Ok, I’m going to be fair and start with the good stuff and save my rant for later, because trust me folks, there will be a rant. Bar Bambino is a tiny little restaurant hidden on an obscure part of 16th Street in the Mission, toward South Van Ness. Truly Italian in its roots, Bar Bambino offers up a casual, although sleek, environment serving antipasto, cured meats & cheeses, primi, pasta, piatti, contorni, dolce, and all Italian wine list. In plain speak, they have a variety of small plates to share, a variety of homemade pasta, family style mains, separate sides, and of course, dessert.
My husband and I were there with 2 other couples at my invitation, so pretty much everything was sampled. We had the fried artichokes, beet and goat cheese salad, and fried sardines as our antipasto. The clear winner out of these, for me, were the fried sardines. Although they still had their stereotypical fishy smell, they were lightly battered and fried and I thought the salty sweet flesh was much more delicious than my nose was led to believe. We also had the cured meat platter, featuring prosciutto and a variety of salumi (baby3 did not get a taste). Plus, we got a few small appetizer plates (under “Stuzzichini” on the menu) that included the polpettini, assorted breads, fried olives stuffed with prosciutto, veal, and pecorino, and mixed house cured olives and pickles. Among the Stuzzichini, the polpettini (little meatballs) were the hit, as they were tender, meaty, and juicy. The fried olives were a pass, as you couldn’t taste anything other than the ‘fried’ and the olive, which is sort of shocking since prosciutto’s saltiness typically always makes its presence known. To round it all off, we started (and continued through the meal) with a lovely (crowd-pleasing, but not challenging) rossi from Spelt, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
For the next course, the table moved onto the pastas and the husband and I shared the gnocchi in the lamb ragu. This was a highlight for me. I usually don’t order gnocchi because when it’s not done well, it’s really not good (as opposed to pizza, where even bad pizza is still pretty good pizza, in my humble, sometimes beer-influenced opinion). The gnocchi were tender and the sauce was especially delicious, with bits of braised lamb shoulder and mushroom throughout a mellow, and yet tart, tomato sauce that was earthy, full, and belly-warming.
For the piatti, we had the Berkshire (i.e, Kurobota!) pork chop that apparently was only fed acorns in its previous life, served with caramelized cioppilini onions in a sweet vermouth sauce. It was pretty delicious,as the pork chop retained all of its wonderful fattiness and succulence and the light sauce just enhanced the meat, making sure the meat stayed the star of the plate. The onions were caramelized til they were golden with sweetness and it was a nice accompaniment to the pork, that typically craves a sweet companion but usually finds it some type of fruit-derived sauce. The asparagus was simply grilled in a good olive oil and served with a generous heap of parmesan on top; you know, vegetables done right — which is, looks like a vegetable, tastes like a vegetable.
Dessert was the vanilla gelato with amareno cherries, and although nothing special, still pretty satisfying. I could tell, though, from some of my friends’ faces, that the hazelnut torte and the zepolle (Italian doughnuts) were fairly delicious, as I heard audible “yum”s.
Ok, the food was really, really terrific. I hate to diminish the food, but blah, blah, blah. Here’s the rant.
You see, the wonderful, authentic food could never make up for the pretentious ass that was our waiter. This young gent was the most condescending, verbose, and socially unaware waiter that I have ever encountered. If I met him at a party, I would have excused myself to the restroom in 3 seconds flat (and I’m being generous). He immediately started off on the wrong foot by describing how the menu was situated (with the antipasto, primi, etc.), but unfortunately, did it in the most belittling manner; I think he even threw in a “in case you don’t know, this is how they do it in Italy” comment (he, who clearly hailed not from Italy). I would have laughed had I not truly been so horrified by his manner; while he assumed (and I don’t know why) that we were apparently a bunch of ill-traveled homebodies, the countries previously lived in by my dinner companions include, but are not limited to, South Africa, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Beijing, Brazil, and Singapore…and never mind that one of the dinner guest’s oft-visited brother has lived in Parma for the past decade or so.
He also managed to take some personal jabs all within the first 20 minutes that included: (to me after I had only ordered the antipasto and cured meat platter), “you’re not ordering enough, you should order them all” (gee, thanks boss for your opinion); (to a male dinner companion, when he dared to request a Coke) “yeah, we don’t do that here” (you unrefined goat — well, he didn’t say that, but that was the underlying tenor); (to another dinner patron) “you don’t have to listen to me, but I’m right” (he must be an awesome boyfriend); (to me, when I asked about a grilled calamari salad) “why would you ask me that? Everything is good here!” (wow, I thought it was ok to ask servers about their opinion about a dish); and (to my husband, who had his wine glass on the large window sill next to us because the table was so full) “can you give that to me, that kind of stuff makes us waiters neurotic!” (neuroses, my dear, is not your biggest problem). At one point, he said to me “everything is good here…except for the service” and I remarked to my friend “well, at least he knows he inserts the stick up his ass every morning.”
I wish I could accurately describe what a complete buffoon this waiter was, but I know that I’m failing. Suffice it to say that I was personally embarrassed for him, the restaurant, and myself, for having chosen the restaurant and forcing my dear friends to sit through this guy’s unwarranted condescension. His huge ego (and small penis, I’m guessing — I’m not above taking pot shots) were far too big for this tiny restaurant, and it was all I could do to not sock him in the ‘nads for continuing to talk to our table like we were a bunch of infantile newbie idiots.
So while I really enjoyed the food and the rest of the staff were friendly enough, I could never go back knowing that they have such a weenie serving the patrons.