San Francisco, California – Incanto (Chef Chris Cosentino)

Restaurant: Incanto
Cuisine: Italian/Eclectic
Last visited: November 7, 2010
Location: San Francisco, California (Noe Valley)
Address: 1550 Church Street San Francisco, CA
Price Range: $30-50

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5.5 
Service: 4
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 5.5
Additional comments:

  • Chef Chris Cosentino
  • Creative Italian dishes
  • Traditional Italian techniques
  • Award winning food/wine
  • Casual fine dining
  • Famous for offal
  • Fit for carnivores
  • Very rich food
  • Exotic meats/ingredients
  • Seasonal menu/daily specials
  • Good for groups
  • “Leg of Beast” Dining
  • Busy/Popular
  • Wine bar
  • Reservations recommended
  • Wed-Sat: 5:30pm – 10pm
  • Sun-Mon: 5:30pm – 9:30pm

**Recommendations: Paccheria al Nero (Squid Ink Calamari), Best of parts chicken risotto, Pomegranate-glazed poussin and Douglas Fir Pannacotta. I would stick to ordering the appetizers and pasta dishes over the mains. Whole beast dining (whole pig) is famous here, but requires reservations and 8+ diners.

Blood, guts & organs. If none of that sounds appealing to you, I can sort of relate. I’ve had it before, but it took some warming up to, and even now I haven’t tried everything. I can’t say I started off being one for offal (internal organs of a butchered animal), but when it comes to trying new things and the specialties of a world renowned chef? I’m game! I also want to develop a palate for this sort of stuff and keep an open mind.

Incanto doesn’t serve the “typical” offal like liver, kidneys and hearts though (I consider those the more common ones), they serve all that and more. The menu got pretty adventurous with exotic offal and some parts I didn’t even know were edible. My experience with offal partly has to do with execution, and most of the time I’ve had it it just wasn’t for me. However Chef Chris Cosentino mastered the execution and helped me appreciate it in a new light. While some of the dishes were disguised (it doesn’t have to be for me to like it), some of of the offal was very obvious with a straight up “this is what it looks like” attitude. I have to say that I really do admire a chef that doesn’t waste though, so I really support what he is doing.

I’ve tried offal before mainly in Asian cuisine, but I’ve also had it in other cuisines like Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Latin, lots of French and even some Scottish (haggis). I’ve tried raw cow’s intestine, eating live octopus and live octopus head, and bugs (pics + videos) so why should I stop there? I’ve said it before, but I’m a lot more adventurous when traveling, but traveling in the US didn’t seem far enough. I think it took maybe the first bite of Chef Chris Cosentino’s dish to convince me that offal, is awfully good. If restaurants prepared it the way Cosentino did, in an Iron Chef like innovative manner, I’d be all up for it.

I was in San Francisco, California for the Foodbuzz Food Bloggers Food Festival and the festivities had ended that morning. Nonetheless me, and my wonderful group of Vancouver food bloggers were set with our own restaurant itineraries (incredibly long) of places we were determined to try. I was joined with a group of foodies to attack the Incanto menu at full force.

Incanto is casual Italian fine dining made for hardcore carnivores and it was the most creative use of ingredients that I’ve seen. Generally the appetizers and pastas were better than the mains/entrees. Perhaps traditional in technique, nothing was traditional in execution, and it was most definitely a very unique and memorable dining experience I would recommend locals and tourists to try.

On the table:

Complimentary Bread

  • The bread was great! It was crusty baguette, or I think it was Ciabatta, served with crunchy bread/pretzel sticks.
  • Alone they weren’t very seasoned, but they didn’t need to be because it was served with a fantastic, almost pure puree, of olive tapenade. It was salty, full flavoured and easily eaten by the spoonfuls.

Boccalone Salumi Platter – n/a

  • Piglet $11/Sow $20/Boar $36
  • This one was the piglet. I sampled a few things, but it wasn’t my order.
  • I’d say this is quite a signature dish, considering cured meats is one his Incanto’s specialties.
  • I ended up trying the pig’s ear which was naturally crunchy and gelatinous and not for me. I just prefer pig’s ear deep fried or pan fried and crispy.
  • Overall, I’m not too much of a salumi fan, although I appreciate it once in a while with other items like cheese and crudites.

