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Chris Cosentino's Cooking at Incantato - anyone?

DrBehavior Apr 24, 2008 11:03 PM

I have a triple birthday celebration coming up in May and I'd like to take my family for a really nice and yet somewhat unusual meal. I've heard a great deal about Chris and his 'head to tail' philosophy of using all of the meat from the animal. I'm wondering if anyone has eaten his food and is it the sort of thing that a family of rather impeccable food choices would enjoy? I'm simply about uncertain of what to make of the restaurant and the cooking because at times their 'speak' seems somewhat pedantic and not a little bit intimidating.

  1. e
    epicurious_sf Apr 30, 2008 04:21 PM

    Glad (sort of) to hear other people have felt a little left out by the service - it's not just me.

    One can say many things about the food there, but I can't possibly imagine 'dull in flavor' being one of them. What did you have that was 'dull'?

    The one caveat is that if you are not all that adventurous, the menu may seem limited. Certainly, those who like home-made salumi, and various odd bits and nasty pieces will be right at home (as am I). My wife...not so much. Myself, I can't wait to return for the 'duck fries'.

    29 Replies
    1. re: epicurious_sf
      Robert Lauriston Apr 30, 2008 04:41 PM

      Of the current (4/18/08) sample menu's 22 appetizers, pastas, and entrees, I think the only challenging dishes are the pig's trotter with foie gras, the tripe, and the bucatini with cured tuna heart.

      That leaves 9 appetizers, 4 pastas, and 6 entrees, plus side dishes, desserts, and cheeses.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston
        Morton the Mousse Apr 30, 2008 04:47 PM

        In my observation, those who strongly criticize Incanto are often (not always) those who don't like eating offal. Of course, this doesn't mean that all unadventurous eaters will dislike Incanto (my offal-phobic parents adore it). But for those who do like offal and adventurous eating, it's pretty much a slam-dunk.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse
          p
          Problem Child Apr 30, 2008 05:09 PM

          It's one of our favorite restaurants, esp. the Mrs. So far the more "adventurous" dishes turns out to be better than the "safer" ones.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston
          e
          epicurious_sf May 1, 2008 04:41 PM

          Maybe. Not everyone is into rabbit (and 'offal crustino'), and lamb neck may sound more adventurous than it really is. On any given night, half of the entrees may seem a little out of the norm for some. The OP was talking about taking his whole family out, which is why I mentioned it.

          That said, Incanto does things that can change the way people feel about things they may not consider their favorites. My wife is not thrilled about duck - often too heavy, rich and fatty - but the papparedlle with braised duck and greens was a huge hit. Gorgeous plate.

          1. re: epicurious_sf
            Robert Lauriston May 2, 2008 11:08 AM

            The sample menu changed between my post and yours. Now it's from May 1. There's offal in two of the 12 appetizers, none of the five pastas, and one of the six entrees.

            Their lamb neck might sound challenging but the only thing odd about it is that there are a couple of thick white tendons you don't eat, otherwise it's just a big tasty hunk of roast lamb.

            The original post says not "whole family" but "family of impeccable food choices," which I presume is intended to mean they have impeccable taste.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              i
              Indy 67 May 2, 2008 11:51 AM

              How much change takes place from one night to the next? I ask because I adore sweetbreads and was hoping these would show up as the days get closer until our Thursday reservation. I see several appealing choices on the newest posted menu, but, sadly, no sweetbreads.

              1. re: Indy 67
                Robert Lauriston May 2, 2008 12:02 PM

                I don't recall ever seeing sweetbreads on the menu except at a Quinto Quarto and a Head-to-Tail dinner.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  Morton the Mousse May 2, 2008 12:07 PM

                  I was lucky enough to get sweetbreads as an entree on the regular menu once. Phenomenal. But I've only seen them once.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse
                    i
                    Indy 67 May 3, 2008 04:28 AM

                    I'm surprised to read that sweetbreads are that uncommon on the menu. I consider them one of the more accessible and available types of organ meats. Of course, that may be Cosentino's point in omitting them.

                    If I get something "offaly" from the appetizer or pasta menu as a first, will I be missing the point of going to Incanto if I order the halibut? The combination of fish, mixed seafood, Verdicchio, leeks, and herbs sounds so appealing.

                    1. re: Indy 67
                      Euonymous May 3, 2008 10:12 AM

                      Incanto does a great job with fish. I don't think you'd be missing the point at all.

