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Mar 3, 2010 08:18 AM


Went last night.

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  1. The menu's organization is eccentric and a bit confusing: ten sections (not counting desserts and beverages) including "piccoline" (little ones), salumi fatto a mano, "latte stagionato" (aged milk, i.e, cheese), "inizio" (start), bruschette, "nella ciotola" (in the bowl), "dal grano" (of flour, i.e, pasta and polenta), "pinne e conchiglie" (fins and shells), "piedi e ali" (feet and wings), and "a lato" (on the side). I eventually got out my notebook and wrote a list of stuff to order.

    Pork-stuffed olives: fun. Tasted better after they cooled off a bit.

    Testa (head cheese) with breadsticks and pickled onions: awesome.

    Ribollita (thick minestrone) cooked down until thick, mixed with bread, and fried to make a sort of cake: delicious.

    Quick-braised squid: excellent, some of the best I've had in recent years.

    Seasonal seafood salad: not bad. I wasn't thrilled with the mussels.

    Mussels cooked with nduja, garlic, and chile: great sauce, again I wasn't thrilled with the mussels but with a bite of sauce-soaked toast anything would be delicious.

    Brussels sprouts with anchovies and capers fried in duck fat: best Brussels sprouts ever, better than SPQR's.

    Really interesting wine list, lots of choices by 3 oz. taste, 6 oz. glass, 250 ml, or 500 ml. Standouts were the Marisa Cuomo 2008 Ravello, Marco Carpineti 2008 Collesanti (Arcipinti, a grape I hadn't encountered before), Becker-Landgraf 2007 Pinot Noir (a bargain at $33 a bottle), Scholium Project 2008 Verdelho, and Scholium Project 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (an "orange" wine that smelled and tasted as if it had been made from lichees).

    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    8 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I had those Brussels sprouts a few weeks ago at lunch and they were indeed spectacular. More like chips than a vegetable, but well worth every bit of salt and fat and they made a nice accompaniment to a sandwich.

      1. re: ourswimmer

        Another thumbs up for the brussels sprouts - some of the best around. Great mix of tart/fat/salt. Got them to go at lunch yesterday, ate half then and other half today. Heated up well, got even stronger with the anchovy (no problem for me). I was a little less enamored by the porchetta sandwich. Loved the condiments, but found it to be, I hate to say this, a little too heavy. Would like it more with some crispy skin/fat added to break up all the soft texture.

        1. re: The Dive

          I was working in SF last week and ended up eating lunch at Barbacco twice.

          The raves about the Brussels sprouts (above) were what drew me in initially. Perhaps due to high expectations I was not impressed with the sprouts here. Dopo does this same preparation much better (when they have Brussels sprouts on the menu, which is, unfortunately, not too often). Dopo's version has a deeper, more caramelized flavor. The vinegar and the sprouts are balanced. Barbacco's version was too tart and salty. Could have been a bad day, I guess.

          On the first day I also had the sardine bruschette which was very good and the tuna conserva sandwich which was very bland. The pickled veg that came with it were very good. I used them to give the sandwich some life.

          I'm not sure why I returned a second time for lunch after not being impressed on the first visit. I guess the sheer number of good reviews here made me want to give it a second chance.

          This time I started with the 'nduja which is a spicy, spreadable salame. I got the small portion which is WAY too much for one person. Once again I was thinking Dopo\Adesso does this better. I prefer the Ciccioli that Dopo serves gratis over the 'nduja.

          The orreciette pasta with cavolo nero and sausage was simple and excellent. I also tasted the ceci beans with tomato and rosemary which were very firm and rather good.

          I like the atmosphere but I'm not sure why they would have the TV set on a station showing a sports call-in show both days. Service was really friendly and professional.

          4293 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

          230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        We were downtown two nights ago and Barbacco was a perfect place for a nice informal dinner.

        Their home made salumi is available on a mixed platter in two sizes -- the smaller one (reasonably priced at $11) was just fine for two. This plate is variable, for us it included some interesting items (sanguinato - a salami colored black with blood like a boudin noir, lonza- a pork loin somewhat like prosciutto, and a delightful ciccioli - Sicilian rillettes - with mostarda and crostini).

        We also had a nice selection of 3 bruschette (duck pate, excellent, caponata, very excellent, asparagus and egg, less exciting).

        We also had the quick braised squid - like Robert, my wife raved about this. i was less enthused about it.

        As pasta, the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovy was first class. I believe the pasta was fresh made, but I forgot to ask if this was so.

        A reasonably priced lemon curd tart ($5) was also fine.

        The nice choice of wines allows for 3 oz tastes at 1/8 of their bottle price (and 1/2 of a 6 oz pour) which is amazingly fair (8x3=24 oz!) and makes it possible to have a good sampling of their wine.

