Alexander Alioto On His New Restaurant, Raviolo & More
You may remember chef Alexander Alioto's gorgeous raviolo uovo — a single, large spinach-ricotta-filled pasta pocket oozing with egg yolk — from his days as chef-partner at Nob Hill's Seven Hills. Or you may know of his famous family — the restaurant people behind legendary Alioto's in Fisherman's Wharf since 1925. In November of last year, the future whereabouts of Alioto — a fourth generation chef and restaurateur — because a little unclear as he parted ways with his business partner at Seven Hills, saying that he wanted to open a restaurant all his own. Considering Seven Hills has ranked in the top three Italian restaurants in the Zagat Surveys of 2013 and 2014, many people were eager to experience Alioto's next move.
Alioto's next big thing is almost here with Plin, his Italian restaurant set to open in the Mission (280 Valencia St.) in late July with a focus on seafood and handmade pasta. Thankfully, the raviolo uovo is coming along for the ride. We caught up with Alioto about the plans and influences behind Plin, off-menu surprises and Italian cocktails.
What are a couple surprise dishes you have planned for the Plin menu? Raw tuna and figs with mascarpone whipped cream, sea salt, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Cold spaghetti and geoduck clam with fresh basil and tomato sauce. Chicken drumettes with mushrooms and a kale chip in parsley-lemon-garlic sauce.
You grew Seven Hills to a place where it ranked number one in the Zagat Survey so it must have been a bitter-sweet goodbye. What were the main reasons you left? It was a great start but was a smaller restaurant with beer and wine, while I eventually wanted a little more space and cocktails. I was limited by a few things in that kitchen, but now will have more range and ability to do what I want in a larger space with a few more staff.
Besides your wonderful raviolo uovo, will there be any repeats of any of your other dishes from Seven Hills? There are going to be some similar dishes available on the menu. My staples from Seven Hills, like salt-seared calamari with eggplant caponata, for example. But some are going to be off-menu as well. You’ll have to know about them to order them — like my spaghetti with Grandpa George’s sausage.
How will Plin differ and how will it be the same? The kitchen will offer a lot more versatility, in terms of the cooking techniques. It will stick to the same ideals of local and sustainable ingredients and it will be value driven. My menu will focus primarily on small plates. I’ll also be offering half glasses of wines. I want my customers to come in and experience a nice meal without the three hours that usually goes along with it. They can sit down, order 4 half glasses of wine and 8 courses of food and just have fun. I’ll leave it up to the customer how long they want to be there.
What regions will be represented on the wine list? The wines are from my cellar — wines that I have accumulated over the years. There are wines primarily from France and Italy. Regions consist of Burgundy, Tuscany, and Piedmont. There are a couple 2009 Puligny-Montrachet, “Les Enseigneres”, Coche-Dury, 1996 Bonnes Mares, Roumier, and 1998 Barbaresco, Sori Tildin, Gaja. Should be really fun.
You have Daniel Federico from Los Angeles' Harvard & Stone, coming in to oversee cocktails. Can you tell us about his plans? What we've talked about is to base it around Italian liqueurs and cocktails. Not all cocktails will be specifically Italian but we're planning on 6-8 seasonal specialty drinks from Daniel, in addition to some classic cocktails.
How did growing up in the Alioto family influence you as a chef? Growing up with Alioto’s restaurant has been incredible learning experience with seafood and food in general. Alioto’s restaurant has showed me a great deal about food but especially about the business side of things. Alioto’s has the freshest seafood around and the food is great. If it wasn’t for my parents I wouldn’t be were I am today.
How so? My parents were the ones that really developed my tastes and palate. They brought me to unique restaurants around the world. My love for this business comes from them. I love seafood because a seafood meal is one of the greatest food experiences you can have. I’ve had 8-course seafood meals that just touch every sense. And the best part is afterwards: you don’t feel like you just want to curl up in a ball and go to sleep. Seafood is so clean and enjoyable. That is where my love of seafood comes from.
Tell us about your connection to San Francisco. This city is one of the greatest in the world. Alioto’s has had a lot to do with San Francisco’s history and — I have to admit — it has made me love this city even more. The fresh crabs every Thanksgiving, the family parties — how can I not love it here? [I also love] walking through the Marina and talking to old-timers about my grandparents. It was a tight-knit group of Italians back then and the stories never end.
Having staged in Sicily and Emilia-Romagna, how much will those differing food regions influence your cooking at Plin? They have everything to do with my cooking. But I wouldn’t say I’m influenced by or concentrating on any specific region. It is more the people I worked with and learned from that influenced me and my food — the techniques they taught me and the respect for the food that they showed me. I’ll also never forget the simplicity of the cooking. That is what influences what I do in the kitchen. They cook just to cook. It is such a passion for them. It’s humbling to actually be there and witness what it really means to cook.