What better way to celebrate two foodies’ getting engaged, than to dine out at one of the foremost “snout to tail” restaurants in the country. Incanto (1550 Church St., San Francisco), Chris Cosentino’s restaurant, prides itself on using all parts of the animal. They’re located in the Noe neighborhood of San Francisco on the corner in this quiet residential neighborhood.
The restaurant is something special for the adventurous food lover; they feature multiple dishes that put offal on a pedestal. Offal are all the parts of the animal the typical person discards – the heart, kidneys, liver, tongue, etc. I made the reservation a month in advance to ensure a table, and I was glad as the place was packed when we arrived.
We enjoyed a progressive wine flight of four Italian varietals. A (sparkling) Prosecco, a white from Friuli, a Barbaresco and a Barolo. A variety of wines to work with a variety of foods. We glanced over the menu and after hearing the restaurants’ daily specials, we made our game plan. After hearing about four ridiculous sounding appetizers we decided to order seven appetizers and skip entrees all together! While the entrees all looked great, we decided that choosing several smaller dishes and getting a chance to try more would be the move on this evening. I must note that since most of these dishes were specials, I have limited info as far as ingredients go.
Bread service featured fresh, warm focaccia and a house made multi-grain bread accompanied by a delicious green olive tapenade. The slices were gone in an instant. The server brought us twice as much the next round saving himself at least two trips – smart.
The beef tongue salad was a refreshing light start to the meal. The tongue had an extremely clean beefy flavor. It was sliced quite thin, but thick enough to bring some nice texture. The tongue was served over a fresh sweet and tangy slaw with some thinly sliced apples. Sweet, tart meets rich and savory.
Next was a duck liver pate spread over a house made jalapeno crostini. Creamy, creamy, earthy, funky, gnarly – so good – the essence of umami was in front of us. While the portion looked a big on the skimpy side, all you needed were small unctuous bites at a time to get the full essence of the dish.
Our favorite dish of the evening was the beef heart tartare and botarga – dried mullet roe. I know what you’re thinking…RAW beef heart?! It was the best tartare I’ve tasted. They receive extremely high quality ingredients, and I wouldn’t order tartare of any kind at an unknown restaurant. But here, at Incanto, beef heart was a must. Though the picture is blurry and it may not look appetizing, you must taste this heart to believe it.
Grilled octopus arrived sliced and surrounded by halved grapes of different colors. The meat was extremely tender and had that quintessential right level of char. It was so tender in fact that I would guess it was marinated for at least 12-24 hours. An excellent dish it revealed an unusual pairing for me – the char complemented the sweet grapes nicely. I’m a fan and I’d like to try that combo at home sometime.
Then came crispy sweetbreads, the thymus gland which, when prepared correctly, is crispy on the outside and soft, rich and slightly creamy inside. When not handled correctly, it can give off a slightly “off” flavor that isn’t appealing to anyone. Plus, the texture can be hard to perfect. Cook it too little and it’ll be mushy, too much and it will be too firm.
Incanto knows their sweetbreads and it shows. Soft and delicate. Great rustic flavor. Best sweetbreads I’ve had. Honestly. These are the ones you should have someone sample who is afraid of the thought. The cucumber that accompanied the sweetbreads were fresh and almost necessary to contrast the uber rich and frankly, intense sweetbread.
We were looking forward to the trotter cake. A scrumptious disc of pure porky pleasure. Though still light and delicate, the crispy caramelized crust from a great pan sear works so well with the egg perched atop. Yes, this is a cake of pigs feat. Slow cooked and carefully pulled pig feet meat is extraordinary, again, when prepared with quality products and correct technique. The meat inside was coarse but the fat had rendered down so well that it was so easy and delicate to eat. I mean, when you think about it, why wouldn’t this dish be awesome at a place like Incanto. For real.
The last savory dish was a soffrit and pastini with different kinds of offal. Kidney, liver, heart, and tripe were slowly cooked and came out tender and not at all stanky. The pasta was home made and the server described it as the “end cuts” of the bucatini. The tomato sauce was a 10 on the scale of flavor intensity. Words nor pictures can describe how great the sauce in this dish tasted. Overall, we wished the portion was a bit more, but to keep in line with their reasonable pricing, we were content.
Two dessert courses. First, one of the best buttermilk Panna Cotta we have experienced. Light and airy with a perfect outside skin that holds up until the slightest pressures gives way to the treasure of custardy goodness inside. But more grapes? Really?
Second, the apple crespelle with sweet cream ice cream. What isn’t there to love about perfectly baked pastry crust, freshly caramelized apples, some sugar and super dense and rich homemade ice cream.
After our meal, chef Cosentino met us at the front to congratulate us on our engagement and was also nice enough to take a quick picture and chat for a moment. Dinner was perfect. Just the right way to end the best day of my life thus far.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.