REVIEW My mission was to find a restaurant in North Beach that doesn't serve Italian food. This was more out of curiosity than resolve; Italian food happens to be my favorite, but I wanted to find an oasis of originality amid the monotony of Columbus Street. After two hours of slowly eliminating the Afghan, Indian, Vietnamese, and Mexican restaurants I had found online because they had closed permanently, only opened for dinner, or had moved across town, I was coming to the conclusion that there is a very active Italian consortium in North Beach driving away all challengers. Plus, my curiosity was eroding under the steadily lapping waves of hunger. I finally cracked and decided to patronize the next cozy little restaurant I came to, provided it wouldn't break my bank account.
This happened to be Trattoria Pinocchio, a nice-looking establishment with a hostess who spoke fluent Italian as she boasted that the restaurant's pastas and breads were made fresh every day. With a claim like that and with prices comparable to those of all of the other places I had been passing ($12.95 for a salad and pasta), it deserved a shot at pleasing my exceedingly discriminatory pasta palate. I even made it easy by ordering one of my all-time favorites, linguini al pesto.
Unfortunately, my salad was so oily, it dripped onto my shirt and left stains on the way from the plate to my mouth. The dressing was not quite orthodox and mildly unpleasant, but tasty enough once I added black pepper, so I continued with the greens with little help from my waiter, who was suspiciously absent most of the time. On my first bite of the linguini when it finally came I realized that I had been rudely cheated. While the pasta was cooked well enough, it certainly didn't taste like it was made fresh that day, and the pesto sauce was more cream and (you guessed it) oil than basil. As I left, I half-expected the hostess's nose to look longer, but no dice.
TRATTORIA PINOCCHIO Mon.Thurs. and Sun., 11:30 a.m.10:30 p.m.; Fri.Sat., 11:30 a.m.midnight. 401 Columbus, SF. (415) 392-1472, www.trattoriapinocchio.com