Incanto Head-to-Tail Dinner 2009 (with pics)
This was my first time at the Head to Tail Dinner, and while I enjoyed most of the dishes, and I take pride in being fairly open-minded about variety meats, I have to be honest – it was a little too much offal in one sitting for me. I think the large veal brain may have done me in.
Venison heart tartare, foie gras, ciccioli brioche – this was excellent, with the heart tartare dressed in a light vinaigrette that helped keep the richness of the dish from being overwhelming (I think we were drinking a vermentino with this, which also helped significantly. This was a *very* rich dish.)
Goose intestines, fava beans, and artichokes – I thought this was great. The intestines were split and strongly resembled tofu skins in both appearance and texture. I thought this was a remarkably Chinese-tasting dish, with favas instead of soybeans, and a deeply reduced goose stock (I think) sauce that had the umami of soy. This also had little circular tube pastas that looked more like intestines than the intestines did.
Big brain, little brain, with asparagus – a veal brain and a veal testicle, each breaded and fried. I was only able to eat the breaded portions of the brain – the center part was just too fatty for me. The testicle was better – it had a firmer texture that reminded me of sweetbreads more than anything.
Cordedda with peas, mint, and sheep’s milk polenta – a pig intestine stuffed with sheep liver, kidney, and spleen. I liked the liver and kidney, and even the intestine (I’ve been wary of pig intestines ever since I was a child – I do *not* think it’s nice to tell kids that intestines are noodles), but I can’t handle spleen. Something about the texture. I did polish off the polenta.
Coffee & doughnut – a pork blood and espresso hot chocolate (quite good, although I was distracted by the slight graininess – chocolate or blood? Chocolate or blood?) and a doughnut filled with a pork liver and chocolate ganache (really more delicious than you would think).
Overall, a good meal, but I would have appreciated independent components of it more had my other courses been, say, a plate of spaghettini with tuna heart and egg, followed by a plate of spaghettini with tuna heart and egg. I will continue to order offal dishes at Incanto, because they still do them better than any other place I’ve been, but I don’t plan to have five of them in rapid succession again.
Pic 1: Venison heart tartare and foie gras
Pic 2: Goose intestine, fava, artichoke
Pic 3: Big brain, little brain
Pic 4: Coffee and doughnuts
Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131
Pork blood and espresso hot chocolate?! Doughnut filled with a pork liver and chocolate ganache?! Incanto, here I come!
Great post, thanks. The chef posted pics too and pics of some of the prep on his twitter (@offalchris) if you want to see more.
Thanks for the review! Also our first time at head-to-tail - we found out that very day by chance about the event and rushed (futilely) to make reservations. The hostess informed us at 6 pm that they'd probably have seats at the bar for the next half hour or so. We scrambled down to the restaurant, just in time to see Bourdain at the bar: very tempted to yell to him, "no reservations? We don't have reservations either!" but we were too shy.
Had many of the same feelings as you about the meal - I generally love offal, but I thought some of the dishes were a little too blunt in their presentations of organ meats, something I didn't entirely expect because of how well I generally think the restaurant works offal into the context of its dishes.
venison heart tartare: in retrospect, probably my favorite dish: a great starter dish that in both appearance and taste first reminds you of its tuna counterpart, but you quickly realize how much richer and deeper this dish is. Loved the foie gras addition, and out of all the dishes tonight, I thought this was the one dish where the use of offal most improved the taste of a dish.
Goose intestines - I had also commented to my companion about how Chinese I thought this preparation was! That said, it was mostly unexciting to me, and I'd really hoped that the artichoke would've played a larger role.
Big brain / little brain - Don't have much to add to your report here - this was a simple, well-executed dish that tasted like it sounded. The calf brain's texture was remarkable, though: I've never had brain that was this creamy and fluffy. Even for a big eater and a brain lover, though, the portion of calf's brain was close to overwhelming. I loved the golden crust on both of the main elements on this dish.
Cordedda - Again, another dish that tasted like it sounded, but I was much happier with the third course than this one. I think some of the inner elements - in particular, the liver - were overcooked, and so became dry and gamy; the fat of the intestine helped mitigate this, but I thought the polenta was still the best part of this dish.
Coffee & doughnuts - This dish really summarized this meal. On one hand, the pork liver and chocolate ganache was absolutely a highlight of the meal, even in a cold doughnut: rich, savory, smooth, and sweet all at once, it made for a fantastic dessert. The liver added so much to this dessert - it was the dominant flavor in the filling, but it was still unmistakably sweet and chocolatey. The blood, on the other hand, added nothing to the espresso except to curdle and make it grainy. I'm pretty sure it was just in the espresso just for the sake of being there. Like the dessert, half of this meal was brilliant, and the other half was, well, eating sheep's liver for the sake of eating sheep's liver.
I'm not sure if it was because we were sitting at the bar, but the servers seemed thoroughly uninterested in us; we had to prompt them at every dish to describe what we were being served. That being said, service is really a pretty low priority for us, so it didn't really detract from the experience; it just surprised me because they didn't seem nearly as excited about the event as we were!