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Barbacco [SF]

Ate at Barbacco for the first time. The food was great. It was loud. The service didn't quite hit the right notes.

Although we'd made a res, we were seated at the bar. Next to screaming 20-something young women (we definitely brought up the median age, and that may be an underlying theme of this review). But the 20-somethings kind of had to scream to be heard. And everyone else had to scream to be heard over them. And so on.

Almost all the food was wonderful--romaine salad w/ anchovy parm bright and balanced, pomodoro soup nice deep flavors, house-cured sardine bruchetta perhaps the most briliant flavors, pasta w/ pork ragu a very good rendition, pork meatballs very tasty, charred brussel sprouts crispy/ punchy (maybe a tad too much balsamic). Didn't love the squid (tomato sauce fought w/ the fish imo, though my husband enjoyed). Bruchetta w/ greens a miss (flat/dull-tasting). And while I liked the truffled lardo bruschetta quite a lot, my husband took one bite and let me finish it (suspect he's just not a lardo guy).

Way more food than we understood from the "small plates" (turned out more like "medium") moniker and low prices, so we got to take stuff home. The waiter first encouraged us to get lots of dishes, explaining that they were small plates to share--but he did (thankfully) stop us from ordering even more than we did. He asked if we wanted suggestions and then proceeded to suggest 10 different things--none of which sounded delicious. So maybe it was just a mis-match of tastes, but his extensive recitations began to feel more of an intrusion than a help.

And the way food was brought out was a bit of a puzzle. Initially, one dish at a time, which was quite nice--we got to savor each dish that we shared. But then suddenly four dishes at once, pasta, meatballs, squid, brussel sprouts. Perhaps because they decided this was our main course, though actually each was in a separate category on the menu (pasta, fish, main, veg) --perhaps because it was late, and the kitchen was wrapping up--maybe it was up to us to say we wanted the pasta, then the fish, then the meatballs and veg--though the pacing up til then had been done by the kitchen and done well.

When we stepped back onto the sidewalk, my husband said, that was great, let's go back. I said, that was great, and I'm not sure I want to go back. The food was worthy of Michael Bauer's 3 stars--and maybe better than what we'd eaten the last time we were at Perbacco at a much higher price-point. But there was something jangley about the whole experience, such that I ended up very well fed but wishing for more of a sense of contentment. It felt more like a bar w/ really good food rather than a lovely restaurant--and that's maybe what it's supposed to be.

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Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Barbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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  1. Thanks for the detailed report, especially the ambiance comments.

    1. It really is supposed to be more like wine bar than a restaurant. I agree that the noise levels can be overwhelming, although I dropped in to pick up some take out after work on Monday and it was very reasonable. I got the fried Brussels sprouts everyone raves about and they were damn good, even for someone like me who isn't crazy about anchovies.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I work nearby and was wondering about getting take out to take home to dinner. How did the food travel? My home is 25 minutes from the restaurant so I've been reluctant to give it a try.

        1. re: farmersdaughter

          I think it would depend on what you get. They do catering/lunch delivery, so they're experienced at packing their food up, they have several different types of containers and they put it in a handle bag.

      2. What time was your reservation & how long was the wait for a table?

        1. I like Barbacco. Sitting at the bar always works for me because I get a sense of engagement/participation: food is always delivered in the order I set (I negotiate this with the waiter/waitress); I can request bigger/smaller portions as the night goes on; chatting with neighbors has always been a pleasant part of the experience. I would hate to be exiled to a booth.

          I'm not sure I get the iPad wine list but my wife likes it and says it's pretty helpful in narrowing down selections. That's good enough for me.

          Deb and I were there the night the Giants clinched the NLCS (big flat screen over the bar carried the action). It was a raucous time. We loved every minute of it.

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          Barbacco
          230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

          5 Replies
          1. re: steve h.

            I had lunch there Friday and the waiter consulted with me about how I wanted my order "coursed," plus she brought me a taste of one of the wines I was considering ordering. The only "issue" I had was that I wanted to order half the menu. Seriously, I can't think of many restaurants where I find so much of the menu appealing. They've been opening early on the weekends to show the Giants game -- talk about a place to watch the game with great food!

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I like Barbacco a lot. My only gripe is no grappa!

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              Barbacco
              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              1. re: steve h.

                I've always loved Perbacco. And I have eaten at Barbacco a number of times - at lunch and dinner.

                I'm happy to report the food is as good as ever.

                Had the following at lunch today ....

                1. Chef's Salumi Plate - today we missed the Chicchioli - everything else was really nice - mortadella, lox, etc. The server explained the most recent batch they made was not completely cured at the time, hence the absence.

                2. 3 Bruschette - Duck Liver Pate, Lox and then Local Sardines - all superlative.

                3. We split the porchetta sandwich, this sw was served with shaved fennel and arugula - the salad had a lot of pickled veggies though - mainly carrot and cucumber.

                4. To round off the meal we also had the usual brussel sprouts with anchovies and capers and red wine vinaigrette.

                No complaints whatsoever - the service, food, noise level hit all the right notes.

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                Perbacco
                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Barbacco
                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                1. re: osho

                  Not to sound like a broken record, but Barbacco continues to shine bright.

                  Couple of new (to me) dishes:

                  A ridiculously delicious poached shrimp sandwich with the ubiquitous arugula and pickled veggies. Shrimp were tiny and perfectly pink and cooked just right.

                  Pork meatballs with spinach ragu with raisins and pine nuts - this is different from the meatball dish that shows up at Perbacco which has the meat trifecta - pork, veal and beef. Lots of flavour and the meatballs had that elusive perfect texture.

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                  Perbacco
                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  Barbacco
                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: osho

                    >Not to sound like a broken record,
                    >but Barbacco continues to shine bright.
                    >
                    Barbacco is one of my favorite places in the city right now ... you can get out of there for ~$20is ... say the Bruschette trio + a drink ... or splurge. I like strong flavors, and they've got'em.

                    (I like Broken Record too, but not in the same league).

                    No problems with the service either ... we ordered quite a number of things, and I was kinda impressed the woman fielding the requests didnt write anything down. We even had a little conversation about "arent you going to write anything down?" ... it was good natured on all sides (I dont think she took offense, since I tried to communicate i was impressed, and not telling her how to do her job).

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                    Broken Record
                    1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

                    Barbacco
                    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

          2. Had a nice late meal last night.

            The highlight was a spectacular farrotto ($11) made with parmesan rind-mushroom broth, parmesan, mushrooms, and greens. One of the best vegetarian entrées I've ever had.

            Also really liked the salumi platter (larger size, $18), squid in spicy tomato sauce ($8), Brussels sprouts with capers and anchovy vinaigrette ($4), and roasted squash with pumpkin seeds ($4). Arancini ($3 each) stuffed with braised short rib and mozzarella should have been fried a bit longer, the cheese hadn't melted, but they were delicious just the same.

            Except for the squid, portions were very generous for the price, so it was way more food than we needed. I'd order less next time.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Comfortable shoes.
              Thanks for the report. The FiDi actually has a pulse after dark.

              1. re: steve h.

                I remarked on that during dinner. When I worked nearby, there was hardly anything, last night there were a bunch of places to choose from when the movie got out at 9:15.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I had a decent martini at Shields in mid-December. Early dinner at Cotogna the same week was really good.
                  Very impressive.

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                  Cotogna
                  490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  1. re: steve h.

                    I've tried most of the sandwiches on the lunch menu and have not had a miss yet. Everything is warm and the meat is always generously portioned. I'm also a big fan of the brussels sprouts, but I seem to like those wherever I go, so it probably and addiction...