Cafe Altano is located in the quiet neighborhood of Hayes Valley in San Francisco. A perfect spot for a weekday date night or quick bite before the ballet, Cafe Altano never disappoints. It's a small European-style cafe with minimalist decor and large windows facing Laguna Street. There is a small outside alcove on the Hayes Street side with a few high tops for those warm San Francisco nights. I've been to Cafe Altano twice now, both times before I've gone to the opera or ballet. The service is fast, maybe a bit too fast. Both times, our food arrived within 5 minutes of ordering. To me this is both a good and bad thing. It's great because most people on those two nights were there are scarfing down their food to catch a show and it's a bad thing because it leaves me with the impression the food isn't made fresh, that it's pre-made. I understand how some things can be cooked in advance but not all food, especially fresh fish should come out within 5 minutes. One great thing about Cafe Altano is that you can always get a reservation. Whether it's 7pm on a Friday night or brunch on a Saturday afternoon, there never seems to be a wait. This could be because they turn tables over so fast by getting the food to you within minutes. Good for the customers but not so good for Cafe Altano.
The best part of Cafe Altano is the deliciously simple Italian food. The food is reliable and I've enjoyed every selection I've tasted. The best appetizers are the: polenta cake, mozzarella caprese salad, Chiogga beets salad and the pizza margherita (best to share as an app rather than an entree). The stand out pasta dishes are the: whole wheat pasta with eggplant and zucchini, potato gnocchi, butternut squash ravioli and the linguine with clams, muscles, scallops and shrimp. My friend, Kerstin, ordered the halibut special which was both pleasing to the eyes and stomach. She literally cleaned her plate, it was that delicious. Cafe Altano only serves up wine and beer, and the selection is small but reasonably priced. A good bottle of Zin was only $29. All in all, Cafe Altano is a delicious and reliable Hayes Valley gem. I'll definitely go back before a show for a quick bite.