Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Before leaving for San Francisco last weekend I talked to one of my partners about places to eat while there. He called a person he knows, a real food connoisseur, who was able to rattle off about ten great restaurants in San Francisco off the top of his head. He knew I liked to eat unusual foods, so he put at the top of his list of suggestions Incanto, located at 1550 Church Street (between 28th Street and Duncan Street in Noe Valley), San Francisco, CA 94131 (phone: 415-641-4500). I called and made reservations for Saturday night. Incanto is known for using the entire animal, including and usually focusing on the parts of the animal that most other restaurants won't even use. The comments on Yelp were full of descriptions of dishes that looked very fun, including the leg of beast and a whole pig that you have to have a larger group to order. The menu changes daily, although there appear to be certain items that are available regularly. Before ordering, we were brought several kinds of bread and bread sticks with an olive mixture. 
The bread sticks were unusual and of several kinds, one kind having a bit of a licorice taste to it. We enjoyed it so much we had them bring us another plate of it, along with a bowl of olives, later in the meal. We ordered two starters. First was Boccalone Iberico di bellota lardo, shinku pear & mint. What I could gather was it was the lard of a Spanish (Iberico) pig on pears with mint. 
The waiter said that Spanish pigs are different in that they are only fed on peppercorns, I believe, and have a different taste to them. The shinku pear is a crunchy pear, like an Asian pear. I was disappointed in the dish in that there was not much pork lard and what was there did not really stand out as far as taste. I was wishing we'd picked a different starter. The other starter we had was not on the menu, so I can't give the correct name, but it was basically pieces of pork skin and fat, including pork cheeks, in beans and onion. 
It was much better than the other starter. The beans were good and the pork skin and fat was moist and went well with the dish. However, we had no salt or other seasonings at the table and it was too bland for my normal preference. Even Judy was wishing we had salt, so it was just not me, the saltaholic, that wanted it. As an entree I got venison with kale, carrots and juniper. 
The waiter strongly recommended it. Said the chef shot the deer in Texas just recently. The meat was quite stringy and difficult to cut, but it was cooked a nice medium rare and had a nice taste, a little gaminess to give it some flavor. The kale was wonderful, probably the only kale I've ever eaten that I really liked. It was good, but again, I wish I'd ordered a different entree, given what this restaurant is known for. Judy ordered the winner of the night: roasted lamb neck, smashed roots, tatsoi rapini and gremolata. I was expecting something like a tough turkey neck. What she got looked like a neck on mega-doses of steroids. It was huge and jammed full of meat! 
And my-oh-my, it was tender, melt-in-your mouth lamby goodness! Judy says it is probably the best lamb she's ever eaten. They cook it for 15 hours at 200 degrees and it just falls off the bone. It is full of fat and so it is moist and full of flavor. I ate all she would give me (she held back on some because she knew she'd be dealing with my snoring that night - made worse if I was really full). I would go back just to get a full serving of my own, but I would sneak in a salt shaker. This dish revealed that these people can cook! For dessert we shared a chocolate tart which was good. This is a place I have to come back to. I would love to try everything on the menu. In particular, I would love to get a group and eat a whole pig. I would also love to try their bone marrow (not on the menu the night we were there). 

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