Antipasto Platter, Spicy Grilled Poussin with Sicilian-Style Eggplant and Mint, Chocolate Pot de Crème with Malted Hot Chocolate and Triple Chocolate Cookie
Occupation: CEO, founder of a wireless healthcare company
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Incanto
Reviewed Incanto: Thursday, October 6, 2005
This is my second visit to Incanto. One of the keys to any fine dining restaurant is consistency, and they deliver/execute on that note. At the end of the day, the best rustic Italian dining experience should feel like eating in someone’s home. Without having to close your eyes too hard, Incanto does get you there; the diners seem to sense that a good meal is under way. Parking aside, that is why it is on the cusp of transitioning from a favorite neighborhood joint to a destination Bay Area restaurant.
Incanto does some of the small touches in a nice way. For example, they offer complimentary still or sparking filtered water, and between courses, they remove and replace all of your silverware, clean the table, and offer fresh small plates and serving spoons in anticipation of people sharing some of the courses. The room — especially the front — still feels is a bit stiff; it either needs to develop a lived-in patina or soften up a bit. All the dishes (flavor, texture, presentation) are solid/good — it is just a question of which dishes are ready to rise above to the “excellent” arena. Over time, I bet that over 80% of the dishes will get to the excellent arena. Perhaps more intriguing than the food is the compelling wine list, and the restaurant’s commitment to bring the diner into the Italian wine experience. For example, Incanto is offering flights of wine to expose the diner without the diner having to commit to a whole bottle too early.
I have recommended this restaurant to friends who want try a new restaurant and who are searching for a very solid Italian meal.
Occupation: Software Support Sales Operations
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Old Krakow
Reviewed Incanto: Monday, October 3, 2005
My best friend and I used to live in Italy, so I was delighted to invite her along for my clandestine Incanto experience. She only had one night free, and we managed to get reservations for 5:45pm on a Monday night. It turns out the reason the reservation openings were few and far between was because we stumbled into a cookbook signing honoring Michael Recchiuti’s (Ferry Building) new book on chocolate. In fact, the entire prix fixe menu had a chocolate theme except for the walnut pasta dish. We were in for an adventure.
I am already a fan of Incanto. I have even purchased a gift certificate from them to share my appreciation for their good food and elegant dining experience. Without having to drive downtown, Incanto is right up there with Rubicon, Zuni, etc. So, for this evening, my friend and I were very discerning about everything we ate, because for the price, you want perfect.
Having already addressed my appreciation of the “monastic” architectural features in line with the name and style of food, I will focus on our evaluation of each dish. The shaved apple salad was fantastic. The flavors complimented each other beautifully. Tart and sweet apple, salty chewy pancetta, and smoky crunchy nibs of cocoa gave our mouths the full spectrum of taste experience. Great opener.
The next course was the spaghettini with walnut pesto. We liked the garlic and expert preparation of the cooked, crushed walnut (easy to over heat and bring out a rancid flavor — this, fortunately, did not happen). The letdown of this dish was that the cheese was so salty, it was a bit overpowering. We like cheese but if we were to fix this recipe ourselves, we would have added fresh chopped parsley to lighten the palate, or added a sprinkling of currants to sweeten the dish while adding more texture. Ironically, we overheard the chef, Chris Cosentino, proudly explain that the pasta dish was from his family. It did have a comfort food quality, but it was our least favorite dish that evening.
Drum roll. The pork in chocolate agrodolce was outstanding. It was a thirteenth century stew recipe, which grew out of the crusades whereby the crusaders learned to preserve meats with spices. The chocolate gravy was mouthwatering. The sultanas and shredded fresh mint added so much character to the chunks of tender, falling-apart pork. It was totally new and fantastic. I loved that it was a meal inspired from the very distant past. The wine pairing was sensational and the quantity of food just right. Straight A.
After the rich stew, we slowly made our way to the desserts. It was time for Michael Recchiuti’s chocolate star to shine. They served a triple threat of chocolate treats. We really loved the malted hot chocolate because it was so decadent to drink and served in a cute little glass. The pot de crème was great because it wasn’t overly sweet. The chocolate cookie came alive when dipped in coffee.
