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Cotogna vs Perbacco [San Francisco]

Will be coming to SF for a weekend in May. Which of these two are better for an LA Hound. I have dined at Cotogna twice. The first time was a few months after they opened and it was outstanding. The next was clearly a weaker visit but it is possible we ordered the wrong dishes for our taste. Have only walked by Perbacco. Your comments are welcomed.

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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Robert has a point but I'd have to hold out for Cotogna over Perbacco (based on a scant three lunches vs one dinner). I just love the room at Cotogna and of course the food has for me been outstanding. Perbacco impressed me less on both ambiance and grub, though it was by no means poor. I believe Perbacco will be an easier reservation if that matters -- dinner at Cotogna is a tough get!

    2. I have had dinner at Cotogna maybe half a dozen times always hoping to capture the magic that makes so many people rave about the place, but I've never succeeded in that. I've never had a bad meal there, but I've always left a little disappointed feeling it didn't quite live up to the hype. I mean, when you have a pizza there and the next night you find yourself at Americano, which is part hotel restaurant, part pick-up bar, and have a better pizza, you start to wonder whether Cotogna isn't possibly overrated.

      As for Perbacco, I've had dinner there hundreds of times. It's competently done food with rare lapses in consistency. I would agree with Robert that if you've been to Cotogna twice but never to Perbacco, maybe you should try it out.

      One more issue is the small, cramped, and loud space at Cotogna. Getting a seat there will likely be a bigger challenge than dining at Perbacco.

      1. I haven't been to Cotogna, but I've enjoyed Perbacco and its less-upscale sister Barbacco in the past and I recently learned from a tweet that Barbacco will be offering a regional menu series, with May featuring Abruzzo

        1. I'm curious about this too. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Alba in the Piedmont region of Italy, and it's hard to find some of the food we enjoyed there here in NY. I had decided on Cotogna for our Italian dinner, but now seeing Perbacco's menu, I'm leaning towards that instead. I see vitello tonnato, tajarin, agnolotti, lots of Piedmont cheese and wines.... if anyone has been to Spinasse in Seattle, how would Perbacco compare?

          10 Replies
          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

            The vitello tonnato was great when I had it, best I've had outside of Italy. Agnolotti dal plin are fantastic, as are the salumi, carne cruda, and salsiccia di Bra. Great seafood. One of the best cheese courses I've had in the area. The new sommelier, Claudio Villani (who was at Incanto for a few years and then in Las Vegas), has substantially expanded the Piemonte section of the list.


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              The cheese list alone seems to be reason enough to go there. I think I'm convinced. Thanks.

            2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

              Cotogna's cooking is very different than Perbacco. It's richer, heavier in feel, with lots of gravy. It's very good, we liked our meal, but it isn't aimed at the same dining experience as Perbacco.

              