Occupation: Massage Therapist
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: VEGA
Reviewed VEGA: Tuesday, August 30, 2011
VEGA is one of many great restaurants nestled in the heart of Bernal Heights on Cortland Avenue. I live in the neighborhood, and it’s wonderful not having to go far for great food! This mom and pop opened its doors a little over a year ago, bringing family recipes and old world charm from Rome to the Bay Area. It’s a small restaurant with limited seating, so it’s best to make reservations. The staff is made up of family members who make you feel like family, too. They carry a good selection of wine and are very knowledgeable about wine pairings. Like any great Italian restaurant, VEGA offers a wide selection of appetizers, salads, pizzas, pastas, and desserts along with a variety of seasonal specials.
One of the things I love most about VEGA is the consistency! Every time you go, you’re going to get the same great food and service, and this time was no different. I sat down with friends and ordered a bottle of Barbera d’Alba, a smooth red wine, not too sweet and not too acidic, that goes great with everything! While waiting to order, we were served fresh baked bread with olive oil. To start, I ordered the Insalata Romana, a delicious salad made up of organic arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, and toasted almonds in their house dressing. It is light and sweet, and it sets the tone for the rest of the meal. All of their pizzas are thin crust, as a true Italian pizza should be, making it a great light appetizer. I usually order the Quattro Formaggi. It is comprised of a blend of mozzarella, Fontina, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finished with thinly sliced pears — it is amazing! This time I tried the broccoli and salsiccia, which has organic broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano. This was also a great choice!
My favorite dish is the Gnocchi alla Boscaiola, a house made gnocchi served with mushrooms, Italian sausage, Parmigiano cheese, and a touch of white truffle oil. VEGA’s gnocchi will melt in your mouth. It is soft, fresh, and light — just like biting into a cloud. I like to get a good-sized fork full of gnocchi, a slice of mushroom, and a piece of the Italian sausage all at once! Every bite you take leaves behind a lingering taste of that amazing truffle oil! This perfect comfort food is delicious and hard to find.
When it comes to dessert, you can’t go wrong. The buttermilk panna cotta with fresh strawberry sauce and lemon zest makes for a delightful and light ending. The Panino al Cioccolato, a house favorite, is exquisite. It is made with house spun vanilla ice cream, which is sandwiched between two huge fresh baked cookies, which are chocolate chip cookies minus the chocolate chips, and then topped with a rich chocolate sauce and freshly whipped cream. This completely homemade dish is perfect for sharing.
I may not be able to pronounce everything on the menu, but that doesn’t matter because I’m too busy eating. If you are looking for excellent, affordable authentic Italian cuisine, then look no further. VEGA will make you feel like you are at home!
Occupation: Production Supervisor & Food Dude
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Taguito Argentinean Grill & Empanadas
Reviewed VEGA: Monday, September 5, 2011
Their pizza was good, but I like the pizzas at Piccino in the Dogpatch, and Delfina in the Mission better. I found VEGA’s pizza a little doughy, not quite as crispy as Piccino’s or Delfina’s. I would say those two places are the gold standard.
One dish was a standout: the gnocchi alla boscaiola, which is homemade gnocchi with mushrooms, Italian sausage, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a touch of white truffle oil for $16. This was perfection. The absolute perfect blend of textures and flavors. Everything came together in a harmonious blend, and all the ingredients and textures complemented each other. This dish was genius and is a MUST.
The other dishes were all good, but nothing outstanding. It was all sort of “comfort food” and everything had a lot of cheese on it, nothing really took a chance, flavor-wise. There was no BOLDNESS, it was more comfortable and complacent. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t outstanding. Certainly if this was my neighborhood, I could see going again. The atmosphere was nice, and the service was friendly and attentive. They gave my companions wine, while we waited for our table. But I kind of wish the dishes had more zing and pizzazz.
Occupation: Director of HR
Favorite Restaurant: Café Aquarius
Reviewed VEGA: Sunday, August 21, 2011
We made reservations online, and recommend anyone expecting to be seated relatively soon do the same. We arrived about twenty minutes earlier than our 7:30 reservation and parked on the street about one block away. Street parking seemed to open up frequently near the restaurant.
The restaurant was busy, there were families with young children and couples of all ages and ethnicities. The dining room was noisy without background music. You would have a hard time hearing your dining companions over the noise. The décor is comfortable and not overdone. The lighting is intimate, and the atmosphere is familial, but it’s beyond the first date type of intimacy, unless you grew up in a place that isn’t affected by noisy intimate places (Brooklyn perhaps?).
One of the owners (Vega) greeted us with a smile. We were seated closer to the time of our reservation because they were very busy. She offered us a seat at the bar near the kitchen (small and a bit awkward) or the table outside and where we could enjoy a glass of wine while waiting. We chose the latter.
Vega brought menus outside and chatted a bit, recommending a wine to my dining companion. She greeted a neighbor who was walking her dog and spoke Italian to her as if they were old friends. My dining companion chatted with Vega in Italian, and they had a brief conversation about him, her, Italy and their restaurant, as well his knowledge of and travel in Italy. Vega recommended a wine for him and confirmed that my choice of wine was a good one. We sat outside and people watched for about thirty minutes.
Vega seated us in the window seat facing outside. This seat was a bit awkward but cozy. Vega’s husband Giuseppe walked through restaurant seeing to their guests. We were brought excellent bread (unique texture) and water immediately. A waitress came about 3 minutes later and took our orders.
I had the calamari, and we shared the Asparagi and Uova pizza for an appetizer. The calamari was perfectly grilled and was mild and simply delicious with just a squeeze of lemon. This was probably the most Italian calamari I’ve had outside of NY. The pizza was more of a flatbread style pizza with good flavors. My dining companion chose to compare it to others he’s had. While it was tasty, he felt the egg didn’t add anything for him and the toppings were not generous.
The entrees were outstanding for each of us. My gnocchi were pillows of lightness, not heavy at all. The sausage was savory and not over-spiced and easily took on the sauce without soaking up olive oil and being greasy. The rigatoni was well-balanced with tomato, cheese, and spices and with the baked cheese we all love. Both entrees had large enough portions that we took home doggie bags.
We had a side of meatballs, since the mark of any good Italian restaurant to me are the meatballs and Sunday gravy. We compared the meatballs to our other Bay Area favorites, and while we liked others somewhat better, VEGA’s were moist, didn’t fall apart, and were made of tender meat without any add-ins (like currants/garlic/basil/oregano) like other regional Italian meatballs I’ve had. The gravy was light and silky; smooth, almost creamy, without any chunks of spices, onions, or tomatoes. It tasted like it was cooked for hours.
The desserts were good but not special. The tiramisu had more cocoa powder than I like and little to no amaretto flavor, which I happen to love. My companion wanted the affogato al caffe and enjoyed it. I tasted it, and it seemed ordinary.
The best part of the experience was VEGA’s gracious and convivial manner. They seemed to care about everyone who was there eating and enjoying their place. It was like an extension of home. We spent ten minutes discussing the Sardinian olive oil and how wonderful it was in flavor.
In all, a wonderful evening at a trattoria in Bernal Heights that makes you feel like you’re at home with friends where one is a great Italian cook.