spicy salami.
1550 Church St.; 415-641-4500
La Nebbia's Lasagnetta [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]