Eat San Francisco: Capo’s Chicago Pizza & Fine Italian Dinners

It’s pretty hard to avoid Tony Gemignani’s name in the food press these days. He is literally a world champion pizza maker (twice over) for crying out loud. Naturally, that makes Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, a mecca of the pizza making craft, where he serves no less than twelve varieties of pizza, all differing by region of origin, type of oven, (I believe he has four) and temperature of said oven, damn near impossible to get into. Luckily, his New York style slice is available at Tony’s Slice House at AT&T park (I know!) and his deep dish, quattro fornie, cracker crust, stuffed, and cast iron pan pies are available at Capo’s, his Italian comfort food joint.

Like 90% of the proper down home Italian restaurants in San Francisco, Capo’s is located in North Beach. Don’t be an ass and drive there, it will just ruin your life. Cab from your hotel, your apartment, your muni stop, your bart stop, or caltrain. Just believe what I say.

As the name suggests, Capo’s is a prohibition era themed restaurant, a motif that is consistent inside and out. The exterior completely appeals to me on an old school, come in and have some goddamned cocktails and some comfort food level.

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The interior is small and warm, with a dark wood bar backed entirely by mirrors, warm lighting, exposed brick walls,

gorgeous tufted leather booths, (I’m a fool for that)

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and an open kitchen that showcases the lovely brick pizza oven

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There are other little touches…little reminders of the mafia, and the twenties; old timey photos of folks like Al Capone, a vintage telephone booth, a cigarette machine, and an antique cash register.

We started with four specialty cocktails from the bar. Two wise guys for the ladies, a whiskey, lemon, white pepper concoction mixed with a little orange marmalade and agave nectar, topped with a healthy nugget of oregano. Cocktails are served in heavy cut crystal rocks glasses *adore* and the wise guy was light and refreshing while still tasting like whiskey. The guys sampled the Made Man, a bourbon based libation.

The menu is very Gatbsy, with 20’s fonts and art deco adornments. It is organized into antipasti, pasta, house specialties, quattro forni, salads, sides, and pizzas. All of the house specialties require a 25 minute wait, and they only make twenty quattro forni a night-a stuffed bread creation, or so I’ve been told, that’s supposedly heaven-sent (and which is their self-proclaimed signature dish).

We sat in one of the cherry red leather booths and started a barrage of ordering. Our server fairly told us that the portions are large, and that we could easily get away with ordering less than we did, but, we had a plan and we were sticking to it. Before any of the items we ordered arrived, we received the complimentary bowls of pasta e fagioli, which comes to every diner before every meal. It comes in a metal bowl, almost like a large shrimp cocktail bowl, which enhances the flavor to me. What can I say, I am a sucker for packaging. They are wise to serve that soup as their universal item-it’s perfection. The broth tastes like a rich melted parmesan and vegetable elixir. I drank mine and the rest of someone else’s. On a rainy day, it would be a real soul saver.

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From the antipasti selections we ordered garlic bread and house-made honey and Calabrese sausage.

The garlic bread options are classic garlic bread, garlic bread with mozzarella, and the loaded job with mozzarella, wild mushrooms, truffle oil, romano, and arugula. We are purists when it comes to stuff like this, preferring to taste the baseline version before yucking it up and confusing it with a bunch of other stuff. However, on this night, our server convinced us that the fully loaded version was the way to go, and though we were skeptical, we took his advice. Let’s just say, some night when I am feeling particularly hormonal and in need of comfort, I will be making my way back to Capo’s to eat a plate of that to my head. It is just phenomenal. The bread is the perfect amount of thick and crusty-not so thick that the butter and garlic don’t penetrate the whole thing, and not so thin that the butter and garlic overwhelm the whole thing. The crust has just enough bite, the mozzarella is tastefully added, not too goopy, and the addition of whole roasted garlic cloves scattered about the top was next level. So many places err by dumping on the truffle oil or by billing it, then making it indistinguishable. Not Capo’s. The finishing touch, the arugula, gave it that perfect, green, finishing bite. Amazing dish.

