Sandwiched between Ferry Building heavyweights The Slanted Door and the temporarily-closed-for-expansion Hog Island Oyster Co., it's not hard to initially overlook Il Cane Rosso. That's fortunate for locals since the tourists join lines elsewhere, leaving this gem from chef Lauren Kiino for us.
Il Cane Rosso's menu and philosophy seems like the Ferry Building's food mentality personified: It uses local, organic produce, sustainable pastured meats, and bakes some of the city's softest, most rewarding cookies from scratch.
Its tidy menu is roughly a third meat-free and will always include a vegan salad and side, plus a vegetarian soup, sandwich, and "piatto del giorno." A recent garlic and thyme roasted mushroom sandwich ($9) showed Kiino's deft touch in achieving the right balance of mushroom, arugula, fontina cheese, and Acme herb bread. The woodsy, almost smoky miniature wild mushrooms presented powerful forest notes and arugula added its usual biting, sour elements. What really tied everything together was the gooey fontina, which complimented the mushrooms with its distinct funk and nuttiness but didn't go overboard in its ooze. This was clearly a mushroom sandwich with cheese, rather than a grilled cheese with a handful of mushrooms.
Kiino created an ideal quinoa-based side ($6.50) to pair with the sandwich. The ancient grain was tossed with diced glazed carrots and fun additions of toasted almonds and mint. Afterwards, you deserve an excellent oatmeal raisin cookie. With its almost doughy texture with a pleasant toasty crisp on the perimeter, it completes what is pretty much an idyllic lunch.
But you never know what the day's menu will bring. At press time, the mushroom sandwich transformed into one with Brokaw Ranch avocado, crescenza (a soft Italian cow's milk cheese), and a walnut pesto. The piatto signaled the border of winter and spring with yellow-eye bean stew with green garlic, kale, and a fried egg. That quinoa salad might become farro with marinated beets or a hearty roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts with Meyer lemon and rosemary. Kiino never retires dishes, just constantly rotates them - so feel free to choose favorites.
One Ferry Building, #41; 391-7599.