Chimney Sweep

Fior D’ Italia – San Francisco, California

Fior D’Italia closed his Doors in May 2012 to sad howls from the San Francisco culinary community. The restaurant was already venerable back then: for 126 years it served Presidents and Pavarotti plates of pasta and veal. It was not a bad run for a place that started in a brothel in 1886.

But San Francisco only went out without Fior D’Italia for about six months. The restaurant reopened in December 2012 in the same location below the San Remo Hotel on a quiet street in North Beach. Regulars hurried to the long, dark bar at the entrance, while neat waiters with platters of osso buco and zabaglione with berries glided across the soft carpeting.

Purists may argue that the restaurant’s multiple changes of ownership, moves, and closings (due to fires, the 1906 earthquake, and financial turmoil in 2012) could disqualify it from the title of “America’s Oldest Italian Restaurant.” But the venue claims the name anyway. It might as well be. From feeding San Franciscans in the days of the wild Barbary Coast to pulling out soup kettles of minestrone to feed displaced citizens after the earthquake, the history of the restaurant and town are intertwined.

The restaurant offers a handful of items from its original 1886 menu, such as veal schnitzel (albeit at an inflation-adjusted price). The menu is generally based on northern Italy, where head chef Gianfranco Audieri is from, and Petto di pollo Ligure is a particular favorite.

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