Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pilgrimage to Incanto

Recently, dear friends of ours, Christa & Patrick McHale, took a wonderful vacation to San Francisco and northern California.  Like me, Patrick is a true epicurean and enjoys all things involving fine food and wine.  We share a love of all things pork, anchovies, great wine and wonderful food.

Shortly before their anticipated trip, Patrick asked me for suggestions for great places to eat in San Francisco.  Although I've never been there, I compiled a lengthy list that I knew would give him great possibilities as far as value and varieties of cuisine.  Mr. & Mrs. McHale used one of my suggestions when they chose to dine at Incanto.

Incanto is an Italian restaurant in San Francisco owned and operated by Mark Pastore and Chris Cosentino.  In the last 10 years, the restaurant has earned a wonderful reputation for nose to tail cooking and popularizing offal in its wonderful creations.  Chris Cosentino is an award winning chef who has earned praise for offal offerings and living by the motto that no part of the animal being served should go to waste.

Incanto prides itself on serving sustainably grown and harvested produce, meats and seafood.  Incanto's approach aspires to "leave the world better off for future generations and because food tastes better when its ingredients are the product of thoughtful stewardship."  The menu changes daily and "almost always includes one or two dishes featuring 'odd cuts' and offal because serving these parts of the animal honors the whole animal and helps preserve an important, yet increasingly overlooked, part of our culinary heritage."

One really thing that I particularly enjoyed about Incanto is Pastore and Cosentino's love for Dante.  Incanto honors Italy's most famous poet, Dante Alighieri, with a private dining room decorated in homage to him.  The entire text of The Divine Comedy hangs from the wall.  This is something that really sunk in with me given my studies in Italy and the time I spent studying art history there.

Christa and Patrick arrived at Incanto on a Sunday night at about 7:45 p.m.  The restaurant was busy, but not jammed and they were able to be seated right away. The McHales parked their car and were immediately seated upon return.  They were impressed by the wonderful hospitality they received by all staff members.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and inviting, including the "Hello" they received from Chef Cosentino.  

The McHales were seated in a side room which featured a mural of Dante's "Inferno".  Their waiter, Chad, was "a joy", according to Mr. McHale.  He was "a big personality, very helpful with suggestions and explanations of menu items."  

For appetizers, the McHales chose the House Cured Olives, Ibérico de Bellota Lardo with Tuscan Melon, and the Truffle Mortadella.  Here is the Ibérico de Bellota Lardo, with the House Cured Olives at the top of the picture:

Here's a view of the Truffle Mortadella:

The House Cured Olives were average at best.  However, the Ibérico de Bellota Lardo and Truffle Mortadella did not disappoint.  In Mr. McHale's words, the mortadella was "fantastic", while the Ibérico de Bellota Lardo was "ridiculous".  I couldn't have said it better myself!

Chad aided Patrick in his entree selection, as he was torn between one of the specials (prominently featuring pork belly) and the Spaghettini with Cured Tuna Heart from Sardegna and Duck Egg.  Chad was going to suggest the pork, but upon finding out the McHales were from Buffalo, and might never get back to Incanto, he steered Patrick toward the Spaghettini, one of Incanto's signature dishes.  Here it is as it appeared at the table before Patrick:

For her entree, Christa chose the handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragu and duck egg, another Incanto signature dish.  Here it is:

Both entrees received the McHale seal of approval.  Chad certainly did not lead them down the wrong path!

Incanto has a wonderful wine list or "program" as they call it.  Not surprisingly, the wine list is composed of mostly Italian wines, many of which they realize are "probably unfamiliar" to most patrons.  A paper tag is placed around the stem of each glass of wine served at Incanto.  The tag states the name of the wine, the producer and the vintage.  This allows Incanto's guests to "remember the names of the more obscure wines we serve."  Incanto should be applauded for this practice and for the wine education they give each patron.

Patrick initially selected a Langhe Nebbiolo, which was quite good.  Then, based on a suggestion from Chad, he tried a 2011 Lagrein from Erste + Neue.  Erste + Neue is awinery in Trentino/Alto Adige, or in German, Trentino-Südtirol.  This northern most Italian region borders Switzerland and Austria, which explains the German overlap in the dialect.  The wine is 100% Lagrein, which is an indigenous varietal related to Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Dureza.  It is fermented in stainless steel and aged in oak casks.  It yields 13% ABV.

Here's a photo of the tag around the glass presented to Patrick with the Lagrein inside:

Christa and Patrick also had the pleasure of enjoying dessert at Incanto.  Since Chad had done so well for them throughout the night, the McHales had him select dessert for them.  Chad brought Christa a berry sorbet and a blueberry bread pudding for Patrick. Both were excellent.  Both desserts were excellent.

Patrick then wanted to end this special evening with an appropriate after dinner drink.  He was thinking Port, but Chad advised that Incanto does not stock Port.  In its place, Chad recommended a digestivo from Piemonte:  Barolo Chinato from N.V. Marcarini.  Marcarini is a family winery in the "heart of Langhe" (cuore delle Langhe), a hilly area to the south and east of the Tanaro River in Piemonte.  Marcarini's Barolo Chinato is made of 100% Nebbiolo grapes.  The grapes are aged in oak barrels and infused with China Calissaya bark and several aromatic alpine herbs.  Chad referred to the Barolo Chinato in terms identical to those used by the Marcarini Family:  a magic "elixir".  Patrick felt that that was just about right.

Here's a photo of the tag placed on the bottom of the glass filled with Barolo Chinato:

According to Patrick, the entire experience was a joy.  The service was excellent!  The McHales learned that Chad would soon be leaving his employment at Incato to pursue a career in nursing.  A true loss for Incanto, in Mr. McHale's estimation.  

The food was truly wonderful and it was the perfect final meal in San Francisco for the McHales.

Now, I need to get myself out there and try this place!!

A big thank you to Christa and Patrick McHale for helping with this piece.  All photographs were taken by Patrick, although I may have jazzed them up just a bit.


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