By the Glass
FINO RISTORANTE & BAR
You'll like Fino the minute you set foot inside their feel-good dining rooms. A rich mahogany bar and open kitchen separate the light and airy front room from the cozy rear dining room. The fireplace, high ceilings, soft lighting, glazed beige walls, and soft music add to the inviting ambiance.
Chef Arturo Reyes creates Italian dishes using fresh California ingredients. There are lots of enticing options on the long menu plus daily specials. To start, house favorites include fried calamari, Japanese grilled eggplant, and a lively fresh arugula salad.
Main dishes range from a perfectly done veal piccata to interesting contadinas, a country-style Italian stir-fry of lightly sautéed fresh vegetables, garlic and your choice of fresh seafood, sausage or chicken tossed with penne over high heat. Fino also offers lots of great options for vegetarians.
Portions are more than generous, but do try to save room for dessert such as dark chocolate creme brulee and a superb New York style cheesecake made in-house. Service is enthusiastic and prices are kind on the wallet. Conveniently located two blocks from Union Square, Fino is an ideal choice for post shopping or pre-theater dining.
Fino experience lives up to name
By MAGGIE CRUM
Fino is a two-minute hop, skip and jump from San Francisco's always-busy theater district, but the atmosphere is far more serene. The main entrance is through the adjacent Andrews Hotel, but you may also enter from Cosmo Place - just across what used to be Trader the so-called alley from Vic's. Dinner at Fino is a delightful experience; I'm only sorry it isn't open for lunch.
Invitingly cozy, Fino has two seating area for intimate, even romantic, dining. High ceilings minimize noise, and arched windows, looking like treasures from the 19th century, face Post Street. A small and handsome bar, a partially exposed kitchen, golden lighting fixtures and contemporary paintings add to the harmony. On one wall you'll spot a panoramic photograph paying tribute to San Francisco as it was in 1877.
The menu is artfully designed to cater to many palates. You'll find a generous selection of pizza and pasta, as well as seafood, chicken, veal and vegetarian entrees that come with pasta. Prices are pleasingly moderate, and the food is skillfully cooked and served. Charles, who waited on us, has such a good memory that he takes orders without so much as a single note.
One of the nicest things about Fino is its prix-fixe dinner served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. On a recent visit the menu featured fried calamari or garlic bread; salad or minestrone; and grilled salmon, sausage Fino, chicken piccata or fresh vegetables with a creamy pesto sauce. Along with dessert and coffee, it's a bargain hard to beat.
You can't visit an Italian restaurant and pass up the hearty and aromatic starters. Bruschetta ($4.95), which appears on most Italian menus and takes many forms, was as pretty as a picture with its grilled eggplant, bright red tomatoes, basil, garlic and snow-white mozzarella atop horizontally sliced and toasted rosemary baguettes.
The arugula salad ($5.95), one of the six salads on the menu, was just plain wonderful. Mixed lettuces, pecans, Gorgonzola cheese and small chunks of pears whose sweetness counterpointed the bitterness of the arugula were dressed with a gentle vinaigrette in this inspired creation.
Pesto broccoli ($14.95), topping pale green pasta in a light sauce, was ringed with seven pink and succulent shrimp. A plethora of bright green al dente broccoli florets covered the top. Finished with a shower of Parmesan that descended from the most efficient grater I've ever seen. It is a dish to order again.
Chicken contadina ($14.95) was good to the last bite. The moist and tender chicken pieces were sauteed with mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes and fresh rosemary tossed with penne. Whole garlic cloves, cooked until soft and mellow, provided the finishing touch.
On a return visit, I'd be torn between calamari steak piccata with capers and lemons ($11.95), grilled rosemary chicken breast ($11.95), hot and spicy scallops with bell peppers (13.95), tortellini carbonara ($11.50) and vegetable pizza (10.95).
We polished off the meal with tart scoops of lemon and strawberry sorbets ($4.95) with raspberry sauce and ladyfingers. Results were disappointing because the lemon sorbet had the texture of an ice cube. The warm and sensuous chocolate creme brulee (4.95) was a far better choice. The chocolate and vanilla gelato with butterscotch sauce ($4.95) and tiramisu ($5.95) sounded great, but we had reached our limit.
Italian and California wines, selected to enhance the food, range from $4.50 to $6.75 per glass and $16 to $35 per bottle.
Prices: Starters $2.95 to $6.50; entrees $8.95 to $16.95; desserts $4.95 to $5.95
Ambience: The gracious setting works for almost any kind of dinner - even a romantic rendezvous
Food rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Ambience/service: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars