1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA 94131
Open Wednesday through Monday for dinner (closes at 9:30 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays, and 10:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday)
I have been infatuated with Chris Cosentino since the “Chef’s vs. City” series with Aaron Sanchez, and his favorite things to eat/drink on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Yes. I said it. Infatuation.
I had been scoping out Incanto’s website, sample menu, and the numerous reviews from patrons for months. Chris Cosentino is famous for his Offal-style of cooking, which uses parts of the animal that “fall off” during the butchering process.
We initially made plans to play in SF a few weekends before the end of January, so I called to make dinner reservations for two at Incanto. As luck would have it, they closed their dining room to the public for a private dinner party. Yay for them, boo for me. So we took it as a sign and decided not to visit SF that weekend. But fortunately, another opportunity came up to visit SF a few weeks later, called Incanto, and had dinner reservations for 6:45 p.m.
I was giddy like a school girl crushing on her best friend when I first stepped foot into Incanto. I just about turned straight when I saw Chris Cosentino working his magic in the kitchen. It was love at first sight. Sigh. The restaurant was bustling, so we were asked to wait for a few minutes as they were setting up our table. Our tummies grumbled as we saw the cured salumi hanging from the display case in front of the waiting area. Mmmmm, salty pig parts.
Once seated, we were asked if we wanted complimentary sparkling or still water. What?!? Exactly. I’ve never been to a restaurant that served free sparkling water. Nonetheless, we decided on still water because that’s what we like. We scoured the wine menu, and my partner was between two different reds but couldn’t decide on one. So she decided on the “mystery flight” instead, which was three different half-glasses of wine of the restaurant’s choosing. This is the perfect choice for those who like variety.
Although the menu changes daily, there are recurring signature dishes. I had been studying the sample menus and reviews for so long, that I already had an idea of what we were going to order. But then our waiter presented the daily specials, and this immediately put a wrench into what I originally wanted. He had me at porchetta cooked in garlic and thyme. Since we already had salumi at Boccalone’s not too long ago, we decided to forego the salumi platter (even though that’s what I wanted to begin with) for the porchetta. We also ordered the small “spaghettini with Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk & parsley” as a mid-course dish, the “pork cheeks, cippolini and polenta,” and the “oxtails with sweetbreads”. The last two of which were our main entrees.
After we placed our order, we were brought a wonderful plate of breadsticks, slices of ciabatta and focaccia, accompanied by an olive tapenade. The breadsticks were crunchy, with hints of fennel. The ciabatta was airy and fluffy, with a nice crusty crust. The focaccia was also airy and fluffy, with a nice buttery crust. All the breads were very fresh! The olive tapenade was really, really good. I’m not a big fan of olive tapenade because it can be so overly salty for my taste buds. But the olive tapenade at Incanto had a delicate flavor, but not overly salty. I was spreading that onto my bread by the spoonfuls. Even my partner said that the only reason why I was thoroughly enjoying the tapenade was because it wasn’t too salty. She knows me too well. Our waiter asked if we wanted more bread after we devoured ours in five minutes. Yes. Five minutes. What can I say? I love my carbohydrates. We ended up with three refills of bread and tapenade over our course of appetizers to main entrees. It was that good.
The porchetta was melt-in-your-mouth goodness. It had just the right amount of salt, but not overly salty, and had hints of garlic and thyme. The dish was accompanied by pickled radishes, and topped with capers. For those who are unfamiliar with porchetta, it is a savory, fatty, and tasty boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. It is arranged with layers of meat, fat, and skin, then rolled and roasted. It is generously salted and cooked with garlic, rosemary, fennel, and/or other herbs.
The Spaghettini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk & parsley came out next. This was the dish that I had been scoping out for months, and it certainly lived up to the dream. The aromas of this dish awakened my foodie senses. I mixed up the egg yolk into the pasta dish, and divvied up the pasta onto our two plates. It was literally fork to mouth to savor. And then, the “Mmmmmmm.” I was a little nervous the dish was going to be too “fishy.” Instead, it had a very earthy, natural taste. The cured, salty Sardinian tuna heart was perfectly balanced out by the creaminess of the egg yolk. Yum.
We were presented our main entrees, which the delicious smells emanating from the plates just about sent us over the edge. The pork cheek, cippolini and polenta was flavorful and tender. The pork cheeps were braised and served atop a creamy bed of pillowy polenta, with cippolini floating atop it as well. It was the most tender piece of meat that just melted in your mouth. It was almost like butta. If you’ve never had pork cheeks before, I suggest it as a must the next time you see it on a dining menu.
The oxtails and sweetbread was the most special course of the meal. The oxtails were shaped into a patty and seemed like it was pan-fried, almost as if it were pan-fried slices of spam. The rubbery, delicate texture of the sweetbreads seemed to match perfectly with the crispiness of the oxtails. The sweetbreads tasted like a fatty piece of pork belly. If you don’t know what sweetbreads are, they are usually the thymus gland of the cow. I know. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it is completely the opposite. It’s like a party in your mouth.
By the way, this place may not be very appetizing for those of you who are not an adventurous eater or who are vegetarian. There are “safe” things to eat on the menu, and some vegetarian options, but why bother? No, I’m not a vegetarian racist… I love my vegetarian/vegan days. But it seems like almost a waste of a dining experience to not try the offal.
We really wanted dessert, but couldn’t bring ourselves to eat anymore. I think it was all the bread 🙂 So we opted out for dessert. We made a pact that we’d get dessert the next time we’re at Incanto!
Oh the wonderful things Chef Cosentino and his staff can do with offal. It’s brilliant. Just brilliant. I can’t wait to go back!