Saturday, 26 January 2013

Cordon du Chap: Incanto, San Francisco

550 Church St  
San Francisco
CA 94131
United States

Score: *****

On a recent trip  to San Francisco I was lucky enough to go for one of the best meals that I have ever eaten where everything from the food to the general ambience of the restaurant worked and made for a thoroughly exciting experience. It made me wonder why we do not have the same sort of thing in the UK where even some of the best restaurants have one flaw which brings it down to slightly less than perfect. 

Incanto is an Italian restaurant in the Noe Valley district of the Bay City (about 15 minutes by car from the Financial District) which I was recommended by a stalwart tweeter Derek Hardy (@degs123) just before I left the wet and windy shores of the UK. 

Lone diners are becoming scarcer and scarcer these day which is something of a shame and there are many restaurants that look on such singular people with slight apprehension (is he a critic?). In this case I did not have my critic hat one but when the food turned out to be so good I felt that i could not resist from sharing my experience with my blog followers - for the record I try to make it a rule not to write about bad eating experiences, it’s too easy to be nasty, much hard to be kind but sincere. 

I was warmly welcomed with my reservation for one and was sat between a few lively tables which made me feel welcome, none of the terrible habit that some places have of consigning you to the peripheries by the kitchen door, the entrance or the loo. Immediately a waiter came over with the menus and an offer of their complementary house filter water (still or sparkling), I chose the latter and set to looking at the menu when he had left. 

Each course had roughly 6-7 choices (excluding specials) and there was a nice mixture of the traditional and experimental including dishes like: heirloom chicories, balsamic & pecorino Incanto; young kales, anchovy & Parmesan; spaghettini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk & parsley and chocolate budino, red wine cherries & mascarpone. My appetite was wetted just reading it and the wine list, short but well considered, had a few delicious looking tipples on offer. 

The waiter came back promptly with the water and gave me an overview of the specials, but none beguiled me away from the menu. informing him that I was ready to order I proceeded with: Mosciame (cured tuna), citrus, Castelvetrano olives & fennel; Handkerchief pasta & rustic pork ragù and Maple semifreddo, huckleberries & pecans. I accompanied this with a glass or two (as it would turn out) of crisp, chilled Soave. 

The tuna came promptly and was an experience which wouldn’t be to everyone’s palates, grapefruit and smoked fish is an acquired taste, but the fish had a delicious, slightly musky, flavour which became more pronouced between the moist inner portion and the drier outer. It paired well against the citrus tang of the grapefruit and the slight-aniseed of the shaved fennel - with the wine (Soave) it was a very well balanced plate of food and the right amount for a starter. 

Although there was a delicious looking sequence of main courses I opted to go for pasta (something I can never resist in an Italian restaurant) and plumped for the chef’s special (although I declined the offer of a fried duck egg on top!). The ‘blankets’ were cooked to perfection with just the right texture and were topped by a rich, deeply savoury sauce that didn’t swamp the pasta (as many US establishments are prone to do) this was topped off by a generous sprinkling of parsley which gave a clean, fresh dimension to the plate. It was there one moment and gone the next, you’ve never seen a man polish of a dish so quickly! 

I had intentionally gone for a small portion of the pasta as I wanted to leave some room for pudding (I just don’t have that infamous American appetite - and feel bad that I cannot finish the gargantuan mains usually offered up at establishments over there!) and I made the right decision. 

The Maple Semifreddo had the most beautiful texture and a lovely, light syrupy, distinctive taste and when next to the steeped huckleberries, candied pecans and biscuit crumb was thrown into another dimension - paired against the vin santo which had been recommended by the very amenable waiter it was stellar. I am not usually a pudding person but this was something else and, if I urge you to have one dish when you go make it this for it is everything a pudding should be. The portion was manageable and you felt sated after eating it neither wanting more or regretting the portion size. 

I rounded off the experience with a welcome cup of coffee and the check (to use an Americanism). The total came to $65.00 (£41.00) which for some might seem a little steep but for one of the hot-places in SF I thought it reasonable in consideration of what I had ordered, the immaculate service and the fantastic, friendly atmosphere. 

All I can now say is that if you are in San Francisco anytime soon, make sure you check out this place for some of the best food the city has to offer in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. 

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