By: Marcia Gagliardi "The Tablehopper"
Cupola Pizzeria interior photo by John Benson.
Over the past two months, I headed to the Century Theatre in the Westfield Centre to catch the one-night-only showings of the gorgeously restored The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. No, I was not going to miss seeing Al Pacino during his smoking-hot years on the big screen. Why these 40th anniversary screenings were one-night-only affairs, I’ll never understand, but it did give me a chance to finally check out Cupola Pizzeria twice since I’m not one you’ll find in malls very often, let alone eating in one.
The restaurant is part of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group and has a sleek look by Cass Calder Smith Architecture—a bit Milanese—with glossy red communal tables, contemporary black and chrome chairs, mirrored panels on the walls, and a gleaming black Stefano Ferrara pizza oven imported from Naples. It’s meant to be a comfortable place, but I didn’t like how my legs dangled off the banquette at the high tables (I felt like a little kid).
Chef Christian Hermsdorf, previously at Bar Bambino, is doing the classic, SF seasonal, Cal-Ital tarantella, with a few clever twists. The list of daily antipasti ($4.50 each) included beets with a zip from sambuca, plus toasty walnuts and mint, while first-of-the-season asparagus came with chopped egg. The warm, pulled-to-order mozzarella ($11.75) is a no-brainer—of course you want to order it—and you should. The Cupola “dome” salad ($13.75) was not only cleverly shaped but was a crazy-delicious salad, with raw fennel, heirloom carrots, and shavings of Grana—the bread and tomato vinaigrette made it taste like a sneak peek of a summer panzanella in the thick of winter, with a pop of mint.
Handmade pastas include the oh-so-simple but very good dish of handkerchief pasta ($11.50/$16.75) in a light tomato sauce with basil and garlic crumbs—I liked the crisped edges from the quick hit under the salamander. There are also delicate ravioli (the pasta was layered in the shape of Stars of David) with seasonal and well-sourced fillings, like ricotta and mustard greens, or a version with English peas and topped with Nebrodini mushrooms (both $11.50/$16.75). All the pastas were beautifully made, like tender ricotta cavatelli, but some of the sets felt a little off (one was salty, another was too oily) or didn’t come together, like they were still works in progress. Some warmed plates would help as well.
The Neapolitan pizzas come out of the oven with the kiss of the wood fire (two of the three I’ve had a bit heavily so), but they have a pleasant dough that’s elastic, salty, and with a chewy cornicione, and I dug the thoughtful touch of the perforated pan on the plate that keeps your pizza from getting soggy underneath. The ingredients are quality, from the San Marzano tomatoes on the margherita ($11) to the fior di latte cheese that melts beautifully. I was happiest with the classic pizzas like the margherita; I thankfully ended up ordering sauce and cheese for the carne ($16.50) pizza (it needed both), and the arrabiata ($15.50) wasn’t very angry—I requested some chile oil to help it live up to its name.
The wine list has a lot of options, with wine on tap and many more by the glass—both Italian and domestic—at a mostly affordable price point; I was happy to revisit a gavi from Beni de Batasiolo (it reminded me of my trip to Piemonte), and I’m always pleased to see my beloved Statti gaglioppo from Calabria ($39/bottle) on a list. Sincere kudos to the team for creating some excellent “zero-proof cocktails,” like the Golden Gate ($5), with mandarin, tangerine, Sanbitter, mint, and soda. Almost ironically, the Bellini ($9.50) and the Cupola Royale ($8.50), both prosecco drinks, had too much juice and would be better-suited as brunch cocktails.
Since the place has continuous hours, you can swing by for lunch (don’t shop when hungry!), an afternoon snack, a happy hour glass of wine and bite at the bar, or in my case, an early pre-show dinner. There’s also “La Festa di Tutte le Feste” (The Feast of All Feasts), a generous kitchen-selected meal for $30 a person. Abbondanza! I think the Godfather would approve.
845 Market St. at 5th St., 4th floor, 415-896-5600.
Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column about the SF dining scene, “the tablehopper.” Subscribe for free at www.tablehopper.com.
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