A wonderful wine night out in San Francisco at Birba and Che Fico. Shout-out to Belotti in Oakland.

A guy walks into a bottega in Oakland and says: “Is the owner from Piedmont?”

“He’s not from Piedmont, he’s from Italy,” answers a server.

“He’s not from Piedmont? But all the dishes are piemontesi!” the guy protests.

“Aaaaahhhh! pee-EH-mohn-TEH-zeh! Yes, now I get it,” says the server. “Yes, he is from Piemonte.”

No, it’s not some schtick from Abbott and Costello.

That’s actually what happened when I stumbled upon the wonderful Belotti Ristorante e Bottega on College Ave. in Rockridge. He thought I was referring to the group’s “Piedmont Ave. Bottega.” Owner Michele Belotti is from Piedmont, Italy.

The vitello tonnato, my favorite Piedmontese dish, was excellent.

A guy walks into a wine bar in San Francisco and says: “Do you have anything white and oxidative?”

My first glass of wine at the superb Birba was a Montbourgeau, followed by a delicious Terre de Bréze Saumur Blanc from Château de Chaintres (I believe this Rosenthal property releases this wine under a sub-label, Exmuros).

I was blown away by the level of wine culture at this place. My server nailed both wines he chose for me and the apps/shared plates were a cicheti-lover’s dream.

Early evening found me at Che Fico Alimentari, the downstairs join at the recently reopened Che Fico.

My former Slow Wine colleague Deborah Parker Wong joined me for burrata and perfectly sliced prosciutto. It was great to catch up with her and hear about all the success she’s had with the first print edition published since we launched the first U.S.-focused Slow Wine guide. The project couldn’t be in better or more talented hands.

The housemade rigatoni alla gricia were a showstopper. Of the Roman pasta tetralogy — carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana, and gricia — I believe the latter doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. This dish really hit on all cylinders.

And we learned that Che Fico, despite its robust take-out program, does not sell its housemade pastas as take-away. The chef feels that they don’t travel well, our server gently told us (Deborah wanted to take a plate home to her husband but her pleas went rebuffed).

The wine list was small but classic, balanced with fun. We just had to go for the Borgo del Tiglio Chardonnay, one of my top Friulians. I was always pleased to see that they had Mitja Sirk’s white. Friulanophiles will know what I’m talking about.

Man, it was great to be back in San Francisco and the East Bay.

California’s indoor mask mandate is scheduled to end today, February 16.

People here are still mostly wearing masks, in my anecdotal experience. At nearly every place I visited, even the Emeryville dive bar, Wolfhound, where I stopped in for a beer at the end of my night, I was asked to show my vaccine status. At Birba, nearly all the seating was outside, and there were ubiquitous, gentle reminders to wear your mask while visiting the counter inside.

San Francisco, mon amour

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