Saturday, August 25, 2012


Incanto takes great pride in serving sustainably grown and harvested produce, meats and seafood because they "aspire to leave the world better off for future generations and because food tastes better when its ingredients are the product of thoughtful stewardship."  Located in the Noe Valley of San Francisco, Incanto offers contemporary Italian fare with a daily changing menu that almost always includes one or two dishes featuring "odd cuts" and offal because "serving these parts of the animal honors the whole animal and helps preserve an important, yet increasingly overlooked, part of our culinary heritage."

Competing now on Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters is Chris Cosentino.  Knowing he has a restaurant in San Francisco, I had to get reservations for the weekend we would be there. Buzzing and packed with diners, we arrived on time for our late dinner, yet there was no hostess to greet us and a crowd of people near the entry way.  Shortly, the hostess returned to the front and I scooted around the lingering people and told her our name that the reservation was under.  She immediately escorted us to a table. Phew! I was worried we might have to wait longer, but I guess that large group of people did not have reservations, or perhaps they were on their way out, who knows...all that mattered is that we were seated and I was happy.  I had a slight view into the kitchen and the expediting area and kept peaking to see if Chef Chris was in tonight.  Sure enough, I saw him and he took time to visit with a table of his friends and later to take pictures with a view other admirers.  It is always nice to see a celebrity chef's physical presence in the restaurant.  It makes me think they still care and have not let the glamour of being on TV get to their heads.  Also in the dining room this night was another celebrity who I will not name for sake of privacy, but will say is a young billionaire who created a very popular social media website that recently sold shares on the public market.  Figured it out?  Well he was sitting at the table next to us with his lovely wife and another couple.  They were casually dressed and did not make any special requests nor did I see any of the servers fussing over them the entire night.  Seeing him gave me high hopes that if the food was good enough for a billionaire, I am sure it is good enough for little 'ole me.

Now, let me get to our experience.  First, our server was a stunningly tall gal who was very passionate about her job, as was apparent with her polite manners and in depth explanation of dishes as they arrived.  She checked in on us at the appropriate times throughout the evening and did not make me feel rushed as other places do.  We ordered a bottle of red wine and decided to start with a few items to share.  We ordered the house-marinated olives, not knowing that a complimentary bread basket with olive tapenade would quickly follow. Oh well, the mix of olives were warm and spicy.  Very different than I've had before and quite tasty.  We also ordered the Boccalone salumi platter in the small "piglet' size.  This was a generous platter of fresh meats including salumi, cappicola, mortadella, as well as fresh beets and radishes. Next, we shared a lovely roasted sweet peppers & goat cheese bruschetta.  This appetizer was very rustic and a classic Italian starter with great flavors.  Each of these starters were spot on so far and we were off to a great meal.

For my main dish I chose the Paccheri - a large short tube pasta - tossed tonight with local squid in a sauce made of ink and sorrel,a type of green herb.  Another rustic and hearty dish with lots of baby squid.  Keith decided on the lamb, which was a slow roasted shoulder piece with Borlotti beans, pole beans and hayoli as well as a lamb sausage link.  We both enjoyed the mains, and were pretty full.  But I wanted the full experience so I inquired about the dessert offerings.  Our server recommended the Vanilla Cake with Ice Cream and Berry Compote.  The dessert was a bit small and lackluster compared to the other dishes of the evening.  Clearly not a strong point for the restaurant and I would skip it entirely had I known.

When our bill came, we noticed an extra service charge (5% of the total bill).  Incanto is one of a small number of U.S. restaurants that includes a partial fee on each diner’s check because of "concern about the widening wage inequities that exist between tipped employees and non-tipped employees in San Francisco’s restaurants.  Although our talented, hard-working waiters and bussers deservedly receive much of the recognition and financial reward for serving your dinner, our equally diligent cooks and dishwashers also provide a critical part of your service. We use the funds from this service charge to offer comprehensive medical benefits to all our full-time employees and to share part of the rewards from each night’s work with non-tipped kitchen employees."  This is a commendable cause and something we were happy to oblige with.  Overall, our dining experience at Incanto was an excellent and memorable evening with top notch service and passionate food.  A couple points were lost for accessibility, as we were staying downtown and had to take MUNI and then walk a couple blocks through an unknown neighborhood, which would be fine for locals but probably not appealing to most tourists.  We noticed not very many other businesses were around, so it is not like we could have popped over to another bar or restaurant for after-dinner drinks. Our server even offered to call us a cab, knowing that their location was a bit out of the way.  Also, reservations are needed in advance due to "celebrity" status.  Otherwise, be prepared to wait a while.

Total Rating: 4.33
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 3

What I ate:
House-marinated Olives

Boccalone Salumi Platter: Piglet 

Roasted Sweet Peppers & Goat Cheese Bruschetta

with local squid, ink & sorrel

Vanilla Cake with Ice Cream and Berry Compote

Plus Keith ate:
Borlotti beans, pole beans & hayoli

Incanto on Urbanspoon

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