The Best Meal I Ever Ate: Italian at A16

This is a review I wrote of A16 in the spring of 2014. It originally appeared in Aces Magazine. It is also a continuation of the previous blog about Il Pirata.

In the summer of 2013, I attempted a wine tour of Italy. Chief on the itinerary were the bold Tuscans—found in Florence, Siena, and Pisa—as well as the unique whites of Cinque Terre. Little did I know then, Southern Italy has its own unique wine and food culture, an epiphany realized at A16 in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood.

Born of a desire to share the flavors of southern Italy and lesser-known Italian wines, A16 is a compelling pairing of innovative farm-to-table dishes featuring the savory dishes of Naples and its environs with unique terroir-driven wine producers.

With three full-time sommeliers and an extensive wine list of over 500 wines, many unique to the restaurant, A16 is an oenophile’s dream. Our sommelier, Iris Rowlee, treated us to a southern Italian tasting tour, journeying from the vines of Mount Vesuvius to the island of Pantelleria in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Each wine had its own anecdote-filled terroir, and Iris enthusiastically communicated each story with obvious delight. 

A16 is a great sharing restaurant—many special dishes beg to be tried and splitting them among your party is a wonderful way to experience the culinary adventure. Our tasting menu featured their ‘Best Of,’ but sneaking a peek at the frequently changing dinner menu showcased water buffalo spiednini, squid ink tonnarelli, and wild nettle ricotta gnocchi. 

The ‘Best of’ tasting menu featured A16’s famous Burrata, their house-cured meats created from a weekly-delivered pig, a classic and tasty Margherita pizza, and a napoletanoragu pasta dish, with the main dish being an Alaskan halibut served with roasted asparagus. Each course was paired with a unique southern Italian wine, replete with tales of eighty year old women tending the vines and aging techniques unique to the terroir, such as a riff on the ancient technique of amphoras: concrete eggs rotated frequently to capture the essence of the grapes and only the grapes.

Dessert was a cherry crostata served with house-made almond gelato.  A16’s resident pastry chef, Candace Rowan, creates desserts based on seasonal availability, so while cherries were available this week, a few months ago may have featured pears and in a few weeks, the crostatamay change again.  This dessert brought tears to my eyes—it was that good. Well-done Italian pastries can be difficult to find in the United States but Rowan is a pastry genius. 

Paired with a cappuccino or the recommended dessert wine Donnafugata ‘Ben Rye’ from the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, the crostata was incredible. We had a hard time deciding which dessert to try: A16 is also well-known for its Chocolate Budino Tart with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, as well as seasonal favorites such as a Blueberry Laychee Tart and staple Almond Pound cake with crème fraîche and strawberries. A16 is definitely a restaurant to save room for dessert.

Where to go if you go: A16, San Francisco and Oakland, California


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