If you were flying over Russian Hill in a plane, you’d be able to spot Amarena because of it’s Christmas light-covered tree out front. It’s always lit up at night and impossible to miss whenever you’re in (or above) the neighborhood. And while we wish the food made this small Italian spot stand out at as much as it’s year-around holiday decorations, it’s still a good neighborhood place to drop into for a low-key date or with your family for some solid pasta and meat dishes.
The menu here is split between appetizers, pastas, and meat-focused large plates, and it’s the pastas that deserve most of your attention. The linguine a la Vongole has enough clams to share with your friend who always claims they don’t want to split anything when you go out together, and the tagliolini with mushrooms is tossed in a truffle sauce that actually tastes like expensive mushrooms, instead of something that was concocted in a lab. Each of the pastas is light and hits the sweet spot of being filling, but not so much that you’ll fear climbing multiple hills on your walk home after eating something like pappardelle with boar ragout that would normally weigh you down.
The rest of the menu is solid too if you’re burnt out on pasta for whatever reason. Their beef carpaccio with arugula, parmigiano, balsamic, and capers is on par with any of the other good Italian spots around the city, and the gnocco fritto fried bread dough is a great delivery device for cured meats. If you’re with a few other people, split the lamb chops or seafood stew, which are both perfectly good. Or do what we do and just get more pasta, and fill up on the bread served with basil pesto they give you when you sit down.