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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fantastic Italian Food at San Francisco's Cupola Pizzeria

Recently I was invited to attend a unique dining experience. Chef Christian Hermsdorf at restaurant Cupola Pizzeria (located at Westfield's San Francisco Centre mall) created a 12 course Italian feast for an intimate gathering of food bloggers.

Chef Hermsdorf visited our table several times that evening.

The feast is called the "La Festa Di Tutte Le Feste” and for $30.00 per person you can experience it too. How? First you have to go to San Francisco.

Cupola is an Italian word that means "dome." It made me wonder if it was just a coincidence that the restaurant is located on the 4th level in a section of the shopping center called "Restaurants Under the Dome."

I hadn't dined there before so I wasn't quite sure of what to expect.

Our invitation read:

We will be taking part in the La Festa di Tutte Le Feste (“the feast of all feasts”) a program in which Chef Christian Hermsdorf puts together a special meal for the table on the fly, catering to the preferences of his guests.

Here’s how it works: When starting the meal the Cupola staff will ask the table what regular menu items appeal, and after bringing out the requested items they will use that intel to create a personalized menu just for your table. The dishes will keep coming until the table collectively decides that the meal is over.

What fun! I immediately replied yes to the invitation. As soon as I arrived the food began arriving at our table.

Antipasti 15.00

We started with an assortment of four antipasti. From beans to cheese and veggies they were just the small bites needed to get our taste buds going.

Warm Pulled to Order Mozzarella - cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil 11.75

Next we sampled the Warm Pulled to Order Mozzarella. It was warm and cheesy and delicious. It reminded me of buratta but the cheese was more full bodied and stringy. I would have photographed the long, stretchy tendrils but it's hard to photograph food when eating in a group situation. I always feel bad asking people to wait while I shoot but at least that evening everyone at the table was a blogger so we were all on the same page.

The lighting in the restaurant was challenging because it was a bit on the dark side which is great for ambiance but not for food photography. I did my best upping my ISO, slowing down my shutter speed (1/15 to 1/30) and using my white balance card.

Cupola "Dome" Salad - raw fennel, heirloom carrots, red bell pepper, bread and tomato vinaigrette 13.75

The Dome Salad seemed to be a table favorite. It's a panzanella style salad that contains an assortment of colorful heirloom carrots, fennel, bell pepper, and generous shavings of parmesan cheese that brought just a bit of richness to an otherwise very light and crisp dish.

Lamb Meatballs - spicy san marzano tomato sauce, fava leaves, pecorino 11.25

I didn't sample the lamb meatballs because I don't eat lamb. But they looked delicious.

Black Mission Figs - gorgonzola, cornmeal batter, greens, crisp prosciutto, balsamic 12.00

And this turned out to be my favorite dish. I didn't expect to like the battered and fried figs because they were stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and I don't typically care for gorgonzola cheese. But it was just a bit and the earthy flavor of the cheese melded beautifully with the sweetness of the fresh fig. Encased in the crunchy golden batter it was perfection.

I commented that on a future visit I would be tempted to order the figs with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. They would be a perfect dessert and the ice cream would mellow out the gorgonzola flavor just a bit more in what I suspect would be a wonderful way!

“Frantoiana” summer vegetables, grilled bread, extra virgin olive oil 9.00

The only dish we didn't share was the Frantoiana summer vegetable soup. It was comforting, flavorful and light. All in all it was outstanding and something I'd love to have for lunch every day.

Here's what I enjoyed most about the food at Cupola: The dishes were comprised of simple ingredients, many seemed extremely healthy with plenty of nutrient dense vegetables, and all were prepared in a way that brought the ingredients front and center. It's funny how there was a time when I was impressed by complicated dishes. Now? Not so much. Now I have a much deeper appreciation for chefs who can take whole foods and transform them into dishes that seem to capture the essence of the ingredients. IMO Chef Hermsdorf does this extremely well.

Fried Calamari Salad - arugula, lemon red onion 16.25

It looked delicious but I passed on the Calamari Salad because I don't eat calamari. Well, I don't really eat any meat except for a small amount of fish due to some serious nutritional deficiencies I ran into after two years of being a committed vegetarian.

Fresh Shelling Bean Ravioli - celery, onion, lipstick pepper, pecorino 11.50 / 16.75

It was fun to dine as a group so that we were able to sample many different items! I would definitely recommend you should gather at least five friends together to experience the "La Festa Di Tutte Le Feste.” If you only went with one other person it just wouldn't be the same.

Torn Pasta “Handkerchiefs” - simple tomato sauce, basil, garlic crumbs 11.50 / 16.75

The Torn Pasta was another of my favorites that evening. In fact it was my second favorite dish after the deep fried, battered figs. The sauce was bursting with the flavor of fresh tomatoes. And I should know because I've been taking the tomatoes from my own garden and cooking them into instant sauces for lunch. No canned or bottled sauce can compare to the full and tangy flavor that comes from fresh tomatoes.

Chicken Tortellini - golden brodo, “pig noodles,” crispy pig ears 11.75 / 17.00

The most interesting dish that evening had to be the Chicken Tortellini, not because of the tortellini but because of the "pig noodles" composed on the bed of ravioli. It turns out "pig noodles" are shoe string cut, fried pig's ears. Did they taste like bacon? You'll have to taste for yourself.

Following dining in a restaurant under a dome, and eating a dome shaped salad, our final dinner course came from the dome shaped, wood fired, Stefano Ferrara, pizza oven.

Marinara – San Marzano tomatoes, oregano, garlic, olive oil 11.00 and Zucca – squash blossoms, zucchini, almonds, mint, mascarpone 15.50

We we served two Neopolitan style pizzas: The Marinara and Zucca. The Zucca was interesting because one of the toppings was squash blossoms. I meant to try both but ended up only sampling the marinara because I was pretty full but trying to save room for dessert because you know how I love dessert.

When the time came a dessert buffet was delivered to our table:

Panna Cotta – stone fruit compote, hazelnut struesel 7.50

Spumoni – with “claret” sauce 6.75

Strawberries - grappa, olive oil cake, whipped creme fraiche 7.50

Bittersweet Chocolate Budino – chantilly cream and candied hazelnuts 7.50

I sampled just a bite of each dessert.

My favorite? It was the Spumoni. Which was another surprise because I've never cared for the green colored spumoni ice cream most of us are familiar with. Cupola's spumoni redefines the classic flavor. I definitely want to go back again and have an entire order all for me! Guess who finished off the plate that evening? I was polite enough to ask if anyone else wanted what was left after everyone had taken a scoop. When no one else made any move for it I claimed and finished what was left :)

If you want to try the "La Festa Di Tutte Le Feste” visit Cupola in downtown San Francisco. If you go I hope your experience is as fantastic as mine was. Maybe I'll even see you there.

Cupola® Pizzeria - Website
at Westfield® San Francisco Centre - 4th Level (east end of the mall)
845 Market Street, 4th Floor, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 896-5600 | Fax: (415) 896-5601

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