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Incanto and Ame Trip Report

First thanks for the advice we received before our trip. It resulted in some wonderful eating. Thanks also for the phenomenal weather these past few days, especially Saturday's. We had been planning on visiting the Ferry Building/Plaza Farmer's Market and, then, heading up to the Annie Liebovitz photography show at the Legion of Honor. The weather and the food delights kept us outdoors all day Saturday.

Incanto: The word "relevatory" was a recurrent word in the posts I had read before eating at Incanto. We had no such experience. The food was delicious and we're glad we went -- although the other couple we were with would have been happy to have skipped this place entirely -- but this didn't even come close to relevatory.

Feeling solicitous about our less-adventursome friends, we asked the waiter for a description of the contents of the salumi platter. Here's a bit of what we were told, "...coarse pate... ciccioli...pancetta piana..." Based on the waiter's full list, we ordered the antipasto platter to be shared among the four of us. When the runner brought the dish to the table, he launched into a much fuller description. We were told that the coarse pate included heart, kidney, and tongue and that the ciccioli was "scrapple." That was the end of that for the wife. She picked at the little samples of the food and trimmed away all the fat on the pancetta. My husband and I enjoyed everything, but we weren't blown away. To be entirely fair, the fat on the pancetta was better than the lardo we've eaten on the salumi platter at Babbo and the mortadella was much, much better than the mortadella we had at Tamburini in Bologna. However, we had no revelatory moments like those we had the first time we ate prosciutto and culatello in Parma.

Our friends thoroughly enjoyed their shared order of gnocchi; ditto for my husband's and my shared order of handkerchief pasta with pork ragu. My husband loved his order of lamb neck and I loved my order of halibut. Our friends said their orders of lamb neck and pork shoulder with fava beans were "good" but that's faint praise from these Italian-food enthusiasts.

The panna cotta was the best panna cotta I've ever tasted.

I'm drawing a blank on our lovely wine.

Ame: We adored this restaurant. I could have happily eaten there twice. My husband began with one of the appetizer specials, pork and ginger tortelloni in broth. All the elements were stellar: filling, pasta dough and broth. I began with the Tai Snapper sashimi. Truly swoon time. The pickling of the tiny cucumber slices played beautifully off the sweetness of the crab and the fish. Just lovely. My husband and I then shared an order of the Kampachi carpaccio. (I did ask a question about the "mountain caviar." I wanted to know if that was some kind of euphamism for tiny diced "mountain oyster." Nope. Just a seed added for texture.) Sublime. The fish was fantastic. (I know hamachi, but I'd never had kampachi.) The thin shaving of radish slices was a lovely counterpoint to the texture of the fish and the zing of the ponzu sauce enlivened everything, but never dominated. The sauce was so appealing that we sopped the excess up with the lovely crusty rolls.

I followed up with an entree of the well-regarded black cod and shrimp dumplings. Add me to the praise chorus. My husband loved his surf and turf: wagyu beef steak and abalone steak. The portion of steak was ridiculously generous and the abalone was tender and flavorful. We ended the meal by sharing the rhubard pie and the castilla. We vastly preferred the pie. It was wonderfully tart and a lovely foil for the ice cream. I thought the castilla squares needed more of the fruit and lemon curd filling. I mostly tasted the well-executed sponge cake casing.

I think Ame is every bit the equal of Le Bernadin. My husband may even give Ame the edge since he likes meat which he can't get at Le Bernardin.

In brief:
Yank Sing's dim sum were fabulous. I'll confess to preferring the less oily style of Yank Sing's food to that of Gold Mountain. The down side of our lunch at Yank Sing is that I don't know when I'll eat dim sum again locally. Yank Sing's dim sum were so clearly superior to anything we eat in the DC and Northern Virginia area that I'm reluctant to go to our usual haunts.

We had a pleasant lunch at The Slanted Door, especially the duck confit with frisse. Unlike our local Chinese food, we get phenomenal Vietnamese fare in the many restaurants in the Eden Center, a Vietnamese ethnic shopping center in Northern Virginia.

Finally, if someone is looking for a sure-fire way to make money, I encourage your to start a mailing store located in the Ferry Building. Early in the morning, we bought some Meyer Lemon Marmalade early in our Ferry Building/Plaza prowl and, in doing so, converted our roll-aboard suitcases into checked luggage. We would have bought considerably more food if the transportation issues hadn't been so unappealing.

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  1. Thanks for the trip report! Incanto and Ame have both been on my list for a while, and I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed them.

    1. links

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      Ame Restaurant
      689 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

      1. I get thrilled by eating in any Italian restaurant in the US that follows the model of great restaurants in Italy: impeccable sourcing, dishes prepared to highlight the essential flavors of the ingredients, and amazing home-made pasta. I'm happy to apply the word "revelation" when I find those restaurants even if that's a slightly different use of the word than Morton the Mousse. By that definition, I should have more positive feelings about Incanto. I just can't divorce my husband's and my happy food experiences from a difficult situation with our wine service and the disconnect between the two salumi descriptions that resulted in our companions' discomfort. We would never have ordered the salumi platter if we had heard the list of specific offal. Put another way, my friend might have eaten more of the meat happily if no offal detail had been supplied.

