Last week San Francisco diners and foodies all around received the surprising news that Nate Appleman had resigned his position heading the kitchen at A16 and SPQR. Appleman, a 30-year-old from Ohio recently received a Best rising star chef award by the James Beard Foundation–the Oscars of the culinary world. Appleman’s popularity is in large due to his work at A16, the hip Italian eatery in the Marina where he spent the last 3 years.
The small facade on Chestnut Street hides a long dining room that extends through 3 different areas and ends on a small covered patio. The space is packed with tables like a discount airliner that tries to squeeze in a few extra seats on an already crowded plane.
The atmosphere is casual and warm. Figuratively and literally speaking. The wood-burning oven in the middle of the room produces some of San Francisco’s best pizzas but also one of the city’s hottest dining rooms. Add to that poor air circulation and the heat inside can be quite uncomfortable.
If you can choose where to sit, the cooler areas are the patio and the bar; both benefit from an occasional outside breeze. Next comes the main dining room where the slightly higher ceilings shave off a few degrees. But one area in particular offers less fortunate diners an especially unpleasant atmosphere. The mid dining room is so dark and hot that sweating is guaranteed. On my second visit, I had to ask to move to the bar after 5 minutes of full body roasting.
If you can ignore the heat, the interior design is welcoming and unfussy. Service is friendly and sharp, even under abnormal circumstances. On my first visit, our server kept her cool while two tables down a team of paramedics removed a diner who became ill. Could it have been the heat?
But there’s a good reason A16 is such a hot spot–figuratively speaking. It’s all about Appleman’s cuisine.
The restaurant, named after a highway in the south of Italy, offers a soulful Italian fare created with seasonal ingredients from a careful selection of local purveyors. Appleman’s menu includes his famous Neapolitan pizzas ($11 to $16) and house-made salumi (about $10 per serving or $15 for a tasting). It also features 9 appetizers ($4 to $12), 4 pasta dishes ($10, $18 for entrée size) and 5 meat entrées ($22 to $24). Each main course includes a side dish.
A16 serves their sliced bread with a generous portion of peppery olive oil. Save some of the oil if you order a pizza, there’s nothing better than dipping its crust in it.
Marinated San Remo and Castelvetrano olives. The bright green olives imported from Italy are even better marinated in olive oil and spices.
A great starter is the Zuchinni, olives and shaved parmesan salad. A very successful appetizer; light, fresh and crunchy.
Roasted Monterey sardines with fried breadcrumbs, currants, pickled chiles and herbs. Here, the tender, fresh sardines meet the crunchiness of breadcrumbs. The only missing element; acidity.
The restaurant’s wood burning oven produces an amazing pizza crust, beautifully charred and deliciously chewy. It’s not as crispy as Gialina’s but as good as Flour + Water’s. Seven toppings and a few add-ons are available; among them, Funghi – roasted mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, grana padano, garlic, oregano, wild arugula. Layered with flavors, this pie is just great.
Squid ink tonnarelli with octopus, black olives, tomato, chiles and garlic. In this tasty pasta, the same fried breadcrumbs found on the sardines are added for texture.
Appleman’s roasted meats are also worth trying. His house-made lamb sausage is exceptional. Served with root vegetables and paired with any of the restaurant’s side dishes. I recommend the Cannellini beans with garlic and oregano. Flavorful and creamy.
Desserts at A16 won’t disappoint. Selections change daily and include house-made gelatos in addition to more sophisticated sweets like a parfait made with candied rhubarb and mint.
The restaurant semifredos are also very good, this one made with macadamias and caramel.
One of the most popular restaurants in the northern part of the city is packed with locals in a hip and a little too warm atmosphere. Its Italian cuisine was made famous by the talented Nate Appleman. For the restaurant, it remains to be seen how its food will fare with the departure of its star chef. For Appleman, foodies everywhere wait anxiously to hear where he’ll stop next. Wherever that is, it’s guaranteed to become another hot spot. But hopefully one that is also cool; literally, not figuratively speaking.
A16 is at 2355 Chestnut St.