We found out they were signing the chocolate cookbooks, so we had the two authors sign our menus instead. In the true spirit of chocolate, they insisted on using a chocolate-colored Sharpie to sign and were willing participants in my silly signing request. They must have been thinking, “Lady, buy my book.” But I’m thinking, “I just bought your dinner and I have more cookbooks than I can handle.” So, I felt really naughty because they could see me on TV and freak out. Really, everyone was nice — especially Chris Cosentino, who was on a restaurant party high. He was out of the kitchen in chef attire and mingling with his little tow-headed boy — 18 mos — in his arms. He seemed to know a lot of people there. He even chatted with us — we’re moms. Ultimately, I felt like we crashed a party and had a devilish smile on our faces for the remainder of the day.
Occupation: Dean, Science, Technology, & Allied Health Programs
Favorite Restaurant: Hard Knox Cafe
Reviewed Incanto: Thursday, October 6, 2005
Can a restaurant and wine bar hold its own when the reviewer doesn’t drink wine? If it’s Incanto, the answer is yes!!! Incanto is a stylish, corner restaurant that feels like a destination site, but it’s situated right in Noe Valley. It’s just a stone’s throw from the Mission Dolores, so you can imagine that it has a regular clientele of people coming in to have a bite and a glass of wine after work, who are also within walking distance of their home.
The floor-to-ceiling windows welcome in the community and prospective diners with a promise of an interesting and fun dining experience. What attracted me right away was the glassed-in cooler near the entrance with sausages and hams hanging for curing. The high ceiling and Italianesque columns suggest a modern trattoria. Waiters were bustling about with bottles of wine and decanters of the advertised and much appreciated complimentary “filtered Hetch Hetchy water, still or sparkling!” No need to buy Pellegrino here!
As the hostess seated us at a requested table by the window, I asked her for the antipasto platter for two ($18), which included the house-cured meats. It arrived as we were reviewing the menu with the waiter along with a plate of the most delicious house made, pencil-thin breadsticks, focaccia, and a coarsely ground olive tapenade.
There are so many wines to order by the bottle or glass, that I’m sure many would enjoy a very nice meal of just the antipasto platter and a glass or two of wine, along with the bread. The platter included two thick slices of pâté, an assortment of olives, numerous slices of sausages and meats, and the tiniest pepperoncini, carrots, and radishes with their green tops a colorful garnish for the plate. Mixing the olive spread with the roast garlic made a rich accompaniment for the focaccia. My partner had a glass of Italian sparkling wine, and the water was just as fine an accompaniment for me. The hostess, the waiter, and the servers were all very knowledgeable about each component of the plate.
We ordered two entrees, a braised pork dish with polenta ($18) and a grilled poussin (like a large cornish hen) with eggplant ($19). They came right on cue (it took us about twenty minutes to finish the antipasto) and were just delicious. The pork was especially succulent with just enough rendered pork fat left to give the meat a smooth, contrasting texture. My partner never orders polenta (she thinks of it as just like Cream of Wheat) and she found it to be creamy, buttery, and the ideal complement to the pork. The escarole, slightly bitter but a very vibrant green, added a tasty and colorful contrast for the dish. The poussin was also beautiful — split in half, and wonderfully grilled. I usually don’t like the breast meat because it’s often dry, but this one was juicy and full of flavor, as were the legs. The tiny bones could be chewed on to get the last bits of the taste from the entree. The accompanying eggplant was a little dark for the plate and, although I liked the eggplant, I actually left one last piece on the plate…too much of a good thing to be the only pairing for the meat.
The desserts all sounded great, and we shared one: a cupcake-sized date torta. It was fine — reminiscent of a gingerbread my mom used to make, nice and moist –but the star of the dessert was the orange-scented crème fraîche.
The entire experience of a late dinner in a bustling — but not too noisy — restaurant, where folks seemed to be enjoying life after work, and with a view of a real street with a streetcar, and neighbors walking their dogs, and where the service was professional and not too pushy, made this a restaurant we would come back to soon. We can’t wait to try some of the other appetizers and interesting-sounding pastas.