Sunday, February 27, 2011

Recent San Francisco Restaurant Experiences: Per Bacco, Incanto, Coi, Contigo, Zero Zero, SPQR


We arrived at Perbacco in the heart of the truffle season and the restaurant had a special truffle menu prepared featuring Alba truffles  in 10 courses consisting of antipasti, primi and secondi. As we were having so much to try on the regular menu we limited our selection to 2 courses. 

We began with tartar of veal "scented" with garlic and covered with ground Langhe hazelnuts on a fire roasted crostino on which had been melted house made lard. I found the lard too salty and that saltiness overwhelmed the tartar and the truffles.

Next, we enjoyed a truly fabulous delicate pasta ravioli filled with creamy moretti polenta and a farm fresh hen egg possessing a brilliant orange rich tasting yolk. The dish was covered in shaved white truffle, and a corn and parmesan cream. This was a great dish composed of highly complementary elements of wonderful flavours and textures.

We also enjoyed another wonderful dish of complementary flavours and textures. Roasted octopus and poached wagyu beef tongue with sauteed potatoes, celery heart and salsa verde. The fattiness of the beef tongue enriched the taste of the octopus.

We also tried a crispy pigs trotter "cake" with celery root and apple salad, sprinkled with a hazelnut vinaigrette and served with an apple mustarda. We selected this dish because we like the concept. The hazelnut oil and pork flavour went well. The cake was quite crispy. The crunchy salad was a good complement for the trotter. However, the mustard, a necessary adjunct to this dish was a failure in that it was far too sweet and lacked the expected mustard bight.

The following dish was hand cut terrific textured tagliatelle served with an intensely flavoured 5 hour pork sugo with porcini mushrooms. The pork flavour stood our very nicely. The dish was dusted with parmesan cheese. A very successful, rustic dish.

Another dish that we very much enjoyed was delicate textured ravioli filled with earthy flavoured Piemontese blood sausage, apple and black Umbrian truffle. The dish was liberally sprinkled with black truffle as well.

And finally dessert, first, a delicious warm, very moist, mildly flavoured butternut squash cake which had a hint of cinnamon and cloves, was presented with caramelized apple (so perfect for the flavour of the squash) and fior di latte gelato.

Our other dessert was equally delicious with complementary flavours, a burnt caramel gelato topped with vanilla flavoured Tahitian sea salt and served with a pignoli cookie. The sea salt provided delightful contrast for the burnt sweet caramel flavour.

Incanto, San Francisco

Incanto is one of those great "discovery" restaurants. Very simple ambiance, but, Chris Consentino...what a chef!!  The food that we enjoyed here was true visual, gustatory and olfactory comfort food!! NB-- this is a restaurant that you can call ahead for a group of 6 or more and order "leg of beast", ham in hay or a whole pig!! I was so envious watching the table next to us eat a "beast"!!

We were also so hungry and obsessed with the menu concepts and execution of the dishes, I neglected to take photos of each dish.

House made breads and bread stickd were presented at the table with some Frantoio Olivestri DOP Umbria olio nuovo and a bit of tapenade.

A light eater began with a salad of baby beets with sliced apple and almonds. most of us ignored that!!

We (the eaters) began with dandelion green bruschetta with tomato conserva and shaved pecorino cheese. When it arrived it did not look like any bruschetta I knew, but, who cared. It tasted great! A wonderful blend of such complementary flavours.

Our first course was octopus with chick peas, petit russian kale and olio nuovo aioli. A very hearty dish for a start (but an entree on the menu).

Next, we enjoyed fresh beef heart tartar which came with capers and onions and a small salad. I have never had beef heart tartar but it was a terrific experience.

And then, another not this parade such fabulous comfort food!! Braised lamb heart flavoured with garlic, rosemary and thyme, accompanied by blood infused pasta, pig's trotter meat, bits of fois gras and raisins. WOW!!

And then....get ready...... "best parts of chicken risotto". What a great dish: confit of gizzards, chicken heart and chicken liver were combined with small chunks of orange and chicken stock braised thigh meat into a rich and wonderful risotto and all topped with pieces of crispy chicken skin. Another WOW!!

Then, we enjoyed a pomegranate glazed poussin with pomegranate seeds, cippolini onions and treviso. This was a very rich dish. The slightly bitter treviso, the tart seeds and the sweet glaze gave real bounce to this gamey dish.

And then, a favourite of mine, with the perfect ingredients to make this dish terrific, with tongue, veal tripe, tendon and veal leg, baby turnips, onions, carrots and greens. Their own version of pot-au-feu. But the veal broth disappointed, despite it's pleasant flavour, it lacked the rich taste of a very long and slow simmered broth. It was more like a thin stock. It was accompanied by grainy mustard and a traditional salsa verde. However, a very good dish overall.

