As an Asian American growing up with a love for Italian food, I’m familiar with mixing some of my Asian flavors with traditional Italian dishes like pasta. I mean, have you seen my recipe for black bean clams pasta?

So I was intrigued when I heard about the relatively new restaurant Pesce e Riso, which means “fish with rice” in Italian. Opened in July in the traditional Italian neighborhood of North Beach, the restaurant serves a unique menu of Italian dishes with Japanese influences. Chef-Owner Joe Lin owned a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., in Canada, and when he moved to San Francisco with his wife and decided to open an Italian restaurant, he retained his Japanese cooking style in his dishes.

I was invited recently by the restaurant to check out its new Fall menu, and I went for a weeknight dinner with my friend David, who admitted some skepticism on whether Italian food can be married with Japanese (both cuisine he decidedly likes).

The cozy restaurant, designed by Lin’s architect wife, is near the entrance of North Beach near Grant and Columbus. The decor is homey with a bit of whimsy in the color combinations. For booze, it’s a simple menu of wine and beer, and both David and I started with a glass of wine (a white for him and red for me).

A Japanese sign hangs near the bar serving wine and beer.

The “Emilia” is a creative sushi roll made with tempura asparagus, cantaloupe and prosciutto dressed with an arugula pesto.

The menu is limited but contains a nice variety to give a little bit of something for everyone. Much of the creativity of the Japanese-Italian concept comes through in the starter, like the signature “Emilia” ($18), a “sushi roll” that includes the sweetness of cantaloupe with prosciutto serving as the nori or seaweed wrap. The filling also includes lightly tempura asparagus and arugula pesto. David and I both agreed that all the ingredients seem to play well together, and the rice was nicely done to keep everything together.

Another obvious Italian-Japanese combo is the halibut carpaccio ($16) because both cuisine feature raw fish in some form or fashion. At Pesce e Riso, the carpaccio is served sashimi style and dressed with citrus soy ponzu, but then elevated with fried garlic chips and jalapeno onion salsa.

Paccheri with pork sugo

Lamb lollipop with brown wasabi and caponata

The entrees we tried leaned more toward Italian with maybe a hint of Asian. For example, the paccheri with pork sugo ($18) was your typical pork sugo with pancetta, porcini and pepperoncino. David was impressed by the al dente cook on the paccheri pasta. But the twist of shio miso, which had a distinctive five-spice flavor to me, gave it the bit of Asian touch.

Then a lamb lollipop ($28) was a perfectly cook lamb chops with parsley butter and brown wasabi and caponata. While eggplant, the center of the caponata, is traditional in Italian cooking, it’s also reminiscent of Japanese dishes too, so the slight sweetness in the sauce added the Japanese flair. (And I admit, even though I’m not a fan of eggplant, it was nicely cooked tender but not mushy.)

Traditional Italian affogato

The dessert menu is a bit limited, with a green tea panna cotta and a traditional tiramisu. But on the night I visited, Lin’s pastry chef was out sick so I didn’t have a chance to try the desserts. We did end our meal with affogato, the Italian dessert of ice cream with espresso poured on top. I did suggest to Chef Lin that he could make a real fusion affogato by replacing the vanilla ice cream with a scoop of matcha ice cream. Not sure if he’ll take me up on the suggestion, but we’ll see.

The last bite
While Japanese and Italian cuisine may seem very different, they share more things in common than you’d expect. Pesce e Riso plays up these commonalities well, with nicely plated dishes and quality ingredients. With all the Italian food you can get in North Beach, it’s unlikely that you’ll find Italian dishes like the ones served up here.

Since I was invited as a guest, I’m not doing my typical rating, but this is a restaurant I’m interested in returning to check out other items on the menu. Thanks to Chef Lin for hosting!

The deets: Pesce e Riso, 1224 Grant Ave. (at Columbus), San Francisco. PH: 415.872.9997. Open daily for dinner from 5:30 p.m. except Mondays. Happy hour (with $1 oysters) Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted.

One Response to A Review of Japanese Italian Dishes at Pesce e Riso in San Francisco

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    The marriage of two distinct cuisines seems to work quite well there. I think the key is the subtlety they’re employing so that the flavors meld rather than fight with one another. Definitely have to check that one out.