                      1. re: Indy 67
                        Robert Lauriston May 3, 2008 03:43 PM

                        I've had several fish soups / stews there and they were all great. The chef's as into fish as he is into meat.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          ccbweb May 7, 2008 11:18 PM

                          Robert or someone: would you please describe the layout of the bar relative to the main dining area? Also, does anyone know if its possible to request the bar for dinner via reservation?

                          1. re: ccbweb
                            s
                            sugartoof May 7, 2008 11:31 PM

                            The bar runs the length of the main dining room, on the same side as the entrance, and extends to a partially open kitchen, and includes seating in front of the bar area itself, and a salad/prep station. It looked to me like it was set up with dining as it's main purpose. The bar is probably the most notable thing about the main room, in my opinion.

                            1. re: ccbweb
                              Robert Lauriston May 8, 2008 09:33 AM

                              You can reserve seats at the bar.

                              It runs less than half the length of the main dining room. From the front door there's a waiting area, a salumi cooler, then the bar seating, then the passageway from the bar, then the kitchen.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston
                d
                dordogne May 2, 2008 12:52 PM

                The only challenge with the bucatini/cured tuna heart is fighting off the forks reaching over from other diners at the table. The curing results in a deep, intense flavor and firm, almost crispy texture (I think it's shaved over the pasta, as they do at La Ciccia)--I have never had a dish so redolent of the sea.

              3. re: epicurious_sf
                s
                sugartoof Apr 30, 2008 07:48 PM

                "What did you have that was 'dull'?"

                Pasta, fish, and salumie plate....all dull.
                Are these standout dishes for Incanto?

                The only flavors which stood apart from one another were the pickled carrots, and the first couple bites of the tapenade before it was overpowered by the oil off one of the cured meats.

                1. re: sugartoof
                  ccbweb Apr 30, 2008 10:00 PM

                  This may end up being too far afield for this thread; but, what are some restaurants in San Francisco that you like?

                  1. re: sugartoof
                    Morton the Mousse Apr 30, 2008 11:15 PM

                    I don't love the antipasto platter. It's fine, but I've had apps that were far better such as the venison crudo with foie gras, duck testicles with peas and bacon, calves brains with brown butter and chestnuts, and trio of game bird conserva. None of those dishes were remotely to dull - they are, in fact, among my fondest food memories. Pasta - it depends. I've had pasta that was revelatory (a rabbit sugo with one of the most remarkable broths I have ever tasted comes to mind), and I've one or two pasta dishes that were so-so (for example, I don't share other posters' passion for the cured tuna heart, which I think gets a bit boring after a few bites). I only ordered fish there once. It was good, but nowhere near the braised pork shoulder, sweetbreads, lamb's neck, and the best preparation of duck I have ever had. Those mains were all home-runs. So yeah, I'd say that you missed out on Incanto's best on your single visit, but I do realize that many of these dishes are not for the faint of heart (even the duck, which sounds rather tame, was served so rare that it was close to raw, which is part of why it was the most perfectly cooked duck I have ever had).

                    1. re: Morton the Mousse
                      s
                      sugartoof May 1, 2008 11:12 AM

                      Knowing what Incanto is about, and knowing my own limits, I did purposely order safe.

                      It still doesn't explain rubbery fish, or overcooked pasta.

                      I'm not sensing any Cosentino loyalists are ready to amend their reviews to say "stick to the exotic cuisine or don't bother", so if it's on the menu, it should be cooked properly at least, wouldn't you agree? I'm really not out to debate it, or change the opinion of those who liked their meals at Incanto. I'm simply sharing my experience. If you refuse to believe it, then that's up to you.

                      I am curious though...
                      Nobody has addressed the issue of the glistening food. Is it oil?
                      Nearly every picture I've seen of Incanto food is shiny.

                      1. re: sugartoof
                        RWCFoodie May 1, 2008 11:55 AM

                        Comment on the "shiny food" - and oil. Thinking about the meal we recently had there, the green vegetables (nettles, fava tops) where drenched in oil...

                        1. re: sugartoof
                          s
                          SteveG May 1, 2008 12:11 PM

                          I have occasionally gotten a dish that was under-seasoned, but I've found the salty herb mixture on the focaccia usually does the trick.

                          As for glistening food, that's going to be one of two things:
                          A) meaty dishes are often going to have a high quality sauce, enriched with cooked down broths high in gelatin. The gelatin adds a lot of subtle flavor that some confuse with a fatty mouth feel. By high quality, I mean these aren't just a splash of wine swirled in the pan and then poured on the food--they're more classical and built on stocks, demiglace, vinegars, wines, etc.
                          B) veggies will have lots of olive oil. Italian food uses a lot of olive oil, and this is Italian food.

