Tortellini Con Pesto, Canneloni, Veal Scallopini
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante
Reviewed Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante: Friday July 21, 2007
Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Restaurant is a throwback to the standard for family-owned and operated Italian-American restaurants. The restaurant is located in South San Francisco (finally a good reason to go there). There is a large free parking lot in the rear, and plenty of metered (until 6 pm ), street parking in the area. If you like mob movies (Goodfellas, Godfathers 1and 2, but not 3), you will think you are eating in one of the restaurants portrayed in those movies. There is an actual working fountain in the main dining room ). Anyway, back to the food: classic Italian American. I’m talking spaghetti with meatballs, chicken parmigiana, and a fat New York steak with ravioli on the side!
I went to Bertolucci’s on a Friday night, and the joint was packed. I was met at the door by the host, who looks like a knee-breaker for the syndicate. I didn’t have reservations, so he took my name and escorted me to the bar (I have always felt you can meet a higher quality of people at a bar ), so I bellied up. I ordered a cocktail and enjoyed the live piano music being played right there in the lounge. A few locals were dancing to the standards being sung by the piano player. I was in the middle of a conversation with the neighborhood garbage man, when my table was ready. I lucked out and was seated at a booth. I started out with a nice red wine, XY Zinfandel. My first course was Gnocchi Nostri (plump potato dumplings in rosy gravy), and it was excellent. The gnocchi, also known as Irish pasta, was perfection, not overcooked and with a dressing that was in balance (no heartburn). I used the French bread given to me to finish the sauce left on my plate.
The waitress was great, she stayed in tempo with me (kept my wine glass full) and handled her other tables proficiently. The host came over between courses and made sure everything was fine (this is what I’m talking about — taking care of the customers, not just standing around looking pretty, plus this guy looks like he’s tried everything on the menu). I told him I ordered the veal, he stated, “Great choice, that’s what I’m having tonight.” Just as quickly as my appetizer plate was bussed, my main course arrived. The plate was filled with large pieces of veal and mixed vegetables on the side (you can also opt for polenta with marinara as a side). The meat was tender and flavorful, the vegetables were freshly cooked (not murdered the day before on a steam table). The restaurant has other rooms used for banquets and gatherings, and that night a few parties were occurring during my meal. I finished off with a biscotti, homemade by the owner’s wife (do I have to say it?), and a coffee. I figured I should finish my conversation with the garbage man, so I went back to the bar. I sat down and ordered a sambuca with coffee beans (three, for good luck ). The owner walked over to the piano and began to sing, yes, sing, he was impressive, the bar loved it and so did I.
Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is a breath of fresh air. This is classic Italian-American cuisine with personality and punch. If you want a large trapezoidal plate with sauce dots made with from a squeeze bottle, and a meal stacked on top of itself, keep walking. Bertolucci’s has been at the same location since 1928, so they must be doing something right! I would return and would have a party here with one or a hundred of my best friends. The bang for the buck is the whole package: free parking, great food, live music, and an owner that interacts and entertains the customers. I give this place four meatballs!
Occupation: Social Worker
Favorite Restaurant: Holy Land
Reviewed Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante: Tuesday July 17, 2007
The baked polenta appetizer was perfect! It was creamy, but not mushy, with just the right amount of cheese, and the homemade tomato sauce was absolutely fresh and wonderful. The house salad of romaine lettuce (it was mostly hearts –yum!), beans, onion, tomato, and cucumber comes with housemade creamy Italian dressing. The dressing was good — neither too creamy nor too piquant — but the salad was a bit overdressed for my tastes. Other than that and that I would have liked a few more beans, it was good.
The linguine special with shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms in a cream sauce was great! The noodles were nicely al dente and the flavors melded together very well. This lunch special came with a bowl of minestrone soup, which was nice: not too heavy, filled with beans, and fresh veggies, although a wee bit salty. The gnocchi with pesto was good, although there was WAY too much creamy pesto on the dish. I’m not sure if they make the gnocchi in-house or not; it was verging on too doughy, but I think was saved by being filled with pesto.
We opted to have the cannoli (they stuff the shells in the restaurant but don’t make them in-house) and the homemade biscotti for dessert. The cannoli was good, filled with mascarpone and topped with the canned cherries and the accompanying sweet syrup. Frankly, I think you can hardly go wrong with fried dough stuffed with sweet cheese! YUM! The biscotti was a perfect balance between crunchy and soft; you could tell that they made them earlier in the day. The coffee was strong, but not bitter, and was a nice accompaniment to the desserts.
The décor of the restaurant reminds me somewhat of a reception hall, with the open space and ample room for folks. You never feel too crowded but also don’t feel isolated from the other diners. I like the separation of the main dining room with the bar, which clearly has regular imbibers saddling up to it. I definitely liked the fact that this is a restaurant for the community. I observed waitstaff and patrons conversing in such a way as to demonstrate that they come very regularly.
The restaurant is easy to get to right off 280, and parking was great during the middle of the day. The service was fantastic and attentive; everyone was nice and timely with filling water, etc. The portions are great (we had leftovers) and a good value for what you get. I would definitely return to this restaurant, and would come more often if it were closer to Oakland.
Occupation: In-House Council for Steamship Company
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: B44 Catalan Bistro
Reviewed Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante: Tuesday July 9, 2007
Bay Area residents who drive along Highway 101 through South San Francisco have probably spotted the large Bertolucci’s sign near the highway many times, but haven’t had the occasion to stop in and explore. That sign promises an old-fashioned, unpretentious, Italian restaurant, San Francisco style. That is exactly what you get when you dine there.
When we drove up, a few local bikers were parking their motorcycles in front of the restaurant. We wondered if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping back in time thirty years; although there are some faux 1930s style advertising poster reproductions that ruin the otherwise perfect 1970s vibe. There is a little fountain near the entrance separating the restaurant from a pleasant bar. The dominant color is red: red carpet, red tablecloths, red seats, and red-covered booths. This definitely not a chi-chi designer space. Tony Soprano’s father would have felt perfectly comfortable at Bertolucci’s.
The host was warm and welcoming, and so was the staff. We were seated promptly. The bread was fresh and good; a good clue to the quality of the food we would be eating.
In the 1970s a restaurant like this might well have served wilted salads and soggy pasta with mysterious bland sauces. Happily, this is not the case, if it ever was, at Bertolucci’s. The menu has the classic Italian-American choices — all the old standards. We ordered Caesar salads ($9.95) to start. The romaine was fresh, and the tangy dressing, homemade.
For main courses we ordered Beef Lasagna ($16.95), Tortellini Con Pesto (beef filled pasta rings, creamy basil and garlic sauce $15.95), and Veal Scaloppini served with polenta ($20.95). The pastas were good and not overcooked. The sauces were classic — certainly not inventive or unique — but that is not what the restaurant is about. The veal was also good, although a bit tough, with a lemony sauce. A side of vegetables served with the veal, chard with carrots and onions, had just the right amount of balancing bitterness, and was not overcooked or mushy.
The wine list was very limited, and in fact, disappointing. We drank a Melini Sangiovese, 2002 ($30.00), which was not particularly special.
For desert we had spumoni ice cream, which was delicious. Overall, the experience was very pleasant, and the food was good. The atmosphere is definitely 1970s, and so is the menu, but the food itself has kept up with the times. The service is attentive and welcoming. It is easy to understand the restaurant’s apparently devoted following and ongoing success.