Located in the Westin Hotel on Market Street, Ducca provides an inviting transformation from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco to a soothing and intimate environment. Ducca has been offering an enjoyable dining experience since its opening in 2008, where Executive Chef Erica Holland-Toll crafts a variety of Northern Italian dishes that are designed to leave even the most discriminating foodie satisfied.
A prominent marble bar opposite a rotunda lounge area welcomes guests as they step inside, with translucent silk-screened partitions separating the lounge from the main room. The restaurant’s name derives from the word ‘doge,’ also known as a duke or ducca. Decorative inspirations from this period of early Venetian rulers are seen in every corner of the restaurant, along with a subtle mix of contemporary accents. Various works by famous artists adorn the walls; and once recognized by our party, they quickly became a topic of conversation. One can choose to dine under the sparkling chandeliers or enjoy the popular style of bar dining, as often seen in the Veneto region. Take note of the copper-dipped forks placed in honor of the Venetians. Not only were they some of the first Europeans to use the modern fork, but they were also some of the first to consider the relationship between dishes and how they are served in courses.
The bartender provided a warm welcome as my guests and I slid onto the comfortable, sleek barstools. While we browsed the lounge menu he brought over a small bowl of crackers for us to munch on. The menu ranges from casual starters like the crispy risotto fritters to classy, California-influenced house-made pastas and entrees such as Linguine with Clam Sauce and Berkshire Pork Scallopine. My eyes went next to the wine list, which highlights the dual regional influence of Italian and California vintages offered by the glass and bottle. With an outstanding variety of both reds and whites, one is sure to locate a familiar wine or discover new favorite.
I had a few questions regarding the two different chardonnays featured by the glass. The bartender was knowledgeable with his descriptions and even offered a taste of each to compare the two. I went with his original suggestion of the Tandem Chardonnay, and one of my guests ordered a glass as well. My other guest sipped on a glass of Pinot Noir from the same winery. Both wines paired well with the food served at Ducca, as they were structured and well rounded with a nice, smooth finish.
When I went to inform the hostess that my party was finishing up at the bar she assured me there would be a table for us whenever we were ready. I gathered my guests and the hostess politely led us to our booth. Waiting until we were seated, she handed us each a leather bound menu a departed with “Enjoy your dinner.” The hostess was courteous, organized and accommodating.
I had heard rave reviews about the Arancini served at Ducca. After placing our order for the starter, five neatly arranged spheres arrived on a long rectangular plate, giving a true visual to their meaning. The name of the dish derives from the food’s shape and color, which is suggestive of an orange. Coated with breadcrumbs and filled with a creamy blend of risotto and sottocenere cheese, the fried rice balls were a delicious way to whet our appetite. The crunchiness of the outside contrasted brilliantly with the velvety inside, allowing one to relish the different textures.
My guests and I also enjoyed another starter, the Arugula Salad. Fresh, bright leaves of arugula were elegantly dressed with sliced beets, diced apples, and freshly shaved parmesan. The sweetness of the beats, the crispness of the apples, and the slight saltiness of the parmesan created a lovely balance that was complemented by just the right amount of dressing. After these first two delicious beginnings we were enthusiastic for what was to come.
I ordered the Pappardelle in Sugo, which consisted of house-made pasta with slow braised lamb ragu. Bite-size chunks of lamb were woven between expertly boiled wide egg noodles. The tender lamb added another element to the flavor and texture of the al dente noodles. The dish was so captivating I found myself eating it as if it were the first course.
The kitchen delivered another success, the California White Bass. Plated on a round white serving dish, the simply and elegantly prepared fish was served on a bed of Bloomsdale spinach and adorned with bacon-braised butter beans. A Meyer lemon and herb salad paired nicely, with baby artichokes carefully placed around the perimeter. The preparation and detail of presentation were striking: the lightly flavored accompaniments did not overpower the white bass, allowing one to taste the true flavors of the fish.
The Bellwether Farms Ricotta Ravioli was another generously portioned pasta dish. Delicate squares of pasta were filled with smooth ricotta cheese. The combination of the wine forest mushroom ragu, the Erbette chard, and the crème fraiche was the fitting complement to the ravioli -- as all of those at our table would attest. The sauce balanced the creamy ravioli with richness; the contrasting colors were visually appealing as well.
Desserts were as delightful as the other dishes. It was hard to choose from the intriguing selection, but we went with a recommendation from our server. The Chocolate Torte arrived reminiscent of a lava cake, and was accompanied by a small scoop of caramel gelato drizzled with Gianduja sauce. With each bite I tried to savor the different elements: the combination of the warm, gooey rich chocolate center, the crunchy texture of the candied hazelnuts, and the sweetness of the caramel gelato. The slight pinch of sea salt was a nice surprise, cutting through the rich and decadent flavors. This torte was hands down delicious!
Service was formal, attentive, and unpretentious. I was impressed with our server, Laurent; he was professional, friendly, and contributed to a memorable dining experience. It seemed that all staff members at Ducca worked efficiently as a team. Everyone appeared happy and displayed a positive attitude and genuine desire to exceed guest expectations. As other guests departed, tables were bussed and set up quickly and quietly. Unless one was looking for these details, a guest probably would not notice everything that was taking place as it was done with such efficiency.
Ducca’s thoughtful décor and delicious cuisine make one feel as through they have stepped into a restaurant in the heart of Venice, and the stellar service makes you feel like you belong. From the menu reflecting the different seasons to the inviting outdoor patio, Ducca guests will be pleased with their dining experience any time of the year.