                          1. re: SteveG
                            s
                            sugartoof May 1, 2008 12:57 PM

                            Steve, that may be true, but the flavors for were completely masked by oil for me... which is why I report it being dull, and one note. I'd even question the quality of oil. There are different grades, and not all are meant for coating your tongue. Ingredients are all secondary once they're overcooked, or drowned. This is unique to what I tasted at Incanto, rather then something you can attribute to Italian food itself. I'd like to say the cook had a heavy hand that night, or something which was a fluke, but I'm looking at the pictures, and it's clear that's how they send their food out.

                            Of course it's easy to say someone is just not tuned in to pick up subtle flavors, but the stuff is glistening for a reason.

                          2. re: sugartoof
                            Robert Lauriston May 1, 2008 12:59 PM

                            One reason I've eaten at Incanto so many times is that everything's usually cooked just right. I don't believe I've yet had to send a dish back.

                            I think the only thing I've ever been served at Incanto that was overcooked was the brain in a whole roasted lamb's head, and that's unavoidable if you're going to roast it whole, which was a lot of fun.

                        2. re: sugartoof
                          Robert Lauriston May 1, 2008 10:06 AM

                          For context, it would be helpful to know your favorite restaurants. There's a place for that on the profile page.

                          A fair number people have reported here that they found the pork ragù and the braised pork bland. I don't feel that way at all but I can understand it: those dishes just bring out the flavor of the pork.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            s
                            sugartoof May 1, 2008 10:50 AM

                            You don't need context, you just need to accept that my opinion is my opinion, and it's based on the quality of the meal I experienced at Incanto.

                            1. re: sugartoof
                              ccbweb May 1, 2008 11:13 AM

                              I, for one, completely accept that its your opinion and that you're perfectly entitled to it.

                              I asked about other restaurants because I'd like to try to figure out whether your tastes and mine line up at all so that I can decide whether I think your opinion is likely to mirror what mine would be and, therefore, whether I'd still want to try Incanto or avoid it based in part on your opinion.

                              1. re: ccbweb
                                s
                                sugartoof May 1, 2008 11:46 AM

                                Cool, but I'm not really interested in qualifying this particular opinion since I've received some heat for it. Hope you can understand. I'm also not sure, whether or not liking Aqua (as just an example, I've never been) should reflect on my ability to form an opinion about Incanto.

                                I'm not suggesting you avoid Incanto (I wouldn't make it a priority though). So if you do go, and you're less then thrilled, just find comfort knowing you're not alone, even if there are those who find that possibility unfathomable.

                                1. re: sugartoof
                                  ccbweb May 1, 2008 12:04 PM

                                  Fair enough. To clarify, I don't think whether you like another restaurant or don't has any bearing whatsoever on your ability to form an opinion about Incanto or anywhere else; it only helps me figure out if that information is useful to me. Purely selfish information seeking on my part.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston
                              s
                              SteveG May 1, 2008 12:15 PM

                              Some people are looking for fireworks when they go to a highly regarded restaurant; I don't think the pork ragu or braised pork light up people's mouths, and they aren't supposed to. Those dishes are all about comforting, subtle flavors teased out of fantastic ingredients, which means not every palette will appreciate what they're about.

                        3. s
                          sugartoof Apr 26, 2008 12:19 PM

                          I would say it's best to take a look at a recent menu closer to your birthday and make sure your family would find things to order. It's a fine line between exotic and unappetizing. The comb from a roosters head in your salad might just cross that line.

                          The menu seems to have settled down with some standard dishes which are on the more accessible side, but my experience was they were poorly executed. I personally do not like all my food to be glistening wet with a strange shine, and when food is over salted, or not salted at all, and you're only eating one dish in the hopes of ridding yourself of the effects of the last dish, most of which are dull in flavor anyway, then you can't help but feel like you're the victim of some joke. One example I use is the pasta dish with spinach, which was cooked down to a grainy, stringy mushy tangled mess. My dining partner was certain she was eating frozen spinach, but even sadder it was probably some fancy farmed greens cooked to death instead.

                          15 Replies
                          1. re: sugartoof
                            daveena Apr 26, 2008 12:34 PM

                            The finanziera with cockscombs, duck tongues, and rice was so good that my entire table stopped talking while we were eating it. Didn't start talking again until the last bit was scooped up.

                            To the OP: if you're a little adventurous with your dining choices, you will be rewarded.
                            Found an old but good thread from last year:
                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/369138

                            1. re: sugartoof
                              Robert Lauriston Apr 26, 2008 01:07 PM

                              The menu changes daily. The olives, antipasto platter, handkerchief pasta, and panna cotta are the only constants. There are rarely more than three or four dishes with offal.