Rapini & Baccala Salad – n/a

  • Rapini, baccalà, olives & boiled Meyer lemon $11
  • This wasn’t my order either so I can’t comment.

Marinated Local Sardines Salad – n/a

Cod Milt – n/a

  • Cod Milt with Duck Egg $13
  • This was the appetizer special of the day.
  • It was my friend’s appetizer that he kindly shared. Leave it to professional photography skills when it comes to making cod sperm look appetizing though.

This is what it really looked like. My photo.

  • It looked pretty unappetizing. It looked like a brain or a bunch of tightly packed fat worms.
  • The sperm sack or cod sperm tastes like soft tofu meets trout. It has a slightly fishy flavour that comes in the aftertaste and it’s not salty like some may think….
  • It was nicely seared and served in a spicy black and white pepper gravy and the creamy egg yolk gave it a nice richness. It wasn’t very spicy, but you could feel the heat.

Sweetbreads – 4/6

  • Sweetbreads, potato & green walnut salsa $14
  • The sweetbreads, pancreas of calves or piglets (not sure which one it was) were nicely pan fried and it tasted like chicken or pork skewer meat. I’d say it was more like pork, so I think it was piglet pancreas. It’s not gamey, but actually prepared with very nutty flavours.
  • It had a crispy exterior and aromatic flavours with garlic and a green walnut salsa which came across as an herby olive like pesto.
  • It’s not a saucy dish, but each ingredient has such a distinct flavour which married very well together.

**Pig’s Blood Pappardelle – 4.5/6

  • Pig’s Blood Pappardelle Raisins and Sage $13
  • This was a pasta special and it was ordered as an appetizer.
  • This is the most I’ve ever enjoyed pig’s blood. I’m so used to seeing it chopped up in slices in Chinese soups or served at Filipino buffets, but if it was done like this in the first place I wouldn’t have written it off so early!
  • Even as a starter it was best shared because it was an incredibly rich dish.
  • The pappardelle pasta was made from pig’s blood and they were slightly undercooked before reaching al dente, so it ended up being a bit leathery.
  • Pork’s blood doesn’t have a meaty taste and it’s actually really mild in flavour. It’s appreciated for it’s silky smooth qualities, so it was a bit lost in the pappardelle.
  • It was served in a sweet and very buttery reduction that was thick, sticky and syrupy.
  • It ended up being a little bit too much like fruit leather in syrup especially when eaten with the raisins.
  • I also wish the sage had been crispy for more contrast in texture.
  • It did taste very good though and I would order it again.

**Paccheri al Nero & Calamari – 5/6

  • Paccheri al nero, local calamari, garlic & fennel $16/$10 (as appetizer)
  • This was my appetizer, and an easy choice for me. It was also a house favourite.
  • My first experience with squid ink used as a primary ingredient was in Venice Italy, where it’s their specialty.
  • Since then I haven’t found anything close to it because most places hold back on the squid ink.
  • I felt the same way about this dish, and I would prefer it to be also used in the preparation of the sauce itself.
  • The pappardelle was made with squid ink, but it doesn’t really taste like squid or seafood.
  • The texture was a bit creamy and it was better than the Pig’s Blood Pappadelle, partly because it was cooked al dente.
  • The squid was fresh, tender, and plentiful with good flavour as well.
  • It was served in a light garlic seafood broth that tasted like it was made with mussel shells.
  •  The flavours were smoky and the lemon gave it quite the tang, but with the white pepper the combination made everything come alive.
  • There was also a hinder of licorice followed by a slight spice of chili flakes.
  • As an appetizer it’s fantastic, but if I ordered it as a main I’d prefer it to be more substantial and a bit richer.

