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    Chef Rossella Pascuzzi Brings Her Passion for Food to Poesia

    While dabbing impeccably fresh and savory tomato sauce from my chin in a food swoon, I looked up to see Poesia waitress, Sara. She asked, “It was delizioso, right?” Oh-yes, I replied. Sara said, “Rossella Pascuzzi made that
    dish. Everything she cooks, I love. Her taste is my taste.”

    1-MUST USE-PHOTO-Chef Rossella Pascuzzi-ViegasIt is certainly my taste too, and it seemed to be for the other diners there that recent balmy spring night. Pascuzzi is new to Poesia, the romantic and cozy Italian osteria right in the heart of the Castro on 18th Street. In my view, she has made an already superb restaurant even better. The aforementioned tomato sauce, for example, was in her “Rustico” appetizer, made with ethereal layers of buttery puff pastry filled with not only the sauce, but also creamy mozzarella and aged parmesan. It paired well with the restaurant’s classic “Pappa al Pomodoro” rich tomato-bread soup.

    Waiting for the next courses, my tablemates and I enjoyed Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, projected on a wall inside the restaurant. The dreamy decadence of the film was the perfect backdrop for the meal, which continued with two of my favorite Poesia pasta dishes (shared with others at the table): “Gnocchi di Ricotta con Pomodroni” (ricotta cheese gnocchi served in orange juice and fresh cherry tomato sauce) and “Pappardelle Rosa con Gorgonzola e Noci” (homemade beet pasta with gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and radicchio). A cauliflower side dish, “Cavolfiori al Forno,” was equally delicious, as was a salad piled high with carpaccio splashed with a bright hit of red onion and citrus.

    Those dishes, and many others, are recipes that originated with friends and family members of owner Francesco d’Ippolito, who opened Poesia in 2008. He still greets guests at the door of the restaurant, which looks more like the dining room of a Castro Victorian than a commercial dining establishment.

    It’s no wonder that Oprah Winfrey dined at Poesia during her most recent trip to the Bay Area. I hear that she too was bewitched by Rossella’s culinary wizardry, not to mention that of Francesco, Sara and the rest of Poesia’s warm and gracious team.

    While eyeing perfectly cooked filet mignon and seabass dishes at the next table, I asked d’Ippolito if any changes were in the works. He informed me that, after he comes back from a trip this month to Italy, he plans to serve lunch at the restaurant on Sundays from 12–3pm. Rossella mentioned that she’ll be preparing her famous lasagna dish for the lunches, which should start later this month.

    Poesia

    “I have a passion for cooking,” she said with such conviction that it seemed as though sparks were flying from her eyes. “Truly, I love it. Here we do Calabrian dishes, but with an emphasis on California seasonal ingredients.”

    Next up was dessert. We split the “Tartufo,” which was made with some of the best gelato I’ve ever had (not too sweet and with clean creamy goodness), and the “Tiramisu,” a dish that I normally don’t even like. This version was so perfectly done, though. I will definitely order it again. The amaro (Italian herbal liqueur) that Sara recommended was also splendid.

    The check at the end didn’t dampen our spirits either. We had arrived early, and therefore took advantage of some of the drinks and dishes offered during the Happy Hour, which happens every day at the restaurant from 5 to 6:30pm. As we left, the words of the lead character in 8 ½ came to mind: “Life is a party, let’s live it together.”

    Poesia is at 4072 18th Street in San Francisco. For more information, please go to poesiasf.com or phone 415-252-9325.

    Elaine Viegas grew up on a farm in Appalachia before moving to California and training as a chef. She is the mother of “San Francisco Bay Times” co-publisher Jennifer Viegas.