We actually decided to have dessert but although ok, and very interesting conceptually in keeping with the rest of the menu, nowhere as successful as the prior dishes. photos. Sorry.

Our first dessert was a celery root cake accompanied by wet walnuts and vanilla ice cream. We found the cake, which incorporated bits of carrot, a bit too dense. It was almost like a bread pudding. It was accompanied by a caramel sauce but the sauce seemed a bit out of place.

We also tried  pumpkin-amaretti calzones with sage ice cream. I tasted sweet potato more than pumpkin. The pastry was flakey but  a bit too dense.

I can't recommend this rest highly enough for trenchermen who love hearty comfort food done well. Skip dessert!

Zero Zero

Zero Zero is restaurant and bar, with a very good selection of starters, salads, pastas and desserts. It also features very good pizzas made in a wood burning oven. The name of the restaurant is derived from the type of flour pizzaiolos have always been using in Naples. This restaurant is located very close to the Moscone Centre and thus very handy for convention attendees.

I began with wild nettle agnolotti with chanterelle mushrooms, black garlic and brown butter. The pasta was perfectly cooked and was delicate in texture. The earthy taste of the chanterelles went well with the sweet taste of the black garlic and the brown butter tied all the flavours together in a rich and most delightful way.

Pizza followed. I ordered the "Geary", fresh manilla clams, tomato sauce, slices of fresh garlic, pecorino, parsley, bacon and a touch of Calabrian chile. The pizza was nicely blistered at the edges, the crust had a good texture and flavour and the body of the pizza was nicely thin and crispy. I highly recommend the pizza experience here.


The character of this restaurant is to present many small dishes with lots of rustic flavours and textures and they did that well. I did not take photos of all dishes, mainly because I arrived very hungry and only remembered to take the pic when most of the dish had evaporated!

First, delightful crispy pig's ears, big pieces, with tomatillo, wilted dandelion and chili oil.

Next, slow roasted carrot salad with Umbrian lentils, medjool dates and house made lardo. What a clever and creative pairing of intense flavours!

Bull's blood beets with beet yogurt, avocado, finger lime and kaffir lime meringue. This was a very good dish for beet lovers.

Then, we just had to try the pig's head, their own version of head cheese, with a warm vinaigrette, cauliflower, blue lake beans and olivada. A somewhat unique approach to this dish. Sorry, we got into this dish enthusiastically, before the photo was taken.

House made black pudding followed. Their fried blood sausage was very good, and had a soft but coarse texture. It was accompanied by olive oil, pieces of fried potato, red cabbage and pine nuts.

Next, slices of wagyu beef accompanied by rosemary flavoured beans, beef jus and topped with wilted dandelion.

We enjoyed 3 pastas, but only one made the camera. A very good pumpkin agnolotti came with jerusalem artichoke, pumpkin seed, amaretti and brown butter. We also enjoyed hand cut tagliatelle with sea urchin, green onion and spicy tomato sauce.

The final pasta was millefoglie of herbed pasta with a wild boar ragu and garlic chives.

Desserts were reasonably successful but were more inspiring in their descriptions and did not live up to their billing. We began with a brown butter torta accompanied by lemon curd, pink grapefruit and almonds. This rich tasting dessert was our favourite.

Next, sugar pie pumpkin cake with spiced cream, cranberry and brittle. This cake was a bit too dense but had good pumpkin complementary flavours of cardamom, cinnamon and  somewhat overwhelming taste of cloves.

Our final dessert was caramel panna cotta with apple, cinnamon and a florentine. This was basically clafoutti in a glass. It was not interesting at all, in fact disappointing.


Coi is clearly one of the great restaurants of San Francisco and perhaps the United States. The cuisine is world class. The menu changes regularly and reflects the best of what is  seasonal and available locally. We were presented with a 12 course tasting menu. There is no a la carte menu. The only element of choice is based on one's allergies. You will see that I use the term "complement" frequently and that is so well justified. With this restaurant  so many interesting and complex groups of flavours are brought together in dishes, so well.  Never once did I experience any disproportionate or overwhelming aspects to any one of the ingredients used.

The beginning was Childhood Memory of Harvest, vegetable "leathers", a quarter of apple, almonds, served with pear cider. The leathers consisted of fennel and pear, onion and fig and roasted beet and grape. This beginning was remarkably like enjoying a "food aperitif". The pear cider worked with all the deconstructed fruit  flavours, both complementing them and enhancing them.