Spaghettini & Sardinian Cured Tuna Heart – n/a

  • Spaghettini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk & parsley $16/10
  • This was very unusual and I’ve never tried cured tuna heart before.
  • It was a creamy raw egg yolk which acted as a sauce and binder. It was mixed in with Sardinan cured tuna heart which tasted like dried flaky anchovies, but less salty and sharp.
  • The dish is popular here and I expected to be more “wow’d” by it, but I took a couple bites and moved on to something else.
  • Therefore I don’t think I really had enough to really rate it either.

Golden Chanterelle & Nepitella Risotto – 5/6

  • Golden chanterelle & nepitella risotto $16/10
  • Considering this vegetarian dish was made by a restaurant serving offal, it was great. For what it was, it was made pretty much perfectly.
  • It was a very creamy risotto with the sweetness of chanterelles throughout as well as crispier chanterelles on top.
  • It was delicate and well seasoned but I couldn’t taste the use of Nepitella which is a minty wild herb grown in Italy.
  • The flavours could have been more developed with perhaps a few more ingredients, but it was very obviously a Golden Chanterelle Risotto. 

**Best Parts of the Chicken Risotto – 5.5/6

  • Best Parts of the Chicken Risotto $17/11
  • This is one of the most popular items and it’s usually something that will stay on the constantly changing menu.
  • I thought it was delicious! It was very creamy again and it tasted like it was made from rich creamy chicken fat, but it wasn’t greasy.
  • There was chicken flavour throughout with pieces of chicken gizzards like liver, hearts and kidneys.
  • I think there was a bit of sage in there and a little salty cheesiness form the freshly grated Parmesan.
  • The chicken gizzards were quite meaty (some chewy) and stronger in flavour like dark meat chicken, so if you’re not into that… then eat around it, because it shouldn’t be missed, and the risotto is great.

California Yellowtail – 2.5/6

  • California Yellowtail, pumpkin & erbette $21
  • This was not so adventurous, but it sounded good to me and there was enough exotic meats on the table already.
  • The Yellowtail was a bit ordinary and dry, although it naturally tends to be dry. It has a firm texture and a mild fish flavour that reminds me of a fully cooked tuna.
  • It did have a crispy nutty crust that I loved, but I wanted more sauce to mask the dryness, but not the flavour.
  • I liked the creamy sweet and tender pumpkin pieces with the nutty crunch of toasted pumpkin seeds, but the erbette chard gave it a somewhat dull and slightly bitter taste.
  • It wasn’t quite sweet or savoury and it had a little bit of spice and I think it was just under seasoned, just like the fish.

**Pomegranate-Glazed Poussin – 5.5/6

  • Pomegranate-glazed poussin, cippolini & Treviso $23
  • This was beautiful in presentation and flavour. It was actually my favourite main and the portion was the biggest and enough for 2.
  • It was not a boring chicken dish at all. It was a great mix of sweet and savoury, although it was predominantly tangy in taste.
  • It’s a tender and juicy bone in chicken with a very well charred skin that was slightly tangy, but more sweet from the intense caramelization.
  • It was served with a very tangy balsamic au jus, juicy tangy bites of cippolini onions and bursts of sweet and tangy fresh pomegranate seeds.
  • The pomegranate actually brightens up all the flavours and added great texture as well as colour.
  • Every ingredient was well layered and nothing was overpowering.
  • There was even a slight bitterness from the Treviso (Italian winter vegetable, which tastes like ridicchio) and it actually balanced out the intense tang of everything else so it was well used.
  • There was such bold flavours that it really stood out compared to all the other dishes.

Offal – 1/6

  • Offal bollito misto, mustard, salsa verde & horseradish $24
  • Surprisingly the “offal” and the offal restaurant was generally the least liked.
  • I’m incredibly biased, and this dish was not for me. I’m just not keen on offal served like this.
  • I suppose it is the signature dish and the thing to order though.
  • I wasn’t a fan of the misto execution and it seemed rather boring for ingredients that are so out of the ordinary. Maybe that was the point though – not to over do it.
  • I much rather see each organ used as an ingredient incorporated into a dish rather than eating each organ as is, alone.
  • It reminded me of a Japanese Oden, which I’m not really a fan of either.

