Here you find the delicacies and the niceties of Italian living. At first glance it looks as if you were in any one of the American grocery stores of down-town, but a closer examination reveals the fact that these canned goods and these boxes and jars, hold peculiar foods that you are unaccustomed to. Perhaps you will find a clerk who can speak good English, but if you cannot either of the Costa brothers will be glad to show you the courtesy of answering your questions.
Turn around and look at the shelves filled with bottles of wine. Now you feel that you are on safe ground, for you know about wines and can talk about Cresta Blanca, and Mont Rouge, and Asti Colony Tipo Chianti. But wait a minute. Here are labels that you do not understand and wines that you never even heard of. Here are wines whose taste is so delicious that you wonder why it is the whole world is not talking about it and drinking it.
Here are wines from the slopes of Aetna, sparkling and sweet. Here are wines from grapes grown on the warm slopes of Vesuvius, and brought to early perfection by the underground fires. Here are wines from the colder slopes of mountains; wines from Parma and from Sicily and Palermo where the warm Italian sunshine has been the arch-chemist to bring perfection to the fruit of the vine. Here are still wines and those that sparkle. Here the famed Lacrima Christi, both spumanti and fresco, said to be the finest wine made in all Italy, and the spumanti have the unusual quality for an Italian wine of being dry. But to tell you of all the interesting articles to be found in these Italian, and French and Mexican stores, would be impossible, for some of them have not been translated into English, and even the storekeepers would be at a loss for words to explain them.
This is all a part of the Bohemianism of San Francisco, and that is why we are telling you about it in a book that is supposed to be devoted to the Bohemian restaurants. The fact is that San Francisco's Bohemian restaurants would be far less interesting were it not for the fact that they can secure the delicacies imported by these foreign storekeepers to supply the wants of their people.
But do not think you have exhausted the wonders of Little Italy when you have left the stores, for there is still more to see. If you were ever in Palermo and went into the little side streets, you saw the strings of macaroni, spaghetti and other pastes drying in the sun while children and dogs played through and around it, giving you such a distaste for it that you have not eaten any Italian paste since.
But in San Francisco they do things differently. There are a number of paste factories, all good and all clean. Take that of P. Fiorini, for instance, at a point a short distance above Costa Brothers. You cannot miss it for it has a picture of Fiorini himself as a sign, and on it he tells you that if you eat his paste you will get to be as fat as he is. Go inside and you will find that Fiorini can talk just enough English to make himself understood, while his good wife, his sole assistant, can neither speak nor understand any but her native Italian. But that does not bother her in the least, for she can make signs, and you can understand them even better than you understand the English of her husband.
Here you will see the making of raviolis by the hundred at a time. Tagliarini, tortilini, macaroni, spaghetti, capellini, percatelli, tagliatelli, and all the seventy and two other varieties. The number of kinds of paste is most astonishing, and one wonders why there are so many kinds and what is done with them. Fiorini will tell you that each kind has its distinctive use. Some are for soups, some for sauces, and all for special edibility. There are hundreds of recipes for cooking the various pastes and each one is said to be a little better than the others, if you can imagine such a thing.
Turn another corner after leaving Fiorini's and look down into a basement. You do not have to go to the country to see wine making.