The concept of aperitivi and the free food that comes with it is very clear in my mind, but in Italy I have never had cicchetti, the Venitian version of tapas, small dishes fit to share with friends over a nice bottle of wine. However, Pesce on Polk has done a great job at importing the concept, so even those of us who are not from Veneto can enjoy these delicious, mostly fish-based bites!
Pesce is a welcoming little spot on Russian Hill, with a small dish menu featuring not-so-small dishes served in quantities perfect for sharing. At 6 o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the prosecco bottle that we ordered called for some sort of finger food to cushion the bubbles. So, here come the cicchetti.
I often complain about the fact that I find the large fishes common to the Pacific just too plain. I love the pesce azzurro typical of my native Adriatic Coast, and I gravitate toward smaller fishes when I see them on the menu, with sardines, alici (white anchovies) and octopus being my favorite items. Hitting all three at Pesce was definetly a plus! So, we started with house smoked salmon on crostini, which was too overpowered by the wasabi butter (in an Italian restaurant? Really?) to be worth of notice. HOwever, everything else was stunning.
The grilled sardines with pickled vegetables were delicious, but the alici bruschette were memorable: wonderful pickled white anchovies with red peppers and olives, on lightly toasted bread- yum!
At this point, smitten by the selection, we continued on to the warm dishes. The lukewarm octopus salad is a staple of Adriatic ports- and although this was not the best rendition, it was still a good dish. My favorite though was the risotto with black squid ink and calamari- while not a “classic” preparation (butter and parmigiano? Never had them in a fish dish!), it was deliciously good!