Friday, February 14, 2014

A16 turns 10

A16 restaurant is celebrating a 10 year anniversary. That’s a huge accomplishment in any city, especially San Francisco. A16 focuses on the food and wine of Southern Italy. When it opened, the idea of a regional Italian restaurant was a bit of an anomaly in San Francisco. And Neapolitan style pizza was nonexistent. Needless to say a lot has changed in 10 years (including the expansion of A16 to locations in Oakland and Tokyo).

Recently I got the chance to speak with Wine Director and Owner, Shelley Lindgren to talk about Italian food, wine and the success of the restaurant. 

How much does travel play a role at A16? 
A lot! This year I’ll be going to VinItaly. I’ve been able to send people, but it’s been years since I’ve gone. Most people catch the bug when they go to Italy and want to get back there again. It’s important because it’s where things start clicking. We try to make wine trips happen. It brings the products to life. It’s the stories you hear and every winery has stories. Investing in our people makes us better. Going to Naples to get our pizzaiolo certified was a big deal too. 

When chefs change at A16, how do you maintain consistency? 
This is a really important question, it’s the way our first chef Christophe (Hille) set up the kitchen, the prep, which is big because we use very fresh ingredients. Certain dishes have stayed on the menu since day one, burrata, the meatballs, the tripe, but there has to be room for changes in emphasis too. When Nate (Appleman) was promoted he wanted to make his own mark with meat. Liza (Shaw) was more into pasta. Everyone wants to do their own thing and I understand that. 

How has the wine list changed at A16 over the last 10 years? 
Our opening list was less than a quarter of what’s on the list now. There is so much more available. Fianos, Tauarasi, when we opened there were something like only 3 Etna Rossos available, now there are around 50. Even Chianti is going through a renaissance. There are more great wines and better prices. People have a much better understanding of Italian wine now and I’m still researching Southern Italian wines and varietals. 

Italian food has changed in the Bay Area, who do you think is doing a good job? 
There’s so much good Italian food now. La Ciccia and La Nebbia. Owner and chef Massimo helped me edit our first wine list. Acquerello. Quince and Cotogna. Delfina. Sociale does a great job, a perfect neighborhood place. And I love Una Pizza Napoletana.

What makes a restaurant a classic? 
Certain types of food that are timeless versus trendy. Like Zuni for chicken or caesar salad. Consistency. Paying attention, forging ahead and striving to improve. It’s not just pizza at A16, it’s something we hold dear. It’s important to be a part of the City, part of the community, so people feel like they’re being taken care of. We are a place where people can go and celebrate and be comfortable and leave happy! 

I walk in to A16 and I love the energy and the people we have working for us who are passionate about food and wine. We have our own built in community of people. We need to not forget our focus and help each other out. It takes effort to maintain that. 

Words to live by? 
There can never be too much pizza.

Thanks Shelley! I couldn’t agree more.