Starring in a Sitcom Called Seven Hills

When I think of Seven Hills, a few things come to mind:

1. It sounds like the name of an ABC sitcom that involves some washed-up actor or actress who chose a TV career for a change of pace instead if admitting their last five movies have made less than 25 million combined in theatre revenues.

2. It might be the title of a country song which describes the trials and tribulations of the contours challenging a John Deere tractor in the attempt to harvest a bumper crop of  wheat.

3. It could describe the geography of the walk from O’Farrell to this Hyde St. eatery in the Russian  Hill district.

In fact, it is a relatively quaint Italian joint located between the pier and the bustling, tourist-ridden O’Farrell street. It doesn’t get the fanfare and hype of the more visible eateries but  regularly sits in the top 25 of the 5000 San Francisco restaurants on tripadvisor.  We booked a table for six which seemed to take up a good portion of the restaurant as we were seated in the back corner.  The menu changes regularly but focuses on classic fare in a classic setting.  It’s evident when you read the menu that the place pledges allegiance to locally sourced food.  The vegetables, herbs and proteins come from a guy named Jim or Bob or Jim Bob and from places like Full Belly and All Star farms.

The service staff was cordial but a bit confused.  They had a couple of waiters taking care of our table who had different levels of understanding.  For example, I was offered a unique white wine by one waiter whereas the other had no idea what I was talking about when I ordered another glass.  That said, there was a definite and rightful pride in their demeanor when describing the rustic dishes.

The table agreed on an array of first plates to share which ranged from $9-15.  First, we were treated to an amuse bouche which was a delicious melon soup.  The duck liver pate was a bit unorthodox in that it was served chunky country style instead of smooth like the surrounding eateries. That said, it was pretty decent.  Other choices were the meatballs, arancini, burrata with tomato and prosciutto and carpaccio.  In summary, none were remarkable but none were bad either. If I had to pick, the meatballs won the battle.

 

Melon Soup Amuse Bouche
Melon Soup Amuse Bouche
Arancini, Duck Liver Pate, Meatballs, beef carpaccio and burrata with proscutto.
Arancini, Duck Liver Pate, Meatballs, beef carpaccio and burrata with prosciutto ($9-15)

In the meantime, as more people crammed into the small quarters, the temperature rose to the point of slight discomfort.  With more of a crowd the service got a little choppier.  For the main I ordered the squid ink (or neri) pasta. Like the Italian cliche, it was delicious in it’s simplicity but became a little monotonous even with the addition of a generous amounts crispy breadcrumbs.  I found the portion size quite ample and of good value for the price.

 

Neri (Squid Ink Pasta)
Neri (Squid Ink) Pasta

My Take

Seven Hills is the quintessential small family run bistro within a very diverse and vibrant dining scene.  It’s simple in it’s theme, decor and food.  There are no major surprises and I imagine no major inconsistencies. There’s a true commitment to partnerships with local farmers which comes out in the food.  If you’re looking for adventure, there’s a hundred other places.  However, if you want a safe haven for traditional fare or have a table full of people  who thinks Joe Bastianich should be canonized and lament the fact that Mario Batali will never open a restaurant in San Francisco, this could be your place.  Sure, there are service hiccups but it lacks the phoniness of chains and smiling hostesses who seem way too excited over the fact you might have a coat to check. After dining at Seven Hills, I think it can be described as a sitcom about an all American small Italian ristorante  frequented by Al Pacino and Tony Danza with cameo appearances by Ray Romano and Robert DeNiro (playing local farmers Jim and Bob) and lovable yet confused waitstaff including the likes of Joey Tribbiani.

Seven Hills on Urbanspoon

I Left my Heartburn in San Francisco

I recently went on a business trip to San Francisco and had the opportunity to dine at many of the numerous eateries that have made the city one of the most popular dining destinations in the United States.  From a handful of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to a Michelin two star restaurant, it was a rather amazing culinary journey.   Before I break it down, however, I figure I’d share some general observations about this diverse city.

Crazy Cab Drivers

San Francisco cab drivers are insane.  Some of them look like they are hiding from the law.  Others speak of government conspiracies and try to set up ipad firewalls while dodging halted cars and aiming at unsuspecting tourists who actually think that they have the right of way (see drivers).

Homeless People

There are two types of homeless people in San Francisco.  The first are those who hang out along Geary and O’Farrell with cardboard signs and sob stories and those who Market and Taylor. The mental illness runs rampant and is quite evident as you walk the streets. The modern climate couple with the “we accept everybody” mentality probably helps the situation.  It’s amazing to see people crap on Detroit for its decrepit neighbourhoods especially when San Francisco has a lot of the the same.

 Small Beers

I’m not sure San Francisco knows what a pint is.  Most of the beer I ordered came in a concave glass that clearly was smaller than the pints I’m so used to.  That said, the average price of 6-7 bucks was far from a deal. That said, there is terrific variety of local brews ranging from black porters to watermelon wheat to the famous anchor steam.   After looking at the dainty glasses for a week, the first pint I drank upon my return to Canada looked like a Munich stein during Octoberfest.

Maps

Even google maps can’t properly depict the contours of this city.  I saw a few homeless guys at the bottom of Fillmore. Once I started the ascent,after further consideration I realized they were more likely Sherpas offering assistance for the 75 degree climb I was half way through completing.  Thank God I’m not prone to altitude sickness.  Meanwhile, Google maps made it look like a walk in the park with no warning that you might need a pickaxe to get to your destination.

Unisex washrooms

Whether a triple D or a Michelin two-star, the norm is to have one unisex washroom.  Despite the fact some are equipped with a urinal, I’m sure it sparks many arguments about leaving the seat up or pissing all over the floor. Just like being at home…

Drivers

Having spent enough time in Toronto where pedestrians reign supreme, walking in San Francisco is a life threatening ordeal.  Yellow lights and those red for less than three seconds means car will accelerate through intersection with no regard for hapless pedestrians trying to bolt across the street in the last seconds. Finally, a city with the realization that a couple of thousand pounds of metal will win against 175 lbs of flesh any day.

A Tale of Two Cheeses

Burrata has surfaced on a few menus in the Toronto area but it is a definite staple among a lot of the San Francisco hot spots like State Bird Provisions and Rich Table.  Perhaps it’s the versatility of this cheese or the fact that goat cheese is so three years ago, but Burrata graces many of the menus across the city whether it be in chilled soup, served with crackers or on top of garlic bread.

Mt. Tam is a creamy Brie like cheese that also finds it way into many dishes in San Francisco.  It adheres to the ever present “farm to table” philosophy of the city with no compromise on taste.  It was used with great success in a number of dishes, most notably State Bird’s quail egg skillet.

Duck liver

Similar to Cuban cigars, Canadians can indulge on Fois Gras at will.  Perhaps in response to the Californian law outlawing the selling of this delicacy in the state, restaurateurs have taken to selling duck liver pate instead.  It frequently appears on menus across San Francisco and is served with a jaded side of  “who needs force fed goose liver anyway” mixed with a little “at least our state can win a Stanley Cup!”.

My Take

San Francisco is a vibrant city with a patchwork of diverse neighborhoods.  It’s as dirty as it is fascinating.  The difference between condemned buildings, schizophrenic streetwalkers and Tiffany and Sak’s Fifth Avenue is a few blocks. The restaurant scene is filled with Michelin stars, James Beard awards, old school celebrity chefs, up and coming culinary geniuses, eateries carved out of rundown edifices and a spectrum of ethnic and fusion cuisine. I didn’t see a speck of Rice-a-Roni anywhere.

 

Stay tuned for reviews……