Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal
When a neighborhood patriarch raves about a nearby restaurant, and you drive by it almost daily and haven’t been even once, it’s time for a try.
It’s easy to notice the sign for Cafe Arrivederci on San Rafael’s Miracle Mile corridor but curb appeal is not its strong suit. For devoted regulars though, the almost 25-year-old restaurant has become an oasis delivering the comfort of familiarity — a warm greeting, attentive service and a consistent menu. The wait staff is clad in black, lending a level of formality.
“It’s traditional, and we like it that way,” says co-owner and general manager Pedro Ulloa. He is the face of the place and is wherever he needs to be — behind the bar mixing drinks, shuttling food from the kitchen, making the rounds to check on customers and always ready to engage.
This is a white tablecloth establishment where a large number of diners have held onto the old-fashioned grace of getting dressed up for dinner. You’ll see coats and ties (maybe with a napkin tucked into the shirt collar to ward off marinara splatters); group dinners with co-workers; and grandparents bringing their offspring and offspring’s offspring for a special occasion.
The menu is classic Italian — from antipasti to pastas to salads, entrees and pizzas. Inspiration hails from co-owner Carlo Scatena, who opened his first of nine Marin restaurants in 1983 after moving to San Francisco from the province of Lucca, Italy, in his early 20’s. The late restaurateur, who passed away in April, opened Café Arrivederci in 1995 with Ulloa who had been working for him since the beginning.
Dinner begins with a basket of bread from La Brea Bakery. The restaurant purchases it partially done and finishes it off in the oven, giving it a warm, freshly baked appeal.
Zucchine fritti ($8) was a must given my neighbor’s praise. Wedges are breaded and lightly fried creating bubbles across the top. It doesn’t swoon in flavor or texture on its own — does zucchini ever? — but has a tasty ranch dipping sauce and is a nice, light start to a hearty Italian meal. We preferred it to the salad ($11) with crisp but aging hearts of romaine showcasing a quality, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.
A craving for comfort food will be satisfied by ravioli Arrivederci ($17), filled with meat or cheese and smothered with house-made bolognaise ($17,) or the pappardelle alla salsiccia ($19), with wide fettuccine noodles, mild Italian sausage and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce.
The generously portioned and fork-tender chicken parmigiana ($20) is my favorite (my neighbor’s is the eggplant with lots of house-made marina sauce and melted mozzarella). All entrees are served with potatoes and vegetables du jour. It was my lucky day to score potatoes au gratin, which were excellent but a heavy-duty accompaniment to the big dish.
Ulloa says favorites of the house are filet of salmon piccatini ($27) in a creamy caper lemon butter sauce, marinated lamb chops with sangiovese and wild herb sauce ($35), and fresh petrale sole filet in tomato and basil sauce ($25).
It’s hard to tell exactly where to approach the entrance at G and Second streets. Turns out there are two: the first leads to a hallway that passes three separate dining spaces, two of which accommodate private events. The main entrance is through a pleasant, open air, rustic concrete patio with a mismatched ring of wrought iron tables arranged around an empty center. Glass panels dampen the sound of road traffic. We dined there on a hot evening when the dim interior seemed more inviting for a cozy winter night.
The main indoor dining room is elevated above the entry and full bar and has cheerful yellow walls. It’s quiet with the only audible sound coming from the murmur of voices, shaking of martinis and clanking of dishes; some background music would help.
It’s usually the ol- school eateries and country clubs that offer a generous pour of wine and the restaurant delivers from a limited list of California and Italian wines at refreshing prices ($8.50 to $14 lass; $16 to $210 bottles, including a reserve selection).
For an outsider like myself, it’s easy to appreciate the solid sense of warmth and camaraderie at Café Arrivederci and to notice that instead of changing on pace with an ever-evolving Marin dining scene, there’s success in sticking with things just the way they are.
“We’re blessed with very loyal customers,” says Ulloa. “If you take care of them, they take care of you, and that’s a good thing.”
Thanks for the introduction, neighbor.
Leanne Battelle is a freelance food writer. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments or restaurant recommendations. Or you can follow the Marin dining scene at instagram.com/therealdealmarin.
Address: 11 G St., San Rafael
Cuisine: Classic Italian
Noise level: Low
Liquor selection: Full bar
Vegan dishes: No
Gluten-free selections: Limited
Organic offerings: Limited
Dog friendly: No
Parking: Free street or lot
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays
Prices: $19 to $25
Summary: Tradition reigns at this quarter-century-old classic Italian restaurant with a homey menu and service that makes you feel like family.