Though the name of this Castro newcomer, Starbelly, has most people thinking about Dr. Seuss, I'm going to go ahead and date myself as a '90s teenager by announcing that the restaurants name evokes nothing so much as the Bikini Kill song "Star-Bellied Boy." (Not to be confused with the Hole song "Star Belly"). In that riot-girl anthem the girls rock out, screaming "Star-bellied boy different from the rest, you're so different from the rest, prove you're different from the rest."
Why am I bringing this up? Well, because it was those lyrics that were echoing through my head last night as I waited an hour plus for a table at the brand-spanking new restaurant. I am hungry for something new here in San Francisco, eager for someone to take a chance. Prove you're different from the rest! But, alas, Starbelly is not that restaurant. Owned by two of the partners involved in insta-hit Beretta, Starbelly is a good restaurant. In the Castro it might even be considered a great restaurant, since there is, inexplicably, a dirth of great places to eat in that little hamlet. It is not a second Beretta, mind you, not least of all because they don't have cocktails, a fact that they have more than made up for with a great, affordable wine list and lots of fun beer-based and non-alcoholic drinks. But it does share with Beretta a kind of easy-going menu, and really feels like the kind of place you could go for a few snacks, a pizza (yes, of course, there is pizza on the menu) or a full meal. It's easy like Sunday morning in there (and, bonus, they are open on Sunday mornings, and Saturdays, for brunch, and serve lunch Monday through Friday).
I cut a swath through the menu, and an early stand-out is the excellent porcetta, the meat juicy and redolent of fennel, with a crispy, potato-chip like strip of skin and a bright, acidic salsa verde helping to cut the fat. For $29 you can, and should, add a bottle of Lagrein rose to your order. And in a couple weeks, when the back patio is finished and open for business, you can enjoy this lovely late-summer feast in plein air. So, no, they're not proving to be different from the rest, but they are proving that finally, at long last, there is hope of getting a solid, inexpensive meal in the Castro.