Credo means “I believe” in Latin. It also happens to be a new Italian restaurant in the heart of FiDi (Financial District) focused on dishing out simple, Italian cuisine with a kick of flair – this is no Pasta Pomodoro. After going there a couple times in the last month or two (it just opened back in December), I started to think, “What do I believe in?” Better question, readers: What do you believe in?
I believe in knowing one’s limits…and then surpassing them.
I believe that integrity is black and white – you either have it or you don’t.
I believe in curiosity and the desire to explore my surroundings.
I believe we are all more connected than we think we are.
I believe in people and that our potential as individuals is far-reaching.
I believe in doing the right thing, especially when it is difficult.
I believe in honesty, compassion, empathy, and self-awareness.
I believe that our imperfections make us multi-dimensional.
I believe that diets are for the birds.
I believe in laughing, crying, and smiling widely and often.
I believe women can be strong, empowered, soft, and feminine at the same time.
I believe in my family and friends.
I believe in never running less than 4 miles.
I believe every person you meet offers an opportunity for discovery.
I believe marriage is a right we all should have, regardless of your orientation.
I believe when I sing loudly in my car I sound melodic.
I believe in aggressive aggression over passive aggression.
I believe you get one chance to live your life. So you should live it well and without regret.
With respect to food, I believe with my entire being (and more importantly my stomach) that eating is an event to be celebrated grandly with close friends. Aside from the ever popular Delfina, Farina and Beretta, I’m not one who generally goes out to eat Italian food unless it seems innovative and inventive. Credo’s menu and mission grabbed my attention right away. Esteemed chef, Mario Maggi of Milan, strives to provide simple, peasant Italian food adjusted to the taste profile of the San Francisco diner. I checked out the extensive menu online and upon seeing veal meatballs and octopus carpaccio in the first moments, the decision was easy. Credo would be the site of that week’s Friday night dinner.
People complain that San Francisco is a difficult city for dating. Well, I don’t’ know who came up with that lie, but I somehow was lucky enough to have not one, but two hot dates for my first of two meals at Credo: my friend Robyn was partner number 1, a woman who on weekends can be found charging the Alpine Dam ride or doing a 3 hour trail run “for fun.” Robyn recently abandoned vegetarianism, joining me back in the dark side of the meat world. She is also owner of Body Equations Pilates: http://sftaoofpao.com/2010/02/11/body-equations-pilates-strength-grace-and-%e2%80%9cthe-situation%e2%80%9d/. Partner number 2 was my friend Lauren, one of the funniest, most adventurous girls I’ve met of late (This girl not only packs one heck of a hit in a Powder Puff football game, she is also now pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time writer and offers up funny tidbits about her life in her blog – http://www.fiftytwocents.com/). Initially, I went into the evening hoping only for a night of laughs and good conversation – which with these girls is pretty much a guarantee. Blogging was not a major concern of mine that Friday. Yet, I cannot help it when an opportunity presents itself. One well-executed meal later and I was hooked; determined to return for a second helping. I chatted with Tim Felkner, Credo’s general manager and set up time to interview head chef and Mario Maggi and also to enjoy a special tasting Pao Wow style put together by the Credo kitchen staff.
Location and Ambiance
Credo is in the heart of the Financial District, just east of Montgomery on Pine. I may not be too sure about the multi-colored sign out front, but I am positive that Credo’s open interior and welcoming staff will keep you entertained through a first cocktail at the bar, or your entire meal. The modern décor and ambiance of Credo strike you right when you walk in the door. White walls encase the bar and dining area, and a decorative wooden structure hangs over the large front window. All that is missing is perhaps a bit of warmth, maybe through a textured curtain or some color to add a bit of intimacy. Artistic handmade tables from designer Piet Hein Eek fill the floor with their slabs of multi-colored sustainable scrap wood. Jazz and horns provide the chorus for your evening adventure. Both sides of the restaurant are covered in wall-to-wall quotations; they almost seem to shout out the varied ideologies and belief systems from a wide-range of individuals. Conservatives, liberals, rock stars, politicians, religious leaders, movie stars. No ideological stone is left unturned or underrepresented in this establishment. I’ve jotted down a few of my favorites from Credo’s walls:
“I believe in being an innovator.” – Walt Disney
“I believe in the flesh and the appetites.” – Walt Whitman
“I believe in freedom of speech, but I believe we should also have the right to comment on freedom of speech.” – Stockwell Day
“I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein
“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day. And I believe in miracles.” – Audrey Hepburn
“I believe who eats well, lives well.” – Mario Maggi (head chef of Credo)
