Ciccino is your new favorite regional Italian charmer. Located in Nob Hill on the corner of California and Hyde, it’s the type of restaurant that specializes in unique and quality cooking, combined with a special kind of effortless authenticity we value so much as diners.
That might be because its talented chef-owner Gian Marco Cosmi hails from a small commune called Macerata Feltria in Italy and has cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens throughout his motherland as well as here in San Francisco, including Acquerello and Rich Table.
At Ciccino, the focus is on Northern Italian coastal cuisine: “The influence is Emilia-Romagna, but on the coast,” says Cosmi. “It’s on the Adriatic, so it means a lot of seafood.” So yes, there’s fritto misto, but there’s so much more. Here’s what to expect.
Primi — a.k.a. Pasta Paradise
We can’t talk about Italy without first mentioning pasta, and Cosmi does some special ones. There’s passatelli, which is a rustic pasta made from breadcrumbs, parmesan, and eggs. “It’s super traditional — something my grandma would make,” says Cosmi. His version is dressed up with a white wine porcini sauce topped along with a crispy parmesan crust and a drizzle of balsamic to cut through the richness.
You’ll find oceanic touches like pasta con le sarde, which features spaghetti made in-house along with fennel oil, breadcrumbs, and sardines or the baller spaghetto freddo (pictured at top), which comes dressed in colatura and adorned with bottarga, caviar, and salmon roe.
There’s also a ravioli carbonara (pictured above), which takes the flavors and components of a traditional spaghetti carbonara, but inserts them into ravioli form topped with a pecorino foam and shaved egg yolk. “I wanted to make something more modern,” says Cosmi.
Binchotan Makes Everything Better
Cosmi has a grill in the back that burns binchotan, a type of compressed Japanese charcoal. He was inspired by his time at Rich Table, which uses the boxy konro grill to cook up their beautiful dry-aged beef. “It gives a really nice smoky flavor and sear — it’s really perfect,” says Cosmi.
At Ciccino, he grills seafood skewers — scallops, shrimp, or squid — all covered in breadcrumbs, garlic, and olive oil. These are little street food snacks you’d commonly find on the coast.
He also does his meaty secondi on the grill, like a nice tomahawk pork chop or big, beefy ribeye that comes with grilled white asparagus, maitake mushrooms, and a tableside pour of a thick, glossy reduced veal bone sauce.
Chef’s Tasting Menu
If you really want to go for it, there’s a six-course chef’s tasting menu for $110 that allows you to try more things from the menu. It’s portioned down, and changes with the seasons. The menu might start with some skewers, a salad and tartare, a pasta perhaps, a meaty main, and dessert. There will also be dishes not available on the regular menu. The wine pairing is $65 and includes five different wines. Optional … but highly recommended.
Italian wines are the name of the game at Ciccino. To help create the list, Cosmi enlisted the help of sommelier Davide Carron, who used to work at Acquerello. “We did a lot of tastings, and we tried to get the wine from North to South Italy,” says Cosmi. From Sicily to Sardinia to Lombardi, there are more than 25 different wines, most available by the glass. Cosmi is particularly digging the Valpolicella, a complex red blend with notes of fresh red fruit. “It’s intense. It’s full-bodied. Full of cherry — it’s a little bit older. It’s very versatile amongst lots of the dishes,” says Cosmi.
The Dessert Saves Room
You don’t leave room for dessert — the dessert leaves room for you. The desserts are on the lighter side at Ciccino. Yes, there’s tiramisu, but it’s different from others because there’s no heavy cream. “The final product is light and fluffy, like a mousse,” says Cosmi, who also keeps the biscuit portion a bit crunchy versus super sogged up. “It’s like a cloud on your palate.”
There’s also a panna cotta infused with Italian honey that comes seasonally topped. Right now it’s mixed berries, while other times you might find dried figs with acacia honey. Cosmi is working on more desserts, but the key here is that they won’t leave you with a gut bomb.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.