Pork Belly – 3.5/6

  • Pork Belly, Buddha’s hand citron, yuzu marmellata & citron salsa $24
  • I have to show the proportion of pork’s belly to salad with one of my not so nice photos.

  • This was a massive piece of very fatty pork’s belly and I would strongly recommend it to be shared by 4 if ordered as a main.
  • It was an overwhelming amount for such a greasy, fatty, and rich ingredient that I found it overkill because of the size.
  • The pork belly was quite tender, but I’m really sensitive to pork fat – if all of the pork fat doesn’t melt in my mouth and if I have to chew it, I’m not a fan.
  • Most of it melted in my mouth, but not all of it. The flavour was great though. It had a bold pork flavor with a crispy caramelized nutty sweet crust.
  • It’s served with an incredibly bitter citrus salad which is required to make you feel less guilty about eating almost all fat as your main.
  • I appreciated the salad with salty bites of capers and citrus tang to cut through the grease, but the bitter taste was overpowering.
  • I felt like I was eating solely the white bitter parts of a pomelo (Asian grapefruit) rather than the aromatic zest of citrus fruits. It was actually unpleasant to eat and it felt like a “must eat your vegetables side” rather than a “want to eat your vegetables side”.
  • The bitterness was definitely there to balance out the pork belly and fat.

Handkerchief Pasta & Rustic Pork Ragu

  • $16/10
  • It wasn’t my order, but I did try it. It was a sweeter ragu and the pork was a tad dry and crumbly, but it was still good.

Pipe Rigate, Duck Sugo & Castelvetrano Olives

  • $16/10
  • Again, not my dish, but I tried it. It’s a seashell like pasta with a sweet and savoury and tangy duck sauce that was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a duck confit sauce and the duck pieces were melt in your mouth tender.

Desserts

The desserts at Incanto are made with meat as well. Just kidding! Although bacon in desserts seems to be so popular right now. The desserts were creative with a combination of sweet and savoury ingredients. I do love traditional desserts, but these kind of desserts are even more my style. Quite often, they do sound better on paper though.

Douglas Fir Panna Cotta – 4.5/6

  • Douglas Fir Panna Cotta & Bush Berries $8
  • I thought they did a great job with this. It was a vanilla bean panna cotta with mild flavours of pine.
  • It was slightly woody and it wasn’t over powering, and still very much a dessert.
  • The Douglas Fir was very well used and it added a freshness to the creamy rich panna cotta.
  • The tang from the berries was a nice contrast and it was a very “naturesque” dessert.

Celery Root Cake – 1/6

  • Celery root cake, wet walnuts & vanilla ice cream $8
  • This sounded delicious to me and so creative.
  • The pumpkin-amaretti calzones & sage ice cream was my first choice, but they had sold out and I still wanted dessert of course.
  • Unfortunately, just cutting into the celery root cake you could tell it was going to be very dry.
  • It was dense and crumbly and tasted like a day old muffin with a hint of cinnamon and no celery flavour (even to my cousin who hates and is extremely sensitive to the taste of celery).
  • The “wet walnuts” sounded dirty, but they were simply walnuts coated in a caramel syrup. I ate the ice cream, a couple nuts and left the rest.

Seckel Pear Bread Pudding2.5/6

  • Seckel Pear Bread Pudding and Pear Sorbetto $8
  • I’m generally not impressed with bread puddings that don’t come out in a casserole dish fresh from the oven. (Even a ramekin would have been nice)
  • Unlike the celery root cake, this bread pudding was extremely moist with chunks of pear in the middle and a crispy crust.
  • It was more like a bundt cake then a bread pudding though.
  • I love pear in desserts so I naturally did enjoy this one.
  • The sorbetto was almost like an ice cream, but it had this ooey gooey stringy texture, which I found intriguing.
  • It was actually very simple, and there was nothing memorable about it and I could have used more ingredients like almonds, spices or even some vanilla beans.

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23 Comments

  • Sara says:

    This is an example of a true foodie!!! I would never dare eat this type of food! When you just look at the picture, it looks amazing. But the descriptions freak me out!

    I am not adventurous enough for this!

