Caesar Salad, Baked Ravioli with Tomato Sauce, Spaghetti and Meatballs
Occupation: Consumer Services Manager and Sausage Maker
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Buca di Beppo
Reviewed Buca di Beppo: Wednesday May 30, 2007
The taxi ride from the Embarcadero to Buca di Beppo opened the door to my adventurous evening. Halfway there, the cab driver politely explained that he had just stolen the cab and told us not to worry about what the meter says, he’ll let us know how much money it would cost. We laughed, but he laughed even louder — uh, scary. He drove so fast, and he told us to hold on because he was checking out the tires. Boy, was I glad when we got out of that and stepped into the very lively reception area of Buca. The bar was even more animated, but we had reservations and only waited about three minutes to be seated. I don’t know what color the walls are in that place because every square inch of space is covered with pictures of everything Italian — I mean popes, Sophia Loren, Joe DiMaggio, beauty queens, and the Vatican. I feel absolutely at home at Buca, it’s like the inside of my head; just full of random stuff everywhere. Actually, the only thing that will distract you from the wacky, overwhelming, “Oh my God, will you please look over there” decor will be the food. It looks like an amusement park for food.
Let me tell you about the garlic bread: it’s the best “pizza” I’ve had in San Francisco. I mean, it’s thick and cheesy with fresh garlic and just wonderful. The bread arrived first with the antipasto salad, which was so scrumptious, I was thinking to myself, “If they can make a salad taste this good I’m gonna loose my mind when the real food comes out.” We had a choice of small and large dishes, so we choose the small, which turned out to be more than enough. I mean, they said “family style,” but they meant extended family servings; they were huge, I’d hate to see what a large plate looks like. There were quite a few of us, so we ordered manicotti, ravioli, stuffed shells, penne pasta, meatballs, shrimp and pasta, chicken cannelloni and chicken Marsala. The dishes with the cream sauces were excellent and the pasta with red sauce — like penne and shrimp fra diavolo — were exactly as described: robust and full of flavor. When our food arrived shortly after we ordered, we went to town. We were determined to conquer every dish, but there was so much food I was ready to hold up a white flag. And finally the meatballs came. Oh my God, where did they get the recipe? From the Flinstones? They were so huge, they were like the size of Cincinnati. We were so full from our multiple entrees that when they approached our table with four of those huge cannonball-looking meatballs, all we could do was scream, “Oh no, go away, they look like they could eat us.”
This is not the place for a quiet dinner, this is the place to go and celebrate anything and everything with lots of fun people. And the rules on dining etiquette were lost on the stairs leading to their top floor.
Occupation: Chi Gung and Tai Chi Instructor
Favorite Restaurant: Da Lian
Reviewed Buca di Beppo: Sunday, June 3, 2007
When I looked the place up online and saw it was a chain, I was somewhat apprehensive about both the food and the ambience. But that dissolved while I was still outside the front door and smelled the garlic and then stepped inside and saw the decor. The place is fun, and the food was great. The biggest problem was that I went with only one other person. The portions are gigantic, even the ones marked “small” and we couldn’t even finish the Caesar salad. We’d ordered the baked ravioli and a side of green beans, but when I saw the salad, I asked if I could cancel the string beans, which they graciously did. The ravioli were large, which I like, so there’s lots of filling in proportion to pasta, and the ricotta was offset by a wonderful tomato sauce that they somehow manage to make both foreground and background. We actually finished the ravioli, and I continued eating the sauce — very addictive. I could have left then, but decided I had to try the tiramisu, since they said I could take the leftovers home (there’s only one size…). The rum-soaked ladyfingers are really rummy…the whole thing works. Everything there is big, including the serving utensils, and the tiramisu comes with a serving spoon that could stir a stock pot full of sauce. I’ll enjoy bringing the rest of it to work tomorrow and wowing the staff.
I hadn’t made a reservation, thinking that dining early would mean a pretty empty restaurant. Au contraire. The place was filled. There was a high school graduation party with about 50 folks, and many tables of 10-12 people. We only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table. And, although parking on a Sunday downtown could be a challenge, there seemed to be a lot of coming and going, and we got a spot about a block away. It’s a great place to bring kids and grandma and grandpa. There’s a bar on the street level, and the two dining rooms are upstairs and in the basement (there’s an elevator).
The entire staff was in motion all the time, but no one seemed frazzled or grumpy while they were carrying loads of clean dishes, dirty dishes, waiting tables, etc. Our waitron was patient, attentive, and very kind.
I would love to go back with a group, so we could order the large platters I saw going by that had pasta, mussels, and who knows what else… I saw the stuffed pasta shells on another table and they looked wonderful. I recommend this place and I think everyone could find something they’d like. But anyone who has a hearing loss and depends on hearing aids might have a hard time with the noise level — it’s hard to have a conversation across the table. I felt happy the whole time I was there, which probably explains ordering the tiramisu.…And a man at the next table had a birthday and they brought a dessert plus a large (of course) candelabra with three big red candles to blow out. They just have a knack for making everything a little quirky and totally amusing. I’m also wondering if the other locales do it the same way.
Occupation: Airplane Mechanic and Horse Enthusiast
Favorite Restaurant: The Mountain House Restaurant
Reviewed Buca di Beppo: Monday, May 21, 2007
Two companions and myself went to Buca Di Beppo in San Francisco for lunch. I was excited to try Buca’s, as I’d heard about it from a few people. The experience was terrible. It started with parking and deteriorated from there. $15.00 to park for one hour in a lot, as there was no street parking available at this time of day.
We entered the restaurant to find no one at the hostess station, waited five minutes to even see a person. The hostess showed up, asked the usual, “How many people?” We told her three. She asked if we wanted a table or booth. We specified table, she searched the computer for an available table. She took another 5 minutes to do this, which we found strange, since, when we were taken downstairs, we only saw two other people in the room. We were promptly seated at a booth and not at a table as requested.
The waiter was slow to arrive at our table, and was pretty scarce during the whole stay. Our order was taken. We ordered soft drinks, which were actually brought over fairly promptly and then ordered lunch. We started with the fried calamari that the menu said was a share item (one of my companions had never tried it before). It arrived, and I was totally disappointed as the calamari was overcooked, extremely greasy, and a very small portion for $11.00. I told my friend that this was not how calamari was supposed to be prepared.
I ordered a Caesar salad with my entrée, and I found that the amount of anchovies in the dressing to overpowered the whole salad. Plates were not cleared before the entrees were brought over.
My two companions ordered 1) spaghetti and meatballs, that turned out to be meatball (singular) and was told the pasta was dry and flavorless, and 2) fresh salmon with pesto. It was a very small portion of salmon that was overcooked with some overcooked vegetables on the side. I ordered the penne arrabbiata served with fennel sausage. The penne was also dry with little flavor. The pasta portions were good size, just not very good flavor.
The decor was kind of like being in a junkyard, not an inch of wall space uncovered. The Italian music in the background would have been nice if the gentleman sitting in the booth behind us using his cell phone to conduct business all during lunch would have not talked so loud that they could have probably heard him without the phone.
After another long wait just to get the check we left, all with the same comments. “Glad we didn’t pay the extra money for a dinner here to be this disappointed.” Lunch was expensive and not worth the money.
I said to my companions that I would not be returning, they concurred. There are too many other chain Italian restaurants around with better quality to go back to Buca’s if you want the products of a chain restaurant.