Divisadero Italian restaurant Che Fico from chefs David Nayfeld, Angela Pinkerton, and partner Matt Brewer, has been a longer journey than first anticipated, but the delays have given the chefs plenty of time to perfect their menu. The restaurant, which opens on Wednesday, March 28, is a rare second floor space, with windows looking down onto Divisadero Street, skylights, and a kitchen open to the spacious dining room where the handiwork of Nayfeld, chef de cuisine Evan Allumbaugh (Flour + Water), and their team will be on full display.
For Nayfeld, pasta is both a craft and a science, balancing the art of fatto a mano (making pasta completely by hand) and carefully adjusting hydration levels and testing different flours for the perfect texture. On the opening menu, pasta dishes are labeled by category: fatto a mano (handmade), fatta a machina in casa (machine-made in house), or pasta secca (dried).
Nayfeld suggests the idea of fatto a mano has been stretched a bit at some restaurants, many including pasta made using extruders or electric rollers. “It’s not bad, it’s just different,” says Nayfeld of such methods. “Why not just call it like it is?”
Thus, Che Fico’s menu includes a variety of pastas like cavatelli formed by hand on a wooden board, rigatoni that’s been extruded in a machine, and sfoglia, pasta dough rolled by hand with wooden rolling pins on a large oak table by the open kitchen.
The entire menu is the precise, but rustic, result of Nayfeld’s obsession with details. His pizza is another example. Nayfeld has created what he calls a “San Francisco style,” using a sourdough yeast starter (named Loretta) and whole grains grown and milled on the West Coast. “It’s not going to look like anyone else’s pizza,” he says.
Though Nayfeld is certified to cook Neapolitan pizza by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, that’s not his goal at Che Fico. He’s essentially creating his own appellation — think SFO instead of DOC — by baking his pizzas at a lower temperature, and using local ingredients, rather than adhering to strict rules that dictate Neapolitan pizza. That includes a pineapple, red onion, and fermented chili pie that will surely have Neapolitan puritans throwing up their hands in despair. But for many chefs, it’s important to know the rules before you can break them. “Then, break them until they’re really broken,” says Nayfeld.
The pizzas are baked in an Italian pizza oven (emblazoned with the name Loretta), resulting in an aerated, bubbly crust and a texture stiff enough to hold up its ingredients — no wobbly, floppy crusts bending under the weight of its toppings will be found at Che Fico.
Elsewhere on the menu are larger dishes for two, like a slow-roasted leg of lamb ($44) and a half or whole chicken with agrodolce and creamy polenta ($27/$48). An entire section is dedicated to cucina ebraica, the homey Roman-Jewish cooking favored by Nayfeld. That includes his take on carciofi alla giudia, a popular roman dish consisting of a crispy artichoke, served here with lemon aioli, sumac and za’taar, and grilled chopped duck liver. And once the meats have had a chance to cure, a menu of salumi like mortadella and salame Tosaca will be available, with the optional topping of warm mozzarella.
Pinkerton’s menu of desserts leans into the rustic category as well, with versions of olive oil cake and a wood-fired citrus crostata for two. Gelato, with flavors like fior di latte and malted yogurt, will be available by the scoop, to stay or go.
When the restaurant opens, it will serve dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m.- 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m.- 1 a.m.
Stay tuned for more details on Theorita, the ground floor luncheonette that the team plans to open in the coming months.