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Jun 1, 2008 10:04 AM

My dinner at Incanto

Last night a friend who lives in Noe Valley invited us out to Incanto. It's been on my list for a while so the wife and I sped right over. We liked it a lot although it's a little noisy for my taste, but all restaurants seem to be like that.
The service was ideal. The servers were attentive without being obtrusive, and extremely knowledgable about the food and wine. Earlier posts on this board had me worried, so I was glad that they seem to have really improved this. Our server was able to steer me to a perfect wine for our meal.
We started with the warm olives (beautiful) and then the signature handkerchief pasta with pork ragu (awesome!) A glass of wine, a big bowl of that pasta, a good movie or game on tv, and I'd be a very happy camper for a long Sunday afternoon.
The desserts were also exceptional. I especially liked the bay leaf scented panna cotta, which was the perfect finish to our meal.
But all this is well-trodden ground. The reason I'm writing is the entrees. To be honest, we all wished we'd skipped the entrees and simply had starters, wine, pasta, and dessert. My wife and friend had the whey-braised pork, which was .... boring? Just a plate of stewed pork. Nicely done, braised with spring onions or ramps, tender and tastey, but I've had pork just as good for 1/3 the price.
I had the lamb's neck. I've never had this before and didn't know what to expect. What I got was a 3 inch slice of the neck column, braised until it was fork tender. My first bite was "ewww, this has aged a little too long." But my brain kept saying a restaurant this nice won't serve food that has gone off. The meat was very fatty and rich, and had such a strong mutton/gamey odor that it was actually unpleasant. My stomach did a few flip-flops on the way home and I actually had some doubts about whether I would keep it down. Is this right? Is lamb neck supposed to be like that and I just ate too much rich food, or did something go wrong in the kitchen?

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  1. Good lamb is as gamy as goat. I don't know how they deflavorize the "lamb" they sell in American supermarkets.

    Incanto's whey-braised pork is $20. You might get some tasty pork at a Yucatecan dive for $6.67 (probably more like $9.50), but it's not certified humane pastured pork, and minus the spices you might taste the difference.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      The first (and last) time I had the braised pork at Incanto, I had had the braised pork joint at Shanghai on Webster in Oakland earlier in the same week, and I remember thinking the same thing as OP: Shanghai's was just as good, or better, not that dissimilar, and much, much cheaper. Sure, quality of pork is or may (?) be higher at Incanto, but after all, part of the whole point of braising originally was to tenderize lower quality or tougher pieces of meat....

      by the way, I put that 'is or may' with a question mark because I while I am quite sure that the Incanto pork is more expensive than the version at Shanghai (and presumably Shanghai wouldn't care if it was humanely pastured or not) whether it tastes better or not might be a matter of preference. Similarly, I never find goat to be so gamey as to be unpleasant, so it is hard to say without more info whether the lamb's neck had gone off or ws just what it was supposed to be. It does get raves on the board, but I personally haven't tried it.

      In general, I have found mains to be less consistently good at Incanto, when compared to appetizers and the pastas.

        1. re: susancinsf

          another link:

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

        2. re: susancinsf

          Even from the finest pig, some cuts are best braised.

        3. re: Robert Lauriston

          Likewise, most of the lamb I've purchased from stores in the US was imported from New Zealand, and it's rarely ever gamey to the extent described.

          As for the pork - it's one of the cheaper meats out there, but if it were served in the outstanding fashion, that you expect from a high end place, it's not unreasonable or uncommon for an establishment to charge $20 or so. I'm no fan of the place, but I don't think it's the pricing which is off. I think it's time to get used to these types of reviews from people who really wanted to like the place, perhaps even loved certain elements, but were ultimately letdown in great part due to the overhyped expectations.

          1. re: sugartoof

            I didn't mean to imply the braised pork at Incanto is overpriced and indeed, I don't think it is given the overall price points of the menu and the ambiance. My point (and I think OPs as well) was more that it was disappointing and not that special, particularly when compared to some of the other menu options.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Oh I was mostly responding to the OP's observation. I've certainly been in your position where you order something and it's alright, but not much better then the version you had elsewhere for 1/3 of the price. I also agree with you that the farm raised organic products become meaningless if you can't taste that quality on your plate.

              1. re: sugartoof

                yes, but only meaningless from a taste standpoint (if you can't taste the difference). there are plenty of non-taste related reasons to prefer farmed raised organic products.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  "I know where my hogs come from and I am pround to support Range Brothers, and I can taste the difference."--Chris Cosentino, Incanto's chef


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    The comments to his post were a bit more enlightening.

                    I only wish all of Incanto's customers could taste the difference too. Anyway, why should we be rewarding a renowned chef merely for using top ingredients? That should be a given. It's still what hits the plate that counts.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              Mr Lauriston,
              My comment about getting just as good for 1/3 the price was mean-spirited. I regret the comment and withdraw it. My companions were disappointed in the dish simply because it didn't match the rest of their meals. I didn't mean to imply that the dish wasn't excellent or worth the money.
              Regarding the lamb: is lamb neck a particularly gamey portion? I generally associate strong gaminess with cheap mutton stew; hence the dissonance I felt when getting that taste at a top quality restaurant. Are you saying that gaminess is also an attribute of the very best quality lamb? Like some cheeses, or a durian, is it something to savor and appreciate?

              1. re: Sisiutl

                All the lamb I've had at Incanto has been gamy compared with what you'd buy at a supermarket.

                As far as I'm concerned, gamier lamb tastes better. I think the flavor depends a lot on what they eat. One of the buchers at the halal butcher I buy from (Indus Foods in Berkeley) told me their animals are grass-fed.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I buy lamb at the same spot. It has always been fairly mild. Actually, I would prefer it with a bit more lamb flavor. After all, I am not buying beef.

            3. We ate there a few weeks ago.....the pig trotter/foie app. is one of the best dishes I've had anywhere period....perfect balance of texture and flavour

              1. I think you had the lamb's neck on an off night. We were there a few months ago with friends; I had the lamb's neck, and while I don't like gamey meat (prefer rack of lamb to leg of lamb) the neck wasn't gamey for me at all. Was definitely too much for me to finish, both in terms of richness and quantity of meat, but it was good.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Cindy

                  I agree that the OP may have been served "off" meat-lamb's neck that night. The OP stated that "But my brain kept saying a restaurant this nice won't serve food that has gone off'. Sometimes even in the best of restaurants or kitchens, food could be off. No one/kitchen/restaurant is "perfect". Although I do understand given the reputation of Incanto that one may be hesitant to question or doubt the quality of product. But, sometimes we have to go with our first instincts regardless of how good a restaurant is supposed to be.

                  1. re: foodseek

                    Any kitchen can make a mistake, but spoiled or spoiling meant doesn't smell "mutton/gamy."

                2. I can see the OP's point on the lamb neck being gamy. I just had it last week and, when I actually stopped the bliss for a moment to talk to my wife, mentioned that this might not be the meal for everyone. It was, to my taste, a bit gamy which frankly was fantastic. But not everyone likes lamb that way. Agreed that he must source his lamb like everything else. It is nice to have lamb that doesn't taste like beef.

                  Certain cuts seem to have more, or less, of that than others. I've had tenderloin that was nearly devoid of it, while shoulder steaks are more so.

                  It was my first time having the neck, and it was simply perfection (as was the lamb kidney on mashed peas). Both the essence of spring.

                  I've also complained about aloof service before and finally had a perfect server, with great wine recommendations (a Super Tuscan I didn't know).