Pesce's Castro Move | Tasting Table San Francisco

The surroundings are quite different, but the Venetian seafood remains the same

Pesce doesn't look anything like it used to.

Adriano Paganini and Ruggero Gadaldi's longtime Russian Hill restaurant used to be snug and golden. Last month it grew up–or rather, filled out–moving to a expansive, bright, marble-and-white-walled Castro space with less than a month of downtime.

A grateful neighborhood has brought Pesce new energy, with locals squeezing onto bar stools to eat when they can't get a table.

What isn't new is Gadaldi's menu of Venetian-inspired small plates. Nor is his kitchen staff. Assisted by former Scala chef Jen Biesty, the cooks know his food, whether it's a single crisp bacala fritter ($2.50), the insides a creamy salt-cod purée, or yellowtail crudo ($12) scattered with floral, crackly pink peppercorns. They also know that summer squash ($6)–braised with onions, tomatoes and a big glug of olive oil–seems the simplest side dish until a bite reveals its succulence.

Frankly, some of the new menu elements (flatbreads, new cocktails) need a closer edit. The servers are still feeling their way around the bigger room.

But Pesce classics, like delicately oceanic squid-ink risotto ($14) and satiny coins of braised octopus ($13) with potato and celery and electrified with a jolt of lemon juice, are just as good in their new surroundings.

New look, same voice.