Christian and I have been saying that Incanto is one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco since our very first visit about two years ago, so it was only fitting that we return there for Christian's birthday this year. I'm always a little nervous when I return to a "favorite" since there's a chance that it won't live up to expectations...but Incanto more than delivered. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since chef Chris Cosentino was just named Top Chef Master recently and is even closer to über-celebrity chef status than ever.
So what do we love so much about Incanto? Well it's Italian to start (yes, we're that easy!) but beyond that chef Cosentino's philosophy about using the whole animal is right up my alley. We love trying new cuts of meat in unique and skillful preparations and that is precisely Cosentino's area of expertise. We honestly have a hard time getting past his "Odds & Ends" special board onto the main menu whenever we go there for dinner! And while we're being honest...I have a total foodie crush on Chris Cosentino. He's like the bad-ass chef without trying too hard...who wouldn't want to come home to his cute face, engaging personality (on T.V. at least!) and delicious cooking every night? Yum.
Ok, moving off the man-meat and onto the real food...our first dish was an amazing take on a traditional prosciutto with fruit plate - Boccalone Ibérico di bellota lardo with roasted figs, hazelnuts & rose thyme. The lardo is delicate with a slight salty-sweet essence that pairs oh-so perfectly with the roasted figs and crunchy hazelnuts. A lovely start to what promised to be a delicious evening!
Next, onto our first special from the Odds & Ends board...beef heart tartare with chives and puffed beef tendons. I know, I know...puffed beef tendons? But if you even remotely like pork rinds you will love these! My only complaint is that there weren't more of them to eat alongside the tartare. The tartare itself was incredibly rich and flavorful. The chives and bit of fish sauce used really brought the flavors together...yum. I think this was Christian's favorite dish of the night.
The Odds & Ends specials board is always so enticing that we ended up getting 3 appetizers...we figured it was fitting to behave like little piggly-wigglys when we were in a restaurant that practically acts as a shrine to pork! Speaking of pork, this third appetizer was a Trotter Cake with Periwinkle Snails and Radishes. Definitely the best trotter cake I've ever had...large succulent pieces of pork leg/foot meat seasoned to perfection in a nicely crisped exterior. The pairings of snails and radishes with trotter cake initially seemed a bit odd (but also why we ordered it) but it really all worked well together.
Onto the entrees...I ordered the Handkerchief Pasta with Rustic Pork Ragu and Sizzled Duck Egg. I love that Incanto offers smaller sizes of their entrees because by the time I got to this the smaller portion was just right. The handmade pasta was perfectly al dente and the flavors in the sauce were divine...although I have to say it was a bit light on the sauce and heavy on the pork. No complaints from me on that front, but when they say "rustic" they mean rustic in terms of the sauce. Slicing up the duck egg on top and letting that rich yolk mix in with the pork ragu and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano...divine! Don't let the idea of an egg on top of your pasta scare you away...it's worth the extra $4.
Christian ordered the Pork Belly with Heirloom Apples, Turnips, Roasted Shallots and Kale. You'd be hard pressed to find a time when there's pork belly on a menu and we don't order it...but Chris Cosentino's pork belly is consistently one of the best around! Paired with the heirloom apples, what a perfect fall dish.
So while the service is honestly never great at Incanto (it's like they're perpetually understaffed in both the kitchen and on the floor) the fact that I barely mentioned it was Christian's birthday in passing as we were ordering wine at the very beginning of the meal yet his dessert still came out with a candle in it was impressive. I'm a big fan of attention to detail like that.
Christian's a chocoholic, so he ordered the Dark Chocolate Crema with Candied Meyer Lemon, Salted Shortbread and Olive Oil Sorbetto. I found this dessert to be good, but not great. Christian really loved the chocolate crema and candied meyer lemon and I really loved the Olive Oil Sorbetto, but as a complete dessert just average.
My dessert, however, was a big winner! Fig Bread Pudding with Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese Ice Cream. That's right, people, Goat Cheese Ice Cream...it's like SavoryGirl's dream ice cream! The bread pudding was moist with a nice crunchy exterior and the roasted figs added the perfect amount of sweetness while the pine nuts added an earthy crunch. The sweet, salty, musky ice cream melting over the top and making its way into every little crevice between the bread was the perfect touch to push this dessert over the edge into pure indulgence. Heavenly!
So next special meal you have to celebrate I strongly recommend heading to Incanto. I imagine reservations will start to get even harder with Chef Cosentino's recent Top Chef Masters win, but it's worth the planning and the wait. Speaking of waiting...as I mentioned, service isn't always super fast. I think our dinner ended up being close to 3 hours and not necessarily because we wanted it to be, but the ambiance and food far offsets that for me. So kick back and settle in for a nice long European style meal and you'll enjoy it just fine. They have a delicious wine list to help keep conversation flowing while you wait for your next course and the servers are very friendly and knowledgable at least. There aren't many places that I'm forgiving of slow service, but this is one of them. Oh, and keep your eyes out...while Chris Cosentino is certainly a celebrity chef in his own right he's always been hard at work at Incanto when I'm there...often making friends at the bar as you can see below. Gotta love a friendly, approachable rock-star chef!
Can't get enough of Incanto? Check out my review & photos of our very first visit to this fabulous restaurant here.