        Total bill was around $80 - staying under $100 for 2 at this quality in this town is not an easy task.

        For us Barbacco falls in the same food-ecology niche as Pizzeria Delfina: informal, counter seating, slightly more expensive, no pizzas, but a good change of pace, young financial district types instead of Mission techy gentry. Craig Stoll's impeccable taste and techniques makes the Delfina side dishes more interesting and refined (for me at least). The highest compliment I can give Barbacco is that the orecchiette were at Delfina's level.

        1. re: Thomas Nash

          Had the Porchetta sandwich for lunch a few days after above post -- it was really excellent. As a sandwich it was as incredible as Roli Roti's. Was served with a topping describe on the menu as a "grape agro-dolce" -- I guess that is a sweet and sour grape chutney, but it seemed to have caremalized onion in it also -- a perfect combination with the porchetta.

          The desserts at this place are forgettable. The Espresso Panna Cotta was no better than poor -- a barely coffee flavored jello with a dollop of whip cream.

          Roli Roti
          , Hayward, CA

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          Thanks for a most informative review, RL. It's a shame that the mussels didn't match the execution of the other dishes. The Ribolitta, squid, and brussels sprouts set the hook in my mouth and hope to be reeled in on my next visti. BTW, best wishes on your new endeavor in the east bay, hope to be able to bring a few hounds to enjoy.

          1. re: PolarBear

            The mussels were good, I'm just extremely picky. A Cote sources some particularly good ones.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            I'd like to add my appreciation for the comments. We went last nite, followed the suggestions, and completely enjoyed every bite: artichoke soup, Brussels sprouts, duck pate bruschete, quick-braised squid, farroto. Loved the padron peppers.
            I gotta add that we found the espresso panna cotta a really nice light finish to the meal.
            And both easy parking and BART access.

          3. I've now been there three times in the last couple of weeks - I really like the casual atmosphere (communal tables) and varied number of small plates. There's always something that I seem to be in the mood for at any given time.

            Particular highlights include the brussels sprouts (agree that they might be up there with the best ever), polpette (meatballs) with a side of polenta (good tasty comfort food), mussels (the sauce and toast were the best part, get extra toast to soak up the leftover sauce. Also really liked the flavor and texture of the ndjua), and the paccheri pasta w/pork ragu. Others that I liked but didn't love include the bruschette, and the minstra soup.

            Overall I like the accessibility and flexibility of their menu, and the ability to drop in for whatever you might be in the mood for. The quality of the food seems to be of the same level as Perbacco (same kitchen perhaps?) though the portion sizes and prices are lower. That said, in my three times there, it seems to run $25-30/pp for a lot of food. Not cheap, but well worth it for the quality and variety.

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch today (rough week), so I walked over to Barbacco. At about one o'clock it was busy, but not full. One nice thing about a 3-ounce glass option is that you can have some wine with lunch and not worry about having to go back to work. I chose a delightful 2002 Riesling Kabinet -- the bartender even let me try a sip to make sure I liked it before she poured.

                I really wanted to order everything, but I settled on a salumi platter and a small roasted beet salad (with arugula, blood orange and a little bit of fennel). The salumi platter had six different kinds of salumi, plus a small dish of pickled vegetables and a generous amount of crostini and breadsticks (I hate it when you don't get enough bread with your cheese or salumi). I'm not sure what all of them were, although I suppose I could have asked, but they were all good and there was a nice variety of unseasoned and spiced items. The beet salad was a little oily but delicious and a generous portion for a "small." The guy at the counter next to me ordered the soup of the day, and when it came it looked so good I asked what it was. Since it was artichoke, I got a small to go, and also asked them to box half the salumi, which they did in a nice handled brown bag. In the interests of good reporting I just took a sip of the soup and my eyes rolled back in my head. Delicious, although very rich -- I'm glad I ordered a small. The salumi, salad, soup and a glass of wine came to 28.50 before tax and tip. Not bad for a full-service lunch that I'm going to get a second meal out of. I'll definitely be going back.

                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                2 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Thanks for the writeup. I tried Barbacco for lunch recently and enjoyed the beet salad, farroto, gelati, and panna cotta. Absolutely delicious.

                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Had the braised chicken thighs with cracked olives and almonds & escarole for a decompression lunch earlier this week (I'm so lucky it's directly across California Street from my office -- don't even need an umbrella when it's rainy!). Ate one thigh & most of accompaniments; boxed the 2nd for another lunch so I could finish with the butterscotch gelato & chocolate crunch (garnish) . . . delish. . . I really enjoy the mint limonata here.