A 16 is a new bistro in the San Francisco Marina area featuring fresh and simple Neapolitan dishes. One of the owners is a frequent poster on Craigslist food forum and the restaurant has gotten wonderful reviews by forum regulars. One of them even mentioned it as one of the best ten restaurants in San Francisco. I had to see what they were talking about, so I made reservations for four (plus one toddler) on one Sunday night in February 2004. My personal evaluation is that A 16 is a good neighborhood bistro, offering good though not outstanding food. As long as you take it for that, and you don't see it as a destination place (in other words, this is not one of the ten best restaurants in San Francisco), you shouldn't be disappointed.
We had made our reservation for 7 PM and got to the restaurant a few minutes late - we would have been on time but the map on the website showed the restaurant to be one block over, so we had to walk back and forth before finding it. Parking wasn't a problem for us, but our friends Lola and Ignatius who were even later couldn't find a place right away and chose the valet parking ($10). It turned out that it didn't matter that they were late, as we didn't get seated until 40 minutes past our reservation time. Fortunately, it was a nice evening out and we could keep Mika entertained by walking with her outside; on a rainy night this would not be a good place to go with a young child. On the plus side, the hostess kept informing us of what was happening with our table, though she seemed overly optimistic on our chances of getting it. They did comp us two desserts for our troubles having to wait, which was a very nice gesture. But obviously the restaurant hasn't figured out their table-occupation/reservation system quite yet.
A 16 occupies a small but very pleasant space. It has a small L-shaped bar at the front where patrons can drink or eat. A large chalkboard keeps a list of their 40-wines by the glass (mostly Italian or Californian). Bar tables for two are also available in the following hallway; apparently you can get seated here without a reservation (if there are one or two of you, of course). The dining room per se is at the end of the hallway, past the half-open kitchen. It's a small room, without much in the way of decoration (a couple of paintings) and windows onto the outdoor patio area. The tables are pretty close together and at prime-dining time the room gets unbelievably loud - that could be a plus if you have a crying child - nobody could hear him over the conversation noises from the other tables. After 830 or so, when the room started to empty out, it was much quieter which made it much more pleasant.
Service was fine, though a little bit off, no doubt because the restaurant is so new. As I mentioned, it took us 40 minutes to get seated and then it was on a table for four situated about 2 inches away from the table next to it. Though I had made the reservation for four people, I had specified that there would be four adults and one toddler; it wasn't clear where we were supposed to put Michaela. Neither the hostess (who after 40 minutes had to be aware we had a child with us) nor the waitress offered a high chair, though one came after we asked for it. We finally put it between Mike's chair and mine which worked fine.
Another minor snag was my not getting the extra plate I asked for to put some of my pizza for Mika. It wasn't a big deal. I just put it on the table (which is covered by paper), but a plate would still have been nice. A much larger problem was that Lola's quail didn't come to the table with the rest of our entrees, apparently it came out of the oven "wrong" and they had to make her another one. They did apologize profusely and comped her dessert. Fortunately she could entertain herself eating her salad while waiting.
A 16 offers a fairly short, but nicely priced, menu with six appetizers ($6.5-11), six pizzas ($9-12), four soups/pastas ($7-14), four main dishes ($16-18.5) and about five desserts ($7). The food is Neapolitan, the chef supposedly spent some times in Naples learning how to make pizza, and emphasizes fresh, local ingredients.
For appetizers, we ordered the mushrooms stuffed with prosciuto and cheese, the Razor clams with marinated cauliflower and potatoes, the Margherita pizza and the Maccheronara al ragu. The mushrooms were excellent. I loved their foie-gras-like consistency and the sharp bite of the cheese. Our only complaint was that there were only 4 mushrooms. I wasn't thrilled with the pizza. The fresh mozzarella cheese was quite tasteless and the burnt crust didn't help matters any. Except for the burnt crust, this pizza did taste like many I've had in Italy (I'm just not a fan of Italian pizza) so if what you want is authenticity you will find it here. The same can be said about the maccheronara, thick noodles in a very fresh, acidic, tomato sauce. I've tasted similar dishes many times, both in Italy and Argentina. It wasn't particularly complex or delicious, but I found it oddly satisfying. Lola particularly enjoyed the chewy texture of the thick noodles. I didn't taste the clams myself (don't like them) but Iggy thought they were good, though they would have been better if they'd been warm as it was such a chilly night.
For my entree, I had the "top sirloin roast with rosemary, green peppercorns, and mosto," Lola had the "quail "spiedino" - with prosciutto cotto, scamorza, roasted bread" and the two guys ordered the "braised pork breast with olives, herbs, and chestnuts." I wasn't very happy with the roast. The paper-thin slices of meat were nicely cooked medium-rare and were beautifully red, but I couldn't taste them at all - the rosemary so overwhelmed the dish that it was all I could taste. Lola, on the other hand, liked the rosemary but did not like the leaves. She would recommend straining them out. We both really liked the balsamic vinegar of the dish, though.
I had a leg of Lola's quail and it was nice and moist but otherwise unimpressive; I felt it needed more seasoning. She really liked it, though. What we all could agree on was that the braised pork was simply delicious. It's difficult to describe how tender, moist and just plain succulent the pork was. I don't usually eat pork but this was just exceptional. It actually reminded me of the Patagonian lamb we had enjoyed in Argentina. It's highly recommended, though you should be forewarned that this is a fatty dish.
At A 16 you can chose your side dish from four options. Lola had the chicory and lettuce salad while the rest of us had the potatoes. She liked the simple salad but she didn't like the celery on the potatoes. My problem with the potatoes was that they were too plain, even some butter would have helped. Still, I was hungry enough to eat them all.
Dessert proved a similar experience. I had the torta caprese, a small slice of flourless chocolate cake served with a creme anglaise type of sauce. I can't remember if I've had and liked torta caprese before, but I didn't really like this version. It tasted as if it was baked with some jam or fruit, it may have been the Strega liquor this cake is traditionally baked with. In any case I didn't like it. We all loved the hazelnut semifreddo , the light ice-cream concoction was simply delicious. Iggy's ricotta sformatino with biscotti & blood oranges was interesting, I liked the subtle orange flavor on the ricotta though I don't think I'd order the dish myself.
In all, we had a good, but not outstanding, meal. Lola really liked how fresh and homemade the meal was, and while I agree, I don't think it's worth a trip over the bridge. If we lived close by we'd probably visit it again (if for no other reason than that pork).
2355 Chestnut St.
San Francisco, CA