Ragazza seems to have two factors working in its favor. One is the connection to Gialina, a similarly casual Italian restaurant from chef-owner Sharon Ardiana. The other advantage is proximity. Gialina is situated in the far south neighborhood of Glen Park, whereas Ragazza has been open since September 2010 in centrally located NOPA, a neighborhood NOrth of the PAnhandle. As we learned, the food was pretty much equal, eliminating the continued need for a pilgrimage.
Ragazza resides under the red neon glow of The Metro Hotel sign, with a door framed by planters. The interior is fairly simple, with mix and match wood tables and open kitchen flanked by red tile. The name means “girl” in Italian. Given that, a black-and-white photo similar (or identical?) to the photo at Gialina portrays a row of Italian women.
House Pickled Sweet Green Tomatoes ($5) was a misnomer and even confused our waitress, since the tomatoes played more of a supporting role. Instead, Chef Ardiana’s attempt to replicate her grandmother Gialina’s lost recipe resulted in a sweet tart dish of carrots and cauliflower. Eating pickled vegetables to start a meal has become a favorite pastime at market-driven restaurants.
Chef Ardiana melds seasonal ingredients with interesting grains and legumes to produce compelling salads. The best example during our Ragazza meal was Farro Salad ($16 whole), featuring nutty Italian grain folded with sweet ripe peaches, crisp fennel and salty, fresh-shaved ricotta salata.
Marinated Summer Squash ($16) was another seasonal winner, with earthy Umbrian lentils, arborio rice, chunks of yellow and green squash, and a more aggressive dill flower vinaigrette.
Ragazza’s Wood Stone oven has the ability to burn wood, but limits its diet to gas, due to San Francisco regulations. Their pizzas cook at 500 degrees, and this may not be the reason, but their crusts weren’t dynamic. The thin, crisp, slightly chewy crust was fairly enjoyable, but the toppings were more interesting. Moto ($13) involved tomato sauce accented with spicy Calabrian chilies, strips of portobello mushroom, red onion, juicy pork sausage and molten mozzarella.
The Rapini ($18) pizza was less successful, with a crusty that was even drier and crunchier at the edges. Bitter rapini stems and leaves and sweet caramelized onions were fine, but nobody at the table enjoyed the funky Val d’Aosta fontina or chewy fat-rimmed speck.
We found redemption for our rapini pizza with a Roasted Chicken Leg ($14) that sported crispy skin and featured meat that was infused with olive oil. Salsa verde, smashed green onion-flecked potato cake with browned tops and bottoms and smoky braised eggplant complemented a very good piece of poultry.
Even though our waitress made a convincing case that she may have been a Martian, which added an odd overtone to our meal, there was no question the food was good, and that there evidently can never be too many casual Italian restaurants in San Francisco after all.