Background and Credo’s Creed
Before I jump into my drinking and dining adventure, let’s take a couple steps back and discuss the origination of Credo. The restaurant’s owner, Clint Reilly, is a real-estate mogul in SF who decided that food would be his next big venture. He hired heavy hitter, Mario Maggi, who has opened 13-14 restaurants for Italian restaurant group, Bice in countries all over the world, including, but not limited to Tokyo, Madrid and Barcelona. Mario came to the United States 27 years ago, but he still has a thick Italian accent as well as the familiar warmth you associate with a favorite uncle. He is focused, driven and hard-working – and that is probably why Reilly hired Mario to develop Credo’s menu, open the restaurant and train the staff. Being in the restaurant business is in Mario’s blood; his father was a chef and his son manages a restaurant in New York. Mario “believes in food; simple food; food that you see what you eat, that you taste what you see. Not all covered in sauce. Traditional Italian food.” Mario provides well-executed Italian food with a characteristic of simplicity. Nearly all pastas at Credo are homemade with love; the Bolognese sauce is a 3 hour process that Mario initiates each morning, the start to his typical 14 hour day. Fresh ravioli, tortellini and homemade mozzarella are just a few other offerings on the menu that is printed in house and modified according to people’s taste. Mario purchases ingredients at local Farmers markets and from San Francisco suppliers and purveyors. Dessert is also made in-house – in fact you should definitely make sure to try the Tiramisu. Mario’s been making it for 40 years and it has received considerable acclaim by Gourmet Magazine. I’m not normally a tiramisu fan, but I decided to try it given the hype. Let me tell you, I ate almost the entire serving which could have easily fed two. It is a well-balanced, unlike other tiramisus I’ve tried. The mascarpone and alcohol complement the other ingredients of the dish, instead of overwhelming them. Let your tongue discover the thick creamy layers between the sponge-like lady fingers, and something tells me you’ll be tempted to lick the plate clean of the whipped cream remnants.
Every Good Italian Deserves a Proper Drink
Each of my two Credo dining experiences started at the bar, which plays host to an impressive array of cocktails, not to mention an extensive wine list. The manager, Tim is responsible for the 120+ wine list; 75% of which is comprised of Italian wines and 25% domestic. If you feel a bit overwhelmed, do not hesitate to flag Tim down. He is cordial, attentive, and wants to do everything in his power to make your dining experience memorable, and it does not hurt that he has a couple wine certifications to boot. If cocktails are more your speed, grab a bar stool and chat up Joel Teitelbaum, Credo’s bar manager. Do not be fooled by Joel’s youthful, handsome good looks, this guy knows his cocktails and seeks to provide modern takes on traditional Italian libations. He spent a decent amount of time educating me about a category of drinks known as “bracers” – which are typically served as morning after cures. If only I had discovered these back in my college years…His recommendation for a light cocktail to start off the meal was the Corpse Reviver No. 2. It is a blend of Beefeater gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon and Absinthe. The citrus notes provided an aromatic quality and the Absinthe was warming to the body; a sensation that stayed with me throughout the entire evening. I was excited to spot Aperol as a key ingredient of the Spritz cocktail. Aperol is one of my favorite Italian aperitifs that I have not found in abundance in San Francisco. Credo makes a light, refreshing blend of Aperol, Prosecco and soda. Aperol has a smooth citrus essence, and the addition of Prosecco adds just the right amount of bubbly excitement to get you ready for a Friday night in the city. It is a cocktail you can either Pao Sip or Pao Gulp but I recommend trying to savor it as long as possible. Or I suppose you can just order another cocktail.
Good Italian Eats
As noted before, I’ve eaten at Credo twice in the last couple months. The first time was within the restaurant’s first month and a half of being open. The second was for a private multi-course tasting I enjoyed solo while sitting at the bar. The menu is broken up into sections: Antipasti, Zuppe, Carpacci, Insalate, Pasta, Risotti, Pizza, Pesci, Carni and Contorni. Within each section are anywhere from two to ten choices – Credo is not messing around. Just like the quotations that adorn the walls, the menu speaks to a variety of universal tastes. I started each of my Italian “tours” with the Antipasti section. The Chicche della Nonna are homemade veal meatballs served with a spicy Brivido sauce. Brivido? More like bravo! I love meatballs and found these to be juicy and tangy and the sauce was so tempting I had to lap up every last bit of it with the side of Tuscan cut bread. For my second visit to Credo, I had the seafood sister to the meatballs – the Calamaretti in Guazzetto – baby squid sautéed in a garlic, white wine spicy tomato sauce. Tim gave this recommendation for my tasting and I was not disappointed. The spice of the dish permeated the entire experience and the squid was cooked perfectly, not rubbery in texture at all.