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The sausage tasted exactly like South Korea. I know, obviously, that none of the flavors, spices, chiles, honey, whatever, that are in the dish are from there, nor was their marriage supposed to taste Korean. It just did. The combination tasted just like gochujang, the ubiquitous sweet Korean base sauce/seasoning. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a really tasty dish, but it didn’t mix well with the other dishes to me personally, because it just tasted so Asian to me.

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From the house specialties we chose to order linguine and clams. In other reviews, people have gone absolutely insane for this dish. It is definitely one of the greatest hits on the interwebs, so we felt we needed to get in on the action. Unfortunately, we all just felt it was average. It wasn’t bad, but there was nothing spectacular about it. It tasted, to all of us, like your garden variety linguine and clams at a place that knows what they are doing. With a menu full of things I want to try, I probably wouldn’t revisit this one.

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The linguine came with a side, the options being Calabrese or plain waffle fries, sautéed spinach in garlic, Vesuvio potatoes, three meatballs, or garlic mashed potatoes. For some bizarre reason, with an almost entirely beige selection of foods on the way, we went with Calabrese waffle fries. In fairness to us, two in our group had had the meatballs before and weren’t wild about them, and sautéed spinach never hits the spot for me. So. Waffle fries. They have a nice consistency, firm and crisp on the outside, soft potato inside, the “Calabrese” part of them being the seasoning on top I assume. On another night, with a different spread to go with them, they’d be a fine choice.

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On to the star attraction, the pizza. I am always so skeptical about food, especially when it’s a specific dish, that gets the kind of praise that Tony’s pizza does. It is almost always over rated, pretty much every time. Not in this case. This is the exception that proves the rule, where the food lives up to hype that is just this side of impossible to live up to. I first had this revelation when I was able to get a slice of his pepperoni at AT&T park,

so I knew beforehand that the stuff absolutely rocks my world. What makes it so special? At the ballpark, it’s New York style; you get a nice big slice that you can fold in half, so you can reaaallly experience everything that’s going on. The standout component to me is the crust-it’s really garlicky and chewy, not sloppy and wet, and with a portion that large, there is plenty of opportunity for sog. The crust isn’t just a vehicle for the toppings, it is it’s own special feature in and of itself. It’s just delicious. Also, those small thick coins of pepperoni are just fabulous. It’s next level. Period.

At Capo’s, you have the option of deep dish, cracker crust, stuffed, or cast iron pan, for each and every pizza. We went cracker crust; half Nonna, half pepperoni (I’m telling you, that pepperoni is insanely good!) The Nonna half was topped with Bolognese, mozzarella, provolone, crispy carmelized shallots, oregano, romano, and chives, and it was honestly no competition for the pepperoni.

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I was expecting more of a rich Bolognese flavor from the Nonna, but instead it was more of a wet onion flavor (and texture). I am all about going back and manhandling a deep dish, but it looks so big and so filling that we just didn’t have room on this visit.

There were plenty of items on the dessert menu that we wanted to try. I’m going to go ahead and guess their spumoni is pretty freakin’ amazing, for example, or the caramel bread pudding. Heck, I’m sure their version of the most boring of desserts (to me) tiramisu, would have been incredible. But on this night, we made the wise decision to order the whiskey crisp. The crisp was a thick, whiskey rich, sweet, luxardo cherry infused mixture topped with chewy oats. In a separate bowl, vanilla bean ice gelato, so you can mix and mingle as you please.

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I will have to bite the bullet some day, and get myself on the Tony’s Pizza Napoletana wait list. It’s just hard to want to do that when Capo’s deep dish is an unencumbered trip away, in the comfort of a warm, Italian diner.

Capo’s Chicago Pizza & Fine Italian Dinners: http://sfcapos.com/index.php
641 Vallejo Street San Francisco, CA (415) 986-8998
Sunday – Thursday 5PM-10PM
Friday – Saturday 5PM-11PM

Capo's on Urbanspoon

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