Above: Poesia owner Francesco d’lppolito
When Francesco d’Ippolito returns to Italy every year, he looks for DVDs. Currently, he has collected over 150.
The movies, black and white, hail from the 1940s and 50s, a time ruled by Italian film auteurs like Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti. These stories—many showcasing the lives of ordinary people after WWII—are projected silently onto one of Poesia’s walls. Fitting, since the Italian osteria is around the corner from San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.
Poesia (pronounced “Po-eh-see-ah”) first opened its doors in 2008, and owner d’Ippolito jokes that the movies were there to entertain him in case the restaurant wasn’t successful. Luckily, he didn’t have to watch them alone. Over the past twelve years, the movies have sparked conversation among d’Ippolito, his staff, and their guests, ranging from hungry travelers and regulars who live nearby to an impressive coterie of celebrities.
“The right wine with the right food with the right company, it’s like poetry,” d’Ippolito says. “That’s part of the experience that I’ve been trying to offer.”
Poesia means “poetry” in Italian and, for d’Ippolito, art and the experience of eating and sharing food are closely intertwined. He grew up in a large family, and his mother entertained him and his siblings with reading and poetry – and cooking. Family recipes served as the foundation for Poesia’s menu when it first opened, though d’Ippolito had not originally expected the meals of his childhood to translate into a restaurant.
In Italy, he had gone to school with the intention of becoming a dental technician, but d’Ippolito’s first job, passed during youthful summers, remained with him. As a boy, when school ended for the year, d’Ippolito made cappuccinos and served croissants at his neighbor’s little coffee shop in a train station. Over the shared love of pastries and espresso, he bonded with customers, shedding his reserve. Like good poetry, his foray into the restaurant world cracked open the possibilities of what could be.
“I waited every year for the summer to come so I could have this escape from my life,” says d’Ippolito. “It was a way of breaking up from my shyness, being forced to talk to strangers. That job made me feel more myself. That’s how the seed was planted.”
As Poesia has established itself, d’Ippolito has maintained the core desire for connection that first drew him to the service industry. The restaurant does not just have an address in the Castro – it’s become part of the neighborhood’s culture. Poesia sponsors film festivals that take place at the Castro Theatre, and d’Ippolito strives to ensure personal relationships with those who sit at his tables, sipping Pecorino wine with Fusilli al Pesto while La Strada plays on the wall.
D’Ippolito’s passion is especially evident in the care that’s taken to put together the menu: He tastes and chooses each bottle on the wine list, which primarily spotlights Italian wines, and he hires Italian chefs that bring their own style of cooking. Chef Marcello Franceschini, who hails from Sasuolo, a little town north of Bologna, joined Poesia in February, shortly before the restaurant shuttered with the rest of the city.
“I can’t wait to reopen completely to showcase his food,” d’Ippolito says, recommending Franceschini’s homemade Bolognese. “It’s a classic, but you can tell the difference.”
Though in-person dining is still restricted in California, d’Ippolito has been able to open his patio—the ten tables are all socially distanced—and recently received a permit to build a parklet in front of the restaurant, which will offer additional seating. Poesia also offers takeout, delivery, and gift cards, opportunities which have been heartily embraced by the neighborhood.
“The reason why we’re surviving is because of the community. People have been buying takeout, buying gift cards,” says d’Ippolito. “The community has really been showing its support.”
PHOTO CREDITS: Daniel Miramontes; Instagram