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Walnut Creek Magazine

Rustic Fare and Urban Vibes at Union Street’s Contrada Restaurant & Wine Bar

Mar 12, 2017 02:18PM ● By Fran Miller

Contrada bar. Photo by Mike Norquist

Photo by Mike Norquist

Enter Contrada, the stylish new restaurant and wine bar in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, and the wafting scent of perfectly blistered pizza sets the mood. Is there not a more convivial food than pizza? The wood-fired pies coming forth from the blazing hot Stefano Ferrara Napoli pizza oven (located center stage in the small open kitchen) elicit oohs and ahhs from the crowd of contented diners that includes young professionals, families, girlfriend groups, and date-nighters. A vibrant and welcoming atmosphere gives Contrada a lived-in, “always been part of the neighborhood” vibe. One would never know that this hot spot opened just a few months ago.

Contrada Interior. Photo by Mike Norquist

That spirited undercurrent is exactly what Contrada’s managing partners Dena Grunt and Mick Suverkrubbe sought to capture in working with designer Rachel Simone on the restaurant’s mood and design. Highlighting the juxtaposition of the San Francisco Bay Area's rustic elements with a touch of New York edge, they’ve achieved their goal. Large front windows open to Union Street’s urban energy; interior walls feature reclaimed Lost Coast redwood panels. Accents include brass Edison light fixtures, glam antique mirrors, and sleek grey Venetian plaster. A walnut bar, leather stained alder wood dining room tables, antique oak-inspired flooring, and riveted blackened steel along windows and floors add edgy polish. And that’s just the inside. Contrada’s bonus outdoor spaces include a twinkle-lit and heat lamp-warmed cedar deck that seats 40 for al fresco dining, and a wine garden with blue slate tile, plush greenery, and lounge furniture.
Meatballs with tomato sugo and burrata. Photo by Amanda Liberman

Photo by Mike Norquist

Though the aesthetics are a natural draw, Contrada’s true glory is its food. Chef Jason Tuley (formerly with Picco Restaurant and Pizzeria in Larkspur, and Oakland’s Parlour) heads the kitchen. He brings a rustic yet refined culinary artistry to his menu, showcasing wood-fired cookery, housemade pastas, and slow roasted meats. An avid hunter, forager and fisherman, Tuley exhibits a firm commitment to using quality ingredients and presenting them simply and elegantly in his signature Cal-Ital style. Menu items include Farro-Juniper Rigatoni with wild boar sugo and year-aged pecorino; Squid Ink Bucatini with Dungeness crab, chilis and smoked bread crumbs; Local Clam Pizza with Calabrian chili, wild nettle, cured lemon and tomato sauce; and Wood-Oven Grilled Romanesco with capers, charred lemon and bottarga. Generously portioned Antipasti selections can serve as preludes or main courses: Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate – a thick slice of grilled country bread slathered in smokey pate; prime beef brisket and Kurobuta pork shoulder Meatballs with tomato sugo and burrata, and Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Ribs, and Roasted Beet Salad, for instance. 

Farro-Juniper Rigatoni. Photo by Mike Norquist

The extensive wine list features sixteen reds and whites on tap, as well as a rotating roster of sparkling and regionally focused Italian wines by the glass from a sustainably-focused Cal-Italian bottle list. Eight local beers on tap, twelve by the bottle, and three unique, low ABV Italian-inspired cocktails round out the beverage offerings. The full menu is served at the front-of-house bar, as well as at four counter station seats overlooking the kitchen. 

Contrada (named for the 17 contradas, or communities, that race annually in Siena's Palio) just recently appeased the brunch crowd with Saturday and Sunday offerings such as Soft Scrambled Farm Eggs with Josey Baker seeded toast and black truffles, Short Rib Hash with over easy farm eggs and smashed Zuckerman Farms potatoes, and House-Made Sausage with Anson Mills polenta, poached eggs, and tomato sugo. A selection of specialty brunch cocktails is punctuated by a classic peach Bellini, making a trip across the bridge worth the trek. * Make sure to take a pre or post meal walk along vibrant Union Street to fully appreciate the urban energy that Contrada so perfectly captures.

County Line carrots with blood orange. Photo by Amanda Liberman

Contrada, 2136 Union St., San Francisco, is open six nights a week for dinner 5 – 10pm, and is closed on Tuesdays. On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant remains open until 12:30am, Brunch is served 12pm to 3pm Saturdays and Sundays.