Nob Hill Cafe

A craving for pasta and a fiance out rock climbing turned my feet to Nob Hill Cafe on a windy Tuesday evening. It’s a neighbourhood institution that’s hard to walk past; often bustling with an interesting mixture of visitors and regulars, their heads bowed happily over bowls of pasta or seasonal pizzas. The scents of garlic and Parmesan, inevitably, follow you for half a block if you have the strength – or an already full stomach – to keep walking.

This time around, I ordered the Insalata Caprese for my starter, followed up with the Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I was sad to see that the Cafe hadn’t quite finished baking their in-house foccacia when my bread basket arrived, as historically, the basket contains a blend of crusty sourdough and herbed foccacia (the latter of which is one of my favorite breads found to date in SF), but I was dining earlier in the evening, and the sourdough was perfect for dipping in the vinaigrette served with my Caprese.

The Caprese turned out to be more elaborate than the menu indicates; beyond the traditional basil, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes, the dish was served over baby greens with thinly sliced red onions and an admirable quantity of olives, topped by a balsamic vinaigrette. At times, the vinaigrette cloaked the fresh flavours of the cheese and tomato, so I wouldn’t recommend the salad for Caprese purists, but it remained an enjoyable start to my meal.

I have a guilty not-quite-secret; when it comes to pasta, I tend to lean towards the unconventional or the elaborate. NHC’s Carbonara is a delicious reminder that sometimes, classic dishes keep their popularity for good reason. It arrived at my table piping hot, in a bowl with tall sides (the better for swirling and mixing in the fresh ground pepper and Parmesan; key ingredients, my server and I agreed, for making this dish an ultimate comfort food.) From the texture of the noodles to the creamy sauce highlighted by garlic and pancetta, the Carbonara was easy to love. It’s a rich, filling dish, so I packed some away for my lunch, and thanked the staff for taking good care of me.

I find it telling how restaurants treat solitary diners, and am happy to report that NHC is a solid choice, whether you’re on your own, in a pair, or in a larger group. That said, it’s a popular place, and they do not take reservations, so would recommend coming early or later for dinner if you have a large group.



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