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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Eat This: Raviolo al Uovo (And More) at Plin

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Plin's Raviolo al Uovo - ALL PHOTOS TREVOR FELCH
  • All Photos Trevor Felch
  • Plin's Raviolo al Uovo

Like any artist, chefs most definitely don’t want to be tied down by a “signature” dish. They want to continually channel their extensive inner creativity and be known as much more than just the mastermind of this particular plate. Hey, why do Broadway actors rarely stay on the same show for more than a couple months Why does Taylor Swift no longer dabble in anything related to country? Same reason. Let the creative energies be free.

For Plin’s chef/owner Alexander Alioto, he’s got the signature dish every table gets because it was by far and away the most popular item at order during his tenure leading the kitchen of Seven Hills on Russian Hill. Outside of this one dish, Seven Hills always has been best known for its bizarrely high Zagat ratings (ballot stuffing?). But while Aioto was there, it was as if the raviolo al uovo crowned every one of Rome’s seven hills, along with Russian Hill itself.

It’s the most basic of Alioto’s ten pastas at Plin. Yet, in strategy, it’s downright complex. Off the top of my head, I know Mario Batali at his New York flagship Babbo and Michael tusk over at Cotogna (usually on the menu but not always, and it’s also sometimes done as an elevated version at Quince) also consider raviolo al uovo their staple pasta presentation. And why not? The world loves eggs, butter, cheese, and truffle oil, and definitely adores their exploding egg yolks. Together with this lone liquid yolk and smooth ricotta filled raviolo splashed on the exterior with brown butter and a hint of truffle oil, it’s basic pasta at its most astonishing. For my money there isn’t a version executed better, partially because of the extreme tension of the pasta skin barely keeping everything in tact, partially for the critically judicious use of truffle oil, than what can be found at Plin right now ($12 for one, $24 for two).

Well, great, I just hammered home even more reason to just get the dish everybody already orders. How useful I am. None of the pastas will mistreat you — the rare as a fog-free day seafood lasagna actually worth more than three bites, or cuttlefish ink colored tagliatelle with cuttlefish itself, almonds, and a vodka tomato sauce. Right now, diners won’t find any namesake agnolotti al plin but in the cooler months Alioto offered a foie gras-filled version. Alas, there’s no foie to be found anywhere on the menu right now, anywhere. How can this be? Aside from that, there is creativity on display in nearly each pasta, though not quite as daring as the likes of McNaughton and Accarrinno. But let’s throw a curveball at you and strongly encourage going for the summertime juggernaut of cold spaghetti.

Wait, what?

Plin's Cold Spaghetti
  • Plin's Cold Spaghetti

You got it. No, Alioto never forgot to boil the water. The raviolo al uovo is an in-your-face, knockout crowd-pleaser. The cold spaghetti is the Draymond Green-style, and comes out of nowhere to highlight of a Plin evening. It’s not hard, and it’s certainly not soft and mushy. Shaped in a cylindrical mold, it’s as dramatic as pasta gets (sans egg yolk explosion). The cool temperature plays perfectly with gazpacho-like pool beneath, complemented by pea shoots and jolts of pea puree. Splurge on the $2 addition of raw kampachi for the textural enhancement of cool, cool, and more cool. This is summer. This is a Fourth of July picnic channeled via a gifted pasta mind. This is especially summer in San Francisco because … we know a lot about the cold here.

It’s certainly worth delving into antipasti and compared with far too many Italian restaurants, worth a secondi order too. Carefully seared scallops with squid-ink-stained agnolotti parcels almost overflowing with a sweet white corn puree. A few microscopic shavings of Fra’mani soppressata the size of cumin seeds add a little flair and avocado brightens the dish, bringing a fun California element. My only critical note would be that the “tomato water” sauce seems identical to what you’ll find with the cold spaghetti. Maybe venture away from tomato and toward a kobe top sirloin joined by truffle potato puree or a grilled pork chop offset by a poached egg and huckleberry demi glace. A la carte, none of the entrees (shockingly) surpasses $29. And antipasti tend to be of the light crudo or salad variety, except for turkey meatballs. In the middle of the heartiness spectrum is the most common order: grilled octopus with bone marrow fortified butter beans. My one only average dish sampled is already likely gone from the menu — beautifully roasted peak of their season porcini mushrooms in a pleasant, if nondescript parmesan garlic broth with no detectable parsley oil. But alas, porcini time has already run out.

The $46 three-course special beckons as a way to get beyond the pastas on every evening besides Fridays and Saturdays. Frankly, it only saves about $5 from everything a la carte, but a deal is still a deal. If you can’t get past pasta, nobody will blame you. Smartly, each pasta is offered as a half portion for more grazing in that case. Alioto does great week with proper portion sizing, keeping those half-pasta portions petite, like those served in Italy. The secondi aren’t the size of whole animals, either, unlike what you might find at some red sauce joints in North Beach. I’m sure you’ll even have some room for a chocolate marquise or buttermilk panna cotta with cayenne cinnamon doughnuts to close. Unless you sampled the whole pasta roster.

The Valencia St. Sour
  • The Valencia St. Sour

Unlike at peers Flour + Water, SPQR, A16, et al., there are cocktails to be found, both of the contemporary style — try the Valencia St. Sour ($13), made with alluring hints of saffron infused in the gin, and tea, amidst a frothy egg white body — and invigorated classics. Wine is an even stronger field (the Terradora Falanghina being a crucial match with the cold spaghetti) and 20 wines are poured by the glass. D-I-Y tasting flights highly recommended.

The raviolo al uovo isn’t the only shadow that the chef has to escape. Alexander Alitio is a fourth generation member of the legendary Alioto family, well known for their longtime Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. Plin isn’t exactly like Alioto’s really in any way; one step inside or outside, and you know you’re a world away from the tourist crowd near Pier 39. Strangely the Mission’s constant dining crowds seem to be missing Plin often, perhaps due to its slightly removed location up by Four Barrel. Yes it’s on Valencia, but not in the glitzy heart of the strip. I fear the removed location, combined with a room that seems vast for such an intimate style of cooking, aren’t doing the business tremendous favors.

Nearing its first birthday, Plin isn’t Italian and it isn’t California-Italian. It’s Alioto’s Italian, and that’s a completely different and exciting genre of pasta-driven cooking.

Plin, 280 Valencia, 415-655-9510

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Trevor Felch


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