Moving right along to the Carpacci, my first visit to Credo included an order of the Polio All’Olio e Limone – thinly sliced octopus carpaccio served over a bed of arugula with chopped hearts of palm on top. In my first bite I was struck by the burst of sweetness from the balsamic drizzle, which was contrasted by the slightly acidic olive oil lemon dressing. During my tasting, the chef prepared a trio of carpacci for me. What is better than a trio of thinly sliced meats and seafood? Yup, at this moment I’m coming up with no other alternatives. The two other carpaccis included Manzo alla Senese – thinly sliced beef carpaccio topped with softly cooked celery hearts and fresh pecorino. The celery hearts provided a nice complement to the smooth taste of the beef although I did find the pecorino a tad dominating. The third selection included Carpaccio di Tonno – thinly sliced Ahi tuna, slightly seared and seasoned with herbs, lemon, olive oil and then topped with shaved cucumber. Of the three, my favorite was probably the tuna with its herb-filled, lemon emulsion. The herbs seemed to change the flavor of the tuna – bringing out its fresh taste. The shaved cucumbers added an element of crunchiness, and I appreciated this additional texture.
I have not tried an insalate during my visits to Credo, but I feel it important to mention that the restaurant has a Panzanella Toscana. I discovered panzanella last year. It is similar to large bread salad with fresh vegetables, tossed in vinaigrette. I made a summer squash panzanella during a trip to Aspen one year and it was a smash. I think I’ll give Credo’s a turn in my next tour.
Pasta, pasta, pasta. Although normally the primi in most Italian restaurants, Americans often make this Italian category the main event of any meal. As such, it is very important that Credo execute on this front. With most of their pastas being housemade, like the pappardelle, fettuccine or raviolis, I think they are set up to have success in this arena. Unfortunately, I think I may have ordered the wrong dish. I tried the Ravioli de Aragosta e Granseola – ravioli stuffed with lobster and crab, with lobster bisque as its sauce, and a topping of asparagus and shrimp as a final touch. I was a little taken back by the asparagus topping. Asparagus has a pretty strong flavor and I felt that it slightly overwhelmed the taste of the seafood and ravioli goodness. The good news is that the ravioli was not overcooked so that gives me hope for the other pasta dishes at Credo. I’d probably recommend trying a different pasta dish on your visit, like the tortellini.
While I did not have the appetite to test out the risotto, pizza, or pesci, I did try the carni and I think I saved the best for last. I can take no credit here; both recommendations came from either Tim or the chef. The first was the Galleto al Mattone Cotto in Forno – roasted free range Cornish hen with a side of escarole and sautéed cannellini beans. Oh, did I mention pancetta? The hen had a woody, smoky flavor and it was expertly cooked, not overdone at all. The meat was juicy and the skin slightly crispy. The escarole added a welcome bit of bitterness, and what makes anything better? That’s right, bacon! Or in this case, the Italian version known as pancetta. I may or may not have picked up the last bits of hen with my fingers so I could eat every last morsel of succulent meat off the bone. Jury is still out on that rumor.
A bit of a story for you…when I was young, I used to watch the Jetsons…religiously. My favorite episode was when Rosie, the robotic housekeeper, took all the ingredients from the refrigerator, combined them and rolled them into a cylindrical dish that resembled a modern day meatloaf. For some reason, I always wanted to try it. Flash forward to Credo two weeks ago. I was talking to Tim during my tasting and he started to describe a dish that for some reason brought back memories of this long time wish. Not because Credo uses old ingredients from the fridge, but because when Tim described it to me, it sounded like a better version of my childhood fantasy. And better it was, I will have you know. Tim recommended that I try a new addition to the menu – the Rollata di Pollo alla Fiorentina. It’s basically a rolled up piece of chicken – not just any chicken, we’re talking pounded, sautéed juicy Fulton Valley Farm goodness. Yes, you can start salivating. Within this rolled protein that has a crispy top layer, you’ll discover spinach, fontina cheese and prosciutto. The fontina has a deep, bold smokiness factor. Beneath this meat log you’ll enjoy a layer of mashed potatoes dressed in a porcini mushroom sauce. If I had to describe the dish in three words: delectable, rich, and “I can’t get enough.” Okay, that was more than three words, but nevertheless, it was a healthy portion and I only had the tasting size. You will not leave hungry or unsatisfied if you order this dish as your main. George Jetson would be proud of Credo’s offering I think.
Although the Credo scene has not reached the craziness common to the Mission Italian hotspots mentioned earlier (for which I’m actually thankful because that meant I could get a seat at the bar easily and have attentive service throughout my meal), it is starting to pick up. As the night passed, the restaurant began to approach capacity. Lunches are the busiest at Credo – apparently all those i-bankers, private equity and analyst types also appreciate a well-executed at a reasonable price. Something tells me that the Financial District is waiting to blow up. With Globe, Bix, Shipyard Saloon, Perbacco, Rickhouse and now Credo, the FiDi is starting to evolve into a full-fledged night time destination. Pao Wow people. Pao Wow.
Read Full Post »