Just in case this is your first visit to the blog, let me share something with you: I absolutely love Sotto Mare. The modest, unassuming restaurant on Green Street is one of the best in the city, and one of my favorite things about living in North Beach. More often than not, it’s my first stop when I’ve got visitors to San Francisco; when I want to show someone around, I can’t think of any better place to start my homespun tour.

 

The Chef at Sotto Mare - Joe Content

The chef works his magic at North Beach’s Sotto Mare. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

I recently enjoyed a sunny birthday lunch out front with a couple of close friends: oysters, salmon, the whole nine yards. Prepared the Italian way, of course. As we sat there sipping our wine in the breeze, it occurred to me that I had actually eaten there on my two previous birthdays as well. That kind of loyalty doesn’t come out of nowhere.

For me, the place is great largely because it’s so authentic, so legit. As far as I know, Sotto Mare is the only restaurant in the neighborhood owned and operated by a family that is North Beach-born: Rich Azzolino, his wife Laura and their daughter Ria were all born and raised within the confines of ‘the Beach.’ This patch of land is home base for them.

And that’s reflected in the way they treat their customers: when you talk to Rich, prepare to be interrupted a dozen times by locals walking by, nearly all of whom stop to chat or say hello. Much like Caffe Trieste around the corner, Sotto Mare has come to be a touchstone for the locals, a sanctuary.

A rare quiet moment at San Francisco’s Sotto Mare. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

And we mustn’t forget the food. Simplicity and freshness are the order of the day here, and ten years into the game, they haven’t changed that one bit. Recently though, there has been talk about changes in the menu, and early this week I had the chance to speak with Azzolino about it. In a rather roundabout way, he confirmed the news.

“We are not  changing the menu,” the restaurateur told me emphatically. “We are just adding  a couple of nice things, things that complement what we do.” OK, distinction noted.

Azzolino points out that Sotto Mare’s generous portions are one of the things the restaurant is known for. “I’ve seen the places that make the plates smaller, so it looks like more food,” he explained with a smile. “And the portions you get here are not going to change.”

Calamari Sauté, Sotto Mare Menu - Joe Content

The Calamari Sauté waits at the pass at Sotto Mare. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

That is good news, indeed. Now let’s hear about those new items, shall we? First off, there will be two versions of Calamari Sauté: both White (made with shallots, white wine, garlic and green onions), and Red (with a simple, rich sauce of tomato and red wine). I’ve eaten this dish off-menu for years, and I have a friend who regularly flies in from Atlanta to get it. For good reason: this calamari is as tender as you’ve ever tasted, hardly relatable to the fried, rubbery rings you get at many Italian places. Try this, and you may never order it fried again.

Next up, Marinated Octopus Salad: a simple preparation of baby octopus marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices, this reminds me of something my grandmother used to serve around the holidays. Tangy with a slight spice, this dish is as satisfyingly Italian as anything on the menu, and alongside the house baccala or a dozen oysters, it’s the ideal starter.

Caesar Salad With Prawns, Sotto Mare Menu - Joe Content

The perfect Caesar Salad with Prawns at Sotto Mare. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

The only other addition feels like it should have been on the menu all along: Caesar’s Salad. The Caesar is a staple of the classic Italian-American menu, and here they’ve got the perfect upgrade, topping it with the freshest, fattest prawns available. Delizioso.

Last-minute changes are still being finalized, but look for the new menu to debut in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile all of the new items are now being served, subject to market availability. See you there!

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Joe Content writes regularly about life in the beatific and blustery burg of San Francisco, among plenty of other things. Come back to see us soon!