        The wine situation: The four of us adore Amarone and we wanted to order a bottle with our meal. Amarone really needs to breathe, so we wanted to place our wine order early and get the process started. We asked our waiter three times to come to our table to take our wine order, but he never showed up. Finally, after the salumi platter had been delivered, a different waiter came over to take our wine order. He recommended a different wine instead of the Amarone and shared the information that when Sean Penn had been at the restaurant he and his party had ordered the same wine. The wine was a great recommendation, but knowing that I was drinking the same wine as Sean Penn was irrelevent compared to the wine service having been botched and the wine being served before it had a chance to breathe.

        1. I am in the minority on not finding Incanto to be worthy of the extreme acclaim it receives on this board. I didn't find anything special about the atmosphere and the food was good but not praise-worthy. It would definitely not be a destination restaurant for me but if you happen to be in the neighborhood and was a fan of offal then its worth a visit.

          1 Reply
          1. I think the biggest problem Incanto has is its "signature" dishes. I've read multiple "meh" reports by people who ordered the Antipasto Platter and the Handkerchief Pasta with Pork Ragu, and passed on the more challenging dishes. My "revelatory" moments have come primarily from eating preparations of offal that I never expected to like, and wound up loving.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              The problem isn't the signature dishes, it's going there wanting a predictable experience. Incanto is about adventure. The food is intentionally challenging, and when it's successful, delicious in the way that only new flavors can be--if you like that kind of thing. If you don't, it's just an odd kind of Italian restaurant with erratic service.

              I've had better luck taking people to Incanto (and ordering) than sending them. But even then, the raves versus perplexed looks fall along the lines of trotter eaters and cardoon tasters and those who would have preferred a bowl of fresh pasta with tomatoes and basil. And the ratio of hits to misses is higher when you order more dishes.

              1. re: Windy

                I imagine it's because because I lived in Rome for several years, but it's most of the other Italian restaurants in SF that I find a bit odd.

                The only thing weird about Incanto was that for a long time they didn't have bread, which is sort of like a Chinese restaurant not having rice.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  When I read the text on Incanto's web site about its food style, I was bewildered. I recognized the Roman emphasis in the sample menu and in Chowhound descriptions of dishes yet I read, "... the food we serve at Incanto represents a part of Italy that is called 'California'." Why not own up to the Roman style of cooking? What's the advantage?

                  1. re: Indy 67

                    I haven't been to Rome, so can't speak to authenticity or style, only to my experience bringing friends. The menu is filled with foods most people--including those of us who eat most meals out--have never heard of. That's why I go there.

                    Chris is a brilliant eccentric. It's not for all tastes.

                    1. re: Indy 67

                      The best food in Italy is local and seasonal. Hence the "part of Italy that is called 'California'" comment.

                      Incanto's menu is not inspired by any particular part of Italy. For that you can go to A16, La Ciccia, or SPQR.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        "The best food in Italy is local and seasonal."

                        True enough. However, the "California" analogy has its limits. Offal is particularly associated with the cuisine of Rome. And "local" as applied to ingredients and recipes in Italy definitely doesn't include distances as big as the dimensions of the whole state of California. It doesn't even include distances as great as the southern CA and northern CA split. Think of the example of filled pasta in Emilia-Romagna. The shape, size, and stuffing varies from town to town, each of which is separated by a very small distance. The residents of one town wouldn't think of preparing the version of another town. But you know that from your time in Italy, and I think we're just splitting hairs.

                        Bottom line: I'll continue to view Cosentino's comment as an idiosyncracy. I'll think fondly on the food my husband and I ate at Incanto and not obsess too much on the guilt I feel by taking our friends to a place that caused them some discomfort.

                        1. re: Indy 67

                          People eat offal all over Italy. Incanto's current sample menu includes Neapolitan-style tripe and Sardinian-style cured tuna heart. My all-time favorite favorite offal dishes there are the Finanziera, which is from Piedmont, and the nervetti (beef tendon) with fried sweetbreads and chiles, which I think was Cosentino's own invention.

              2. Indy67, thanks for your report! It is always great to hear out-of-towner's points of view. I haven't been to Incanto or Ame but appreciate your thoughts on both. I hope you aren't dissuaded from future reporting by some of the nitpicking that goes on around here. I'm sure everyone appreciates it when a visitor does some research on the board and follows up on the recommendations.

                1. Nice report. Thanks.

                  If you search the Places database, you will find most of the Ferry Plaza Vendors. Many have mail order options. The meyer lemon marmelade sounds like it was from Frog Hollow. June Taylor who also makes jams and jellies, makes fruit syrups. No samples, but they are beyond excellent. So should you ever do mail order, I highly recommend trying one of the syrups.

                  http://www.chow.com/places/regions/1

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                  Slanted Door
                  Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                  Yank Sing Banquet & Catering
                  101 Spear St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: rworange

                    Which June Taylor syrups do you recommend? I'm always put off by the price, despite knowing the quality.

                  2. We recently tried Incanto. While we enjoyed the food, I left feeling somewhat less enthusiastic about the overall experience. We made our reservation far in advance, and yet were seated at a tiny table for two. This made it very difficult to enjoy our food, as we were constantly juggling items on the table. Also, there were lots of people waiting on our table, but they didn't seem to coordinate with one another. We waited an incredibly long time for our dessert cheese plate and had to flag someone down to see what was taking so long. The food was all good, but not spectacular. The best dish for me was the mortadella bruschetta with fried egg and the asparagus side dish. The pork shoulder, hankerchief pasta, antipasto platter and cheese plate were all fine, but not outstanding.