There was a time when the words "Italian street food" conjured one image in my mind—gelato. The treat was all I saw in Italy as a poor college student, not because it actually was the only street food available, but because it was so eye-grabbing and delicious.
Sadly, there is no gelato at Limonata Italian Street Food Caffe (it was nixed from the original menu after the machine broke). Instead, the restaurant has a modest but deeply gratifying conglomeration of quiche, panini, antipasti, candies and pastries. Oh, and some lavish breakfast treats like coconut milk waffles.
The torta pomodoro, a quiche laden with chunks of roasted tomato and caramelized onions, is no slouch either. The custard’s mouthwatering creaminess is cut by the thick, bold tack of the goat cheese and smacks of brunch. It’s also a dish you imagine eating in the aforementioned public gardens in the same sweater, but in the morning. (I'm not saying you slept there.)
We move on to dessert. The exquisite chocolate walnut torte is a cakelette laced with finely ground walnuts, decked out in chocolate ganache. The pear almond torte is equally good, and the imported, bite-sized macarons ($1.50 each) are sheer bliss. A macaron (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) is a confection of flavored cream sandwiched between airy dollops of meringue. Legend has macarons originating in a French convent. How a person could serve both God and these macarons is a question for seminarians.
Now, suppose you aren't a raggedy tramper on a grand tour of Italian streets, nor a poor freelance writer. Suppose you have bank notes to your name and want to bring the best of Italy back to your own kitchen. Limonata has you set with their collection of boutique grocery imports. Offerings include chestnut honey, farro, olives, salt-crusted capers, balsamic vinegar, gluten-free pasta and cookies. The real scene-stealers are candy-colored designer pastas like lingua di suocera (mother-in-law's tongue), a pastel-striped and twisted ribbon; and croxetti, thin, sand dollar-esque medallions stamped with emblems (originally crosses—hence the name).
Is Limonata without fault? There are rare disappointments: You have to strain to taste the lavender in the lavender lemonade, and the croissant I ordered was too dry. But this little Nob Hill oasis is as close to the streets of Italy as we're going to get without leaving the country. Well, minus the gelato.