The Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food (or AWIF), hosted its inaugural New American Monday Dinner at North Beach’s Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood restaurant on May 11, 2015. The wonderful sold-out event was a good time had by all.
What made the event so special? A combination of three factors:
- The incredible menu;
- The hospitality of Sotto Mare and especially its owner, Rich Azzolino; and of course
- The enthusiasm and camaraderie of AIWF’s members and guests.
The menu consisted of three family-style courses:
- House salad with avocado, bay shrimp and Louie dressing, along with generous plates of oysters on half shell and baccala;
- Fettuccine alfredo with smoked salmon and seafood risotto;
- Huge terrines of cioppino accompanied by huge platters of scallop & prawn sauté, salmon and sand dabs, accompanied by plates of fresh, lightly sautéed vegetables.
The food, not to speak of the wines we brought to complement it (Cornerstone Cellars’ 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Caliza Winery’s 2006 Azimuth Rhone-style blend), were all fantastic. Although all were wonderful, Tom was in particular heaven with the cioppino, complemented with the Azimuth Rhone blend. And all of this for a mere $60 per person!
The restaurant itself, with its atmospheric, perpetually-packed first-floor restaurant and its historically furnished downstairs banquet room (where we had the event), is fun, inviting and always loud, with celebratory diners. Rich Azzolino enhanced the experience by consistently accommodating our needs and by anticipating our desires, and then by regaling us with stories about the history of the 100-year-old building through its many incarnations, and by explaining not only the restaurant’s food philosophy, but also the long family history of some of its recipes.
As for the crowd, a few of us already knew and loved the restaurant and its food. For most, however, it was a new experience and a great introduction to the blending of San Francisco’s Italian-American culinary tradition and the fresh, local ingredients they harvested from the Bay and the surrounding land.
In the end, the verdict was virtually unanimous: All enjoyed the food, the evening and will return to the restaurant. The big outstanding question: Should and will AIWF’s Sotto Mare dinner become an annual tradition?