Cooking and Drinking Through Southern Italy

A16, the terrific southern Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District, is about to publish its first cookbook, called A16: Food + Wine ($35), and my advance copy looks terrific, especially for wine-lovers. There’s so much noise these days about wine pairing—Gewürztraminer with Asian food, say, or Champagne with pizza—that a core principle occasionally gets lost in the shuffle. I’m talking about the fact that wines and cuisines grow up together, and that pairing regional cuisine with its local wine isn’t just an act of cultural fidelity; it’s also a good way to get the flavors right. Drink a Provençal rosé with garlic-intensive aioli, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Buy this book, which is billed as “A cookbook and wine guide celebrating the traditions of southern Italy, from the country’s top southern Italian restaurant,” and you’ll get a few dozen ways to experience the same thing. That’s because wines from southern Italy have so completely taken over A16’s wine list as to make the place a rare kind of specialized wine bar. I’ve never been in a restaurant where I recognized so few varietals, and could order so many by the glass. The food is largely from the same part of the world, so every meal has the potential to be an adventure.

Best of all, the book—which includes delectable-looking recipes for tuna conserva four ways; octopus and ceci bean zuppa with escarole, garlic, and chiles; and roasted sardines with breadcrumbs, green garlic, and mint—appears to have been a genuine labor of love, as you can feel in these opening lines: “A glass of crisp Bombino Bianco paired with a slice of creamy mozzarella burrata. Ruby-red Nero d’Avola served with a blistered pizza margherita. Juicy Casavecchia beside a plate of roasted or grilled rabbit … we don’t just offer these wines to our guests for the sake of discovery, though; the wines simply belong with the gutsy country cooking of Campania.”