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By   /   May 13, 2011  /   No Comments

Ragazza, located in that hot, four block stretch of Divisadero near the Panhandle, is the second restaurant of chef Sharon Ardiana, whose four year old  Gialina continues to be a big hit in Glen Park. Ho hum, I thought, another cloned restaurant. But when my mostly vegetarian, bike commuting cousin dragged me to Ragazza, I couldn’t believe how good everything tasted–antipasti, salads, chicken, and yes, the pizza. Three visits later, I’m still in love.

The crew at Ragazza is putting out some of the best pizza in San Francisco. The big round pies served on boards maneuvered onto tiny, closely placed tables, have ideal crusts– thin and crunchy, yet elastic, with lots of air bubbles in the thicker rims, which makes every crumb worth eating. Formulated for baking in a tile-floored gas pizza oven, the dough and toppings achieve exquisite balance.

Consider my favorite, the amatriciana ($16), painted with intense, spicy tomato sauce infused with hot chile and thin strips of locally made Boccalone pancetta that crisps in the oven and lubricates the pizza in pure pork fat. It is completed with a sprinkle of salty pecorino, pungent oregano and a sunny side up egg which you smear over the center of this magnificent beast, so each   thrilling bite has some of everything on it.

The antipasti also possess the depth and inspired execution of the pizzas. I’m particularly fond of Ragazza’s cooked green vegetables treated like a Caesar salad.  Broccoli di ciccio ($8), a heap of sweet, crunchy broccoli sprouts is marinated in a sharp red wine-anchovy dressing counter-balanced with a  snowfall of freshly grated parmesan. A variation with little gem lettuces and roasted asparagus ($9), served in a deep bowl with an egg, anchovy dressing and parmesan-like shaved bottarga (salted dried tuna roe), marries similar robust flavors.

Spreading fluffy chicken liver mousse ($8) on big, warm, olive oil brushed toasts and topping it with sweet and sour onion marmalade in just the right proportion, is a pre-pizza activity easily mastered. Similar toast also acts as a landing for stracchiatella ($9) the buttery interior of burrata, a  fresh cream mozzarella. Three  plump lamb meatballs  ($10) swathed in the rich, smooth Ragazza tomato sauce with melted provolone on top, put leftover toasts to good use one night.

A succulent roasted chicken leg comes in a bowl of farro–a chewy wheat berry– everything seasoned by flavorful, salty broth with big, mild green Cerignola olives ($15).

For dessert, you’ll barely have room for a dish of Bi-Rite toasted banana ice cream ($6).

Though Ragazza is small–less than 49 seats placed very close together under a sound absorbing paneled ceiling, plus a few stools in front of the kitchen counter–I’ve never had to wait too long there. The young staff is unfailingly kind, knowledgeable and empathetic. They keep the process moving subtly so no one feels rushed, but no time is wasted between turns.

Even with wine–I highly recommend the extravagance of a $15 glass of Cruvina “Cruvin,” a cherry-scented red from Liguria–the check is never a shock. Portions and pizzas are so generous, you learn not to order a lot, even though you want to.  Sharon Ardiana’s Ragazza makes this girl very, very happy.

Ragazza, 311 Divisadero Street (between Oak and Page), San Francisco
Contact: 415 255-1133; www.ragazzasf.com
Hours:  Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 10:30 p.m.
Price range:  $7 to $18
Recommended dishes:  chicken liver pate; marinated broccoli di ciccio; little gem lettuce and roasted asparagus in anchovy dressing; pizza, especially the moto and the amatriciana; Nonna’s chicken leg
Credit cards: Master Card and Visa
Reservations: not accepted; no parties bigger than 6

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