  • Sherman says:

    Mijune, it was fun dining with you as always. You are a great target for dirty tweets… LOL… Yah, the food was executed quite well; but conceptually, I was not a fan of some. But that is more of a personal taste thing. But we all hated that dessert though. Damn, Kim’s pictures really are so much better… *sigh*

  • grayelf says:

    Hey Mijune — great writeup! I felt the same way about Incanto, that I should want to go more than I did. I’m glad I got a chance to try it with y’all, but I will not be rushing back. My Italian dining dollars will be going down the street a bit to La Ciccia.

    PS I like your photos the best because they reflect how the food really looked — I’m not a fan of the bouncing flash required to make the plates look so technocolour (sorry Kim).

  • Mijune says:

    @Sara lol thank you!! Trust me… I was pretty freaked out with some of the stuff, but in the end it tastes so good you barely think about what it actually is. I think you could handle a bite! 🙂

    @Sherman – I’m a great target or an easy target? Your pics are awesome too, but I do have to give Kim some credit… he should start a photography blog.

    @grayelf – thank you so much! It was great meeting and dining with you as well. Thanks for the compliment for my photos (I think you’re third to ever compliment them lol), although I personally think Kim should be charging me for letting me use the pics.

  • KimHo says:

    Sherman, geez, photo envy… AGAIN??? >_<

    Mijune, photo blog? Not anytime soon… As for a fee, how much are you willing to pay? 🙂

  • Bow says:

    The pics look magnifique !!! Very evocative, makes you drool…it showcases the seafood side of Italian food, making us realize it’s not all about pasta and osso bucco. I would have enjoyed the risotto…too bad the Yellow Tail was overcooked; not sure about a bitter compliment to the Pork Belly, I think the traditional sweeter one would enhance this dish( perhaps a heated reduction of pureed blackberries, a little balsamic crema, coarsely cracked black pepper and a drop of Cognac ?). I still don’t know how you can eat so much…and then dessert. Too bad the desserts weren’t up to snuff.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – I was honestly waiting for your comment for this post! I was so excited to hear your thoughts! I would definitely prefer that amazing side/sauce you just listed with the pork belly. I’m going to settle my own curiousity and say… you are a chef 🙂

    PS: I was severely full after this meal lol… I tried to finish what everyone else couldn’t too… it hurt, but hurt even more to see it go to waste.

  • Bow says:

    Mijune,
    Thanks for the compliment but I am not a chef…have many years in the food industry and was taught Cantonese cooking by my mother( my stepfather said my steam rockcod was as good as any restaurant’s) and was self taught in other schools(French, Italian,etc.). However I have a talent that I can “marry” food flavors in my head and virtually taste a dish prior to doing it. In 1980, I ran a gourmet seafood store on Granville Island and sold ceviche, soul paupiettes, kebabobs, stuffed peppers, etc., etc. Like you, every chance I got I went to eat in restaurants trying many different cuisines…some times felt quite disappointed; then I would remake the dish to see how I could improve on it( ate cioppino at the Cannery and at the Oyster Bar, Chuckanut Drive, didn’t like it and did it my way and it was an improvement).
    My latest creation is using Sage Derby cheese and leftover chicken. Crumble the cheese(160 grams), place in bowl; add 1 cup cooked peas, and 2 portions of cooked linguine; foam a generous pat of butter in pan, add a teaspoon or less of chipotle powder, stir for a moment,add 1 cup of shredded leftover chicken; add 2 beaten raw eggs and start tossin’ till eggs ‘cook’. Serve.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – ahhh I get it! I do the same as you though… think of ways to make it better and then offer some suggestions. Then I don’t feel so bad just for saying “didn’t like it”. Thank you for that last recipe though! I appreciate it! I already know you’re not a recipe person… so let me know when you ever start your own restaurant… I’ll be first in line!

  • Mijon says:

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhh ok i know you say some of that stuff was good and gave good ratings, but all i did was “eewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww” throughout that entire post. ew.

  • Mijune says:

    @Mijon – LOL!!! You have to try it!!!! It just takes an open mind!

  • Mijon says:

    Uh, I think you know me a lot better than that

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