Then, "oysters on ice", Chelsea gem oysters, topped with an oyster gel, on a bed consisting of an ice/granita flavoured with a touch of lemon and salt and chopped wheatgrass. The oysters were in pristine condition. The intense cold gel complemented the taste and texture of the oysters and all was further enhanced by the texture and taste of the wheatgrass and granita. Such simplicity and such perfection. An explosion of flavours as the palate was excited by the slowly melting pieces of flavoured ice, experienced while chewing the oyster! This was perhaps the greatest oyster experience I can remember.

We then enjoyed smoked-roasted beet. This dish consisted of a beet-pistachio crumble and some frommage blanc flavoured with sorrel. There was a great juxtaposition of flavours and the intense aspect of the sorrel was the key to this dish "happening".

The waiter then presented a chilled fennel consomme that was accompanied by sea urchin, purselane and braised baby fennel. The consomme was flavoured with a touches of ginger, orange, saffron and blood orange juice as well as essential oils of ginger and blood orange. This complex assemblage of flavours actually worked remarkably well and each component had a presence and complemented each other. I loved the flavour and texture of the sea urchin in all of this.

Monterey Bay abalone, grilled on the plancha was presented with a lemon flavoured nettle-dandelion salsa verde, spicy bread crumbs and wild fennel flowers.

And now, we were mid-way in the amazing progression of dishes, looking forward to the next course. A farm fresh, very lightly and slowly cooked fried egg, flavoured by burnt hay, was presented on top of a wheatberry pancake, puntarelle and house made pancetta. The egg was topped with salt flakes and had an earthy flavour from the hay, a match for the rich tasting yolk. 

Next, an extra course arrived, not featured on the tasting menu, a mushroom dashi with steamed tofu, baby turnip, seaweed and bits of ginger and flavoured with yuzu. The ginger and yuzu gave dimension to the flavour of the broth.

We then enjoyed a savoury chanterelle porridge with crisp root vegetables and cress flavoured with sherry.

Next, Prather ranch beef loin and oxtail beef cheek came with black garlic, carrot, sudachi, spinach and cilantro. The very sweet aspects of the garlic and the mild vinegar flavour added to the carrot were very good counterpoints to the beefy flavours.

Cheese was offered, a beaufort by Joseph Paccard. A nice change of pace for the palate.

Now, the desserts, first, cheesecake, goat cheese with a graham cracker crust, niabell grape sorbet and nasturtium leaves, a palate refresher. The cheese "cake" had a whipped cream consistency, the graham cracker "crust" was a powder and the sorbet had a creamy texture.

Then, apples scented with burnt cinnamon, accompanied by iced buttermilk, chopped hazelnuts and coconut streusel. The burnt cinnamon flavour went so well with the flavours of the hazelnuts and coconut.

Finally, we were delighted with mignardises, roast beet jelly and a walnut and brown butter tuile. A perfect ending.


Contigo is a Spanish influenced resto specializing in small plates. The cuisine is authentic, rustic and very satisfying.

To begin, we ordered pa amb tomaquet, Catalonia's national snack, toasted bread rubbed with ripe tomato and liberally drizzled with good olive oil. It deliciously alerted our palates.

Of course we could not refuse the Jamon Iberico bellota pate negra from acorn fed pigs, the ham aged 36 months. This was an etherial experience, the silken textured nutty tasting fat, addictive (the thumb was not acorn fed so we did not eat that!).

We were then brought octopus and rockfish seviche accompanied by tomatoes, chopped red peppers and onions. This dish was very well executed. The delicate texture of the fish, tender octopus and the relatively raw veg clearly demonstrated that these chefs knew their business.

Then we enjoyed a flatbread (coca) (read pizza), made in the wood burring oven, with local porcini, wild nettles, melted leaks, chopped parsley and manchego cheese. The nicely blistered, thin, crispy crust and the even crispiness of the centre, combined with these rustic ingredients made this pizza a standout!

We had not had enough pate negra so we proceeded to enjoy croquetas de jamon Iberico de bellota. These fritters arrived with a thin very crispy exterior and a creamy intensely flavoured ham filling.

Our following dish was squid cooked a la plancha with roasted red peppers, lentils, preserved  lemon and manzanilla olives. Wonderful typically spanish flavours and textures.

Our next dish was tripe, chorizo and chickpeas slow cooked in the wood burring oven. Another well crafted, very tasty, typically Spanish dish.

And finally desserts. First, medjool date tart with orange zest helado. Good but not satisfying.

So, our following dessert was autumn walnut cake with a saffron poached pear and sweetened crema fresco.....better....but not the brass ring. 

Our last dessert was a fabulous burnt caramel flan served with a cinnamon almond cookie. Truly satisfying, an intensely flavoured, caramelized, thick, puddinging-like creamy custard.

This resto is a must for San Francisco, for a typical, very well executed, highly authentic Spanish experience.

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