San Francisco Hit Che Fico's New Roman Wine Bar Is a Pasta and Salumi Paradise
For the past 14 years, Francesca Maniace has been quietly and steadily working her way up the wine industry ladder.
The New York-born wine expert has spent her career learning under some of the most respected beverage directors in the country—the late Chris Goodhart mentored her during her McNally Restaurant Group tenure; Francesco Grosso gave Maniace her first sommelier job at Marea; she worked with Shelley Lindgren at A16—watching and growing.
Now, as the wine director of Che Fico in San Francisco, one of the hottest restaurants debuts of 2018, Maniace’s star has been shining on a national stage, with her wide-ranging list of wines from Italy and California. As of Tuesday, April 30, Maniace’s spotlight is about to burn even brighter as the driving force behind new Roman-inspired wine bar Che Fico Alimentari, set just below the original Che Fico on Divisadero Street.
“Francesca is, in my opinion, the most underrated, under-talked-about wine director in the country,” says Che Fico chef-partner David Nayfeld. “The way she takes her time to engage someone who knows nothing about wine and wants a good experience is the same as a wine collector who’s coming into the restaurant.”
That focus on engagement and exploration is the basis for soon-to-debut Alimentari, by Che Fico partners Matt Brewer, chef Angela Pinkerton, and Nayfeld. Inspired by the team’s joint trip to Italy and their experiences at famed Roman enotecas like Roscioli in Trastevere and Santo Palato in San Giovanni, the concept aims to highlight the symbiotic relationship of classic Italian fare and wines.
“We want people to experience the way wine impacts your enjoyment of a dish and the way a dish changes and works with the wine,” Maniace says.
To start, more than 200 selections will be available by the bottle — most of which will be available to take home right off the retail shelf — with a rotating list of wines available by the quartino and glass. Some of Maniace’s picks are so rare in the U.S., like a Rosato from Tuscany, a Montepulciano from the Marche, and a Pigato from Liguria, they will only be found at the restaurant. And, because Italians love Champagne and it is San Francisco, there will also be Champagne and California wine on the menu.
Maniace tends to gravitate towards farmers and winemakers who take great care in growing fruit and don’t manipulate the wine heavily during the production process. So, there will be natural wines on the menu, just as there is upstairs at Che Fico, and the diverse list will also include plenty of traditional selections. “I’m not flying a flag for one team,” she says. “I just really want a quality product that’s representative of the place it comes from.”
The food will follow a similar point of view. Where Che Fico focuses on Italian and Jewish-Italian fare through a California filter, Alimentari will be far more traditional, showcasing a wide range of artisanal ingredients many of which will be sourced Europe.
Instead of making the pasta in-house, Nayfeld will be highlighting, Pastificio Gentile, dried pasta made by a family in Italy, in his traditional Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Rigatoni Amatriciana, Spaghetti Ragù alla Napoletana, and other classic pasta dishes.
“The cuisine downstairs is meant to be of a more simple nature ... showcasing preservation, showcasing people’s hard work and giving them credit for it,” says Nayfeld.
In addition to Chef Fico’s own house-cured San Francisco Bay anchovies, Alimentari will also have cans from top producers in Amalfi and possibly some Spanish ones, too. It’ll offer house-made salumi from the salumeria upstairs as well as Prosciutto di San Daniele, mortadella, and other imported Italian charcuterie.
Like the wine, many of the products served in the restaurant — various olive oils, cheeses, and Pinkerton’s housemade gelato, sorbet and naturally leavened bread — will be available for retail purchase as well as offsite catering.
The idea, overall, is to share Italian dining customs with as many individuals as possible.
“We want to be an accessible place,” says Nayfeld. “People should be able to come and get an inexpensive glass of wine and an inexpensive bowl of pasta or try a collector wine and have a whole experience.”
Che Fico Alimentari (834 Divisadero Street) opens Tuesday, April 30.