                              See this topic for recommendations on what to order from people who eat there regularly:

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507173

                              1. re: sugartoof
                                p
                                Problem Child Apr 26, 2008 10:50 PM

                                The pig trotters with foei gras we had last week was decadent.

                                1. re: Problem Child
                                  RWCFoodie Apr 27, 2008 02:53 PM

                                  Decadent is a good adjective for this dish: I'm glad you mentioned it: Several weeks ago we finally made the trek into the City for a dinner at Incanto. I was so looking forward to it and couldn't resist the foie appetizer.

                                  I can't believe that I'm whining about this: the serving was, hands down, the most humongous I have ever seen of foie. It was at least the size of a deck of cards and perhaps 1-1/2" thick! I gave the other 3 in our party good-sized tastes (at least a 1" square chunk to each) and still had way more than is good for anyone left for myself... The pig trotters were tiny bits but there was a huge strip of bacon across the foie and the whole thing was sitting on a large slice of grilled bread with a pool of very rich demi reduction beneath... Probably more fat in this dish than I normally consume in 2 months!

                                  I really should have stopped there but DH and I split a half portion of the pasta w/shaved tuna heart and egg yolk (more fat) and then I had to order the "Ancient Spiced Venison Ribs", could only manage a small bite and the rest went home. While the venison ribs sounded good to me, they really weren't. The spice mixture just didn't make it for either me or DH. An interesting dish on paper that didn't do it for us...

                                  While I wanted to love the place, and the foie was a huge, luscious portion, I ended up being underwhelmed... Why? The actuality not living up to the anticipation? The dinner not agreeing with my sometimes quirky digestive system (sorry...) The obvious attention regular customers receive that we as newbies didn't? (amuse bouche to the tables near us, not to us...but that's for another thread I guess...)

                                  I don't believe that Cosentino was in the kitchen that night so maybe my comments aren't really applicable....

                                  1. re: RWCFoodie
                                    p
                                    Problem Child Apr 27, 2008 09:27 PM

                                    Amuses? Really? We can't count ourselves as regulars, but we didn't get any amuses either. We sat at the bar that night and Cosentino was right next to us managing the kitchen.

                                    1. re: RWCFoodie
                                      s
                                      sugartoof Apr 27, 2008 10:04 PM

                                      Frebies are good business when it's with regulars, or customers chatting up the staff. That didn't appear to be the case with a table next to us though, so we just watched and felt left out. Same when I saw dishes being served that weren't even on the menu that night. I'm sure there's a method to it, but from my tables perspective, it seemed to be by silent lottery or something. It's not a good start when you're envying what's on another table, and it has nothing to do with how you ordered.

                                      1. re: sugartoof
                                        Atomica Apr 29, 2008 07:59 PM

                                        It's entirely possible (and I'd say probable) that a table being served things that aren't on the menu have requested in advance that their meal be left up to chef's choice. It doesn't seem odd to me at all considering the chef and the restaurant being discussed. Not one little bit!

                                        1. re: Atomica
                                          susancinsf Apr 29, 2008 08:27 PM

                                          no, I am not sure it is odd either, and as you say it could have been special ordered, ....or maybe it was just one of Incanto's 'secret dishes':

                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/436778

                                          but OTOH I have had the experience of feeling that my experience was not consistent with other tables nearby on nearly every visit to Incanto, and to be honest it is one of the factors that has kept me from being an out and out fan: just made me feel less than welcome, and I totally understand RWCFoodie's wondering about it. I specifically remember one meal where one of the staff (not Cosentino, he was older, perhaps the owner) came over to chat at length with a neighboring table of out of towners...At first I thought they were VIPS, but then I heard one of the couple mention that their concierge had recommended the restaurant: I honestly had the impression that they were being chatted up so they'd go back and give a good report to that concierge to bring in more business...I guess I understand that as a business model on some level, but I definitely remember at the time wondering why one would so obviousl court out of town business while completely (and I do mean completely) ignoring repeat customers who lived walking distance away....

                                          by the way RWCfoodie: don't feel bad about whining about too much fois: In a similar vein lately I've been wondering if I have to give up pork belly: seems like every time I've eaten it lately I end up paying for it with a sleepless night! Indeed, was at one of my favorite restaurants the other night (Passionfish in Pacific Grove) and when the server came up to tell us they were out of pork belly, I immediately thought to myself, 'good!'...

