For six years, Gino Assaf ran the Italian restaurant Specchio in the Mission. When he split from his business partner, Assaf decided to renovate and revamp with a new concept and new name -- Piattini.
The menu consists almost entirely of shareable small plates, a move that allowed Assaf to lower his prices and attract the Mission’s thirty-five-and-under population. Though he presides as executive chef, Assaf formerly trained as an architect, and he designed a space that’s as hip as his clientele. Hard edges predominate, from the steel gray banquettes to the cement floor, but whimsy appears in the form of two colorful candy-striped walls and the projections of muted Federico Fellini films that play above the open kitchen. Near the entryway, the ceiling has been graffitied with an Italian poem about mirrors, a carryover from Specchio. (“Specchio” means “mirrors” in Italian).
Assaf offers several dishes inspired by his homeland Venice. Breadcrumbs adorn many of them, a hallmark of Northern Italian cuisine. The wine list resides in Italy with the majority available by the glass and hovering around $10. Four to five small plates ($6-$15 each) will sate a party of two.
The scent of rosemary and hot olive oil cling to paper-thin triangles of crispy bread with blackened bottoms and bubbled surfaces. Anywhere else this would be called “pizza crust,” and indeed, Assaf also uses it for his pizzas. He relies on 00 flour from Naples, which is ground from winter wheat for a darker color but ultra-soft texture.
Ravioli are served throughout Italy, but Assaf claims frying is a Venetian tradition. Unlike their sugary brethren that populate menus around Thanksgiving, these pumpkin ones are strictly savory. Despite being fried, they’re soft in texture with a crunch that emanates from a scatter of breadcrumbs and tangle of shoestring fried leeks that taste like onion rings.
Wild Boar Meatballs
The wild boar, as opposed to beef or veal, is what makes these Venetian. The grind is coarse and flecked with crunchy bites of garlic that taste more raw than cooked. The star here is the marinara sauce, which doubles as pizza sauce and adorns several other dishes. This smooth puree has enough pepper to gently singe the back of your throat and a sweetness that comes from San Marzano tomatoes, the famous brand sourced from the Campania region in Southern Italy.
Cauliflower with Besciamella Sformato
A hill of roasted florets dusted with bread crumbs rises from an earthenware pot. Dip your fork toward the bottom to hit a bath of béchamel (besciamella). Think “au gratin” in terms of cold-weather comfort but significantly lighter.
You’ll find baccala, or dried salted cod, in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Assaf soaks the fish in milk to remove the salt, breaks it into small pieces, and whips until it transforms into mousse-like tuna salad. In Venice, it would typically get smeared on bread or polenta, but here, Assaf injects elegance into what’s an honestly pretty ugly by serving it as a terrine. He moulds the whipped fish into a mound roughly the size of a mozzarella ball and wraps it in delicate slices of slightly crispy artichoke and potato. He also spoons his marinara on top, a move that doesn’t make sense but offers the diner another chance to eat a spoonful of that delicious red stuff.
2331 Mission Street (between 19th and 20th)
* These dishes were enjoyed as part of a hosted media meal paid for by the restaurant.