It is easy to mistake Poggio Trattoria for a tourist spot. Located on Sausalito’s heavily trod Bridgeway, on the ground level of the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa, Poggio’s marina facing open windows beckon the multitude of ferry passengers just off the boat from San Francisco. But on a recent Saturday night, the whoops and cheers emanating from the standing room only Poggio bar hinted that this was a locals joint. The Golden State Warriors (Sausalito’s “home team”) had just swept the New Orleans Pelicans in round one of the NBA playoffs, and the home crowd was showing some love.
Naturally, due to its ideal location in a picturesque town, Poggio does draw the tourists, for which management is grateful. But it is the locals who fuel the place night after night. Proprietor Larry Mindel, himself a Sausalito resident, sought to create a warm and inviting spot where great food and great people come together – a place where both locals and tourists are treated like family. With more than 30 years in the restaurant and food industries (Il Fornaio, Prego, Ciao, and MacArthur Park to name a few), Mindel has fused everything he’s learned about Italian cooking and hospitality to create a fantastic restaurant experience.
A classic Italian trattoria with comfortable neighborhood charm, first-class cuisine and a cozy marble and mahogany interior, Poggio uses the best local ingredients and property-grown organic herbs and vegetables in its Northern Italy inspired dishes. Chef Benjamin Balesteri changes the menu daily.
The dashing Balesteri, who started at Poggio as a sous chef several years ago, took over the kitchen in 2013 after a stint in New York with acclaimed chef Jonathan Benno (Per Se, Lincoln). Raised in the Salinas Valley amongst farmers and fisherman, Balesteri developed an appreciation of good food at an early age. A working trip to Italy several years ago cemented his love of Italian cooking and culture and he shares that love in each of his dishes.
As my husband and I perused the abundant choices in each of six course categories (antipasti, zuppe e insalate, primi, secondi, pizze and contorni), fire blistered crispy flatbread appeared on the table. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs, it was a delicious and perfect warm-up as we eeny-meeny-miny-moed our way through the expansive menu, which lists every single ingredient for each dish.
We started with the Carciofo – grilled artichoke with lemon vinaigrette and basil pesto aioli. We agreed it was the best artichoke we’d ever had – smoky and meaty with a tenderness that allowed for total consumption. Next, the Gamberetti – poached rock shrimp, grapefruit, avocado, butter lettuce and a superb Green Goddess dressing that had my husband reminiscing about his grandmother’s version.
We moved on to the Primi category featuring eight pasta dishes, and settled on Bucatini – “carbonara” guanciale, egg, black pepper, english peas and pecorino. The entire dish was excellent, but it was the delicious fresh garden grown peas that most caught our attention. The Gnudi – spinach ricotta pillows, beef ragu, and Parmigiano Reggiano was rich and amazing.
We could have stopped there, but the Secondi portion of the menu tempted. Again, eight selections are offered, and our choice of Porchetta – spit roasted pork loin and belly, braised butter beans and mostarda – was a tasty one. We were disappointed that we could not muster space for one of Poggio’s famed pizzas, and instead moved on to a dish of Fiorello’s salted caramel health bar crunch gelato, a difficult choice among the array of delectable sounding desserts.
Had I any room left, I would have finished with an authentic Italian limoncello, a drink that cast its spell on me at a restaurant in Florence a few years ago. But I was satiated, and now under Poggio’s unique spell of warm, attentive service, and Chef Balesteri’s scrumptious dishes. Poggio (“hill” in Italian) is certainly at the top of the list of Bay Area Italian restaurants, and is a destination-worthy dining experience that pleases locals and tourists alike.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Bridgeway (at Bay Street), Sausalito. (415) 332-7771. www.poggiotrattoria.com.