                                          (now that is sad

                                          )

                                          but then again, OP asked about the food, and I do think the head to tail concept is worth exploring, even if I am past the age where I seem to be able to eat all of the pig, though I might want to...

                                          1. re: susancinsf
                                            Robert Lauriston Apr 30, 2008 05:34 PM

                                            Incanto doesn't really have any secret dishes. Some customers saw Cosentino making himself a meal of the handkerchief pasta topped with a "sizzled" egg and started asking for it that way.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              susancinsf Apr 30, 2008 06:11 PM

                                              Did they put it on the menu after the Mercury News reported it as an off the menu, 'secret' item?

                                              1. re: susancinsf
                                                Robert Lauriston Apr 30, 2008 06:30 PM

                                                No. It's just a special request some customers make.

                                                A friend of mine regularly talks restaurants into making him affogatos. That doesn't mean he's adding secret items to their menus.

                                        2. re: sugartoof
                                          Robert Lauriston Apr 30, 2008 09:11 AM

                                          If the people at that other table were indeed getting dishes that were not on the menu, they may have ordered the Quinto Quarto:

                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/373195

                                          1. re: sugartoof
                                            Morton the Mousse Apr 30, 2008 04:44 PM

                                            I'm curious - did the server say that these items weren't on the menu, or did they just not look like anything that fit the menu descriptions? I ask because sometimes the dish I receive at Incanto does not look like what I envisioned when I read the menu description. For example, I'm sure that people have ordered mountain oysters expecting bivalves, and duck fries expecting potatoes.

                                            Hard to say for certain who is a regular and who isn't - not all regulars are chatty - unless you actually hear people saying they've never been there before.

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                              u
                                              uptown jimmy Apr 30, 2008 08:27 PM

                                              People who order mountain oysters and expect bivalves deserve what they get, whether they like it or not. Any fool knows oysters don't grow in the mountains. Questions should certainly be asked.

                                              I ask no questions about mountain oysters, as I grew up in those mountains, and know from whence those oysters come. And it ain't from the sea.

                                              1. re: uptown jimmy
                                                w
                                                wally Apr 30, 2008 10:00 PM

                                                Wern't they called Rocky Mountain Oysters?

                                    2. foodiegrl Apr 25, 2008 06:15 PM

                                      If you're interested, and if you have the budget, you should look into booking a "whole beast" dinner in the back room. It's a gorgeous space, and you can pick your critter depending on the size of your party and your tastes. I had the good fortune of sampling the whole goat a few weeks back, and it really was very well-prepared. This guy knows his way around a carcass. Even if your family isn't into whole beast dining, the pasta and other selections have just been phenomenal. Save room for dessert, too!

                                      http://jalapeno.typepad.com/my_weblog...

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: foodiegrl
                                        Robert Lauriston Apr 26, 2008 10:49 AM

                                        For smaller parties, with a week's notice you can order a "quinto quarto," which is basically a custom version of the annual head-to-tail offal dinner.

                                        http://incanto.biz/quintoquarto.html

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          h
                                          Hapa Dude May 8, 2008 12:35 PM

                                          I did the quinto quarto meal last fall. very good and the wine pairing is wirth getting too. here are pix from the meal!

                                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_...

                                          1. re: Hapa Dude
                                            s
                                            sugartoof May 8, 2008 10:20 PM

                                            Shiny!

                                            1. re: Hapa Dude
                                              RWCFoodie May 14, 2008 04:02 PM

                                              Great pix: I had an opportunity several years ago to sample "duck fries" at a Gary Danko cooking class that was all on duck - and was also amazed at how large they were - I believe they were from a moulard (sp ?) duck and were the size of Vienna sausages!

                                        2. Robert Lauriston Apr 25, 2008 08:59 AM

                                          It's my favorite restaurant too. Some of my past reports:

                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/30879
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33118
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/34045
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/34407
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36535
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/403867
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/373195
                                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50717...

                                          You can find a link to a long, comprehensive review on my Web site (click my name below for a link to that).

                                          1. Morton the Mousse Apr 24, 2008 11:36 PM

                                            Incanto is my favorite restaurant. I have had several revelatory meals there. Cosentino's cooking lives up to his philosophy. Though one can be intimidated by a menu that requires an Italian-English dictionary, the staff is friendly, welcoming, and not the least bit pedantic.

                                            1. Ruth Lafler Apr 24, 2008 11:12 PM

                                              You might want to do a search for "Incanto" -- there are many discussions. If you look it up on "places" there will be a whole collection of threads where it's linked or mentioned.

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