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Dec 21, 2007 08:32 AM

Incanto: I love it.

Last night I went to Incanto with a friend who had not visited before, and the experience reminded me of why I like this restaurant so much. The food was spot on and the service was great.

We both had mystery flights of wine; Incanto's list is entirely Italian with some excellent values. I didn't save the helpful tags they attach to the wine stem, so I can't remember which wines I had (other than that one was a Pinot Grigio) but two were great and one was a bit tannic for my taste.

We shared an appetizer of sliced fennel with chunks of citrus; two pasta courses: handkerchief pasta with pork ragu, and a pasta with nettles; cod with potato and orange; and egg nog panna cotta.

The thinly sliced fennel was tart, intense, and a nice set-up for the richer dishes to come. Tis the season to enjoy some really lovely citrus, so I was happy we ordered this.

Of the pastas: the handkerchief pasta is simple and savory: like mom would make, if mom were a really talented Italian cook with access to excellent pork. The nettle pasta was incredible. I can't recall the name of the pasta, but it was green, about the size of a fat pinky, and variegated.

"Looks like bugs...tastes delicious!" my friend said. Exactly yes.

The crispy-skinned hunk of cod was served in olive juice with a boiled potato and a halved mandarin. The cod was luscious, the mild flavor nicely offset by the sparky orange and full, deep flavor of olive.

Best of all is the service. It's official: I am no one special. I think I've been to Incanto frequently enough that they probably recognize my face, though it's hardly the case that I walk in and everyone shouts "Norm!" (I would love that, even though my name isn't Norm.)

Despite my total lack of specialness, service has always been great. On past occasions, they've given me half glasses of wine when I didn't want a full glass, but the server really wanted me to try something paired with a certain dish.

Last night I was standing outside the restrooms trying to use my shoddy Italian to figure out what some signs said, when the chef came over and explained that he dedicated the bathrooms to two of his friends who are servers in San Francisco. The owner dropped off our appetizer and asked if we liked the wine flight, and our main server was polished, delightful and offered great recommendations. The pacing was great, too: we did not feel rushed, and spent more than two hours enjoying our meal.

Overall, it's official: this is my favorite restaurant in San Francisco, and I feel lucky that it's within walking distance of my home. It's a combination of the warm, attentive service, thoughtful, creative dishes, and exceptionally reasonable prices.

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  1. Link.

    Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
    1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

    3 Replies
    1. re: pane

      Going for the second time tonight with friends from New York! It's walking distance from my new home too, and I think the manhattanites will be quite pleased, it's focus on quality and inventiveness in a comfortable atmosphere is on par (and I'll venture perhaps even better) with any of the dozen rustic pork-obsessed italian places in gotham.

      1. re: jsgjewels

        i'm pretty fond of babbo and other italian places in manhattan but i have to say that chris cosentino should bow his head to no one. incanto is comfort food served in a most pleasant fasion. the wine list is very good.

        i have no problems riding the "j-church" muni out there when i'm in town. heck, you locals should be eating there once a week. i would.

        1. re: steve h.

          That's one of the best things about can easily get there on public transport as long as you don't go too late. Even from the East Bay.

    2. Four of us went to Incanto last night for the first time. I agree that the ambiance was fabulous, the service prompt and friendly, and the wine list excellent. The only problem we had was the food. My wife and I started out with the marinated sardines, which were fine themselves, but were served on a bed of marinated greens of some sort which were so tough and stringy as to render them inedible. We then moved on to the calamari entree which consisted of several rather tiny rings of calamari in a dark soupy broth with some kale. I can't even describe what the broth tasted looked rich but was rather nondescript. We've had better food out of a can. The house olives were nice as was the bread basket and plate of olive oil for dipping. The Tuscan Trifecta wine flight was also enjoyable as was the cheese selection for dessert. Our friends had the gnocci and the sausage and beans entrees, both of which they described as good.

      My wife and I picked up the rather hefty tab for dinner. We are disappointed by our experience at Incanto as it is so highly touted by other Chowhounders but failed to deliver in so many ways. We won't be going back as we question the ability of the kitchen to reliably produce genuine Italian cuisine. We've had far better Italian at many less expensive establishments in North Beach....not to mention Italy and New York.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chilihead2006

        You hit a real rough spot. Incanto, for years now has been a steady supplier of top notch rustic Italian, if you can use the descriptor rustic for some of the most beautifully composed cuisine...

        It's too bad you didn't mention your lack of satisfaction. Incanto is the sort of place that steps up to the bat with gusto and would have happily helped you reorder something more to your taste. I know it's difficult sometimes, but really, most restaurants world rather hear about a problem with a dish at the table, that night rather than here... especially a place with as solid reputation as Incanto...

        1. re: chilihead2006

          I went last week and it was quiet (probably the economy and pre-Halloween?) but had a really nice dinner at the bar. Of course, I ordered the spaghettini with Sardinian tuna heart which has been mentioned often and it is indeed a wonderful complex dish, definitely the taste of the ocean like squid ink. The braised veal was really tender with a nice crispy skin still on, and I also had the spicy tripe. Tripe was tender but a bit too spicy for me. But there was a lot of it. And yes, the wine selection was great. Chef Cosentino wasn't cooking that night I went. He was actually sitting next to me at the bar with his young son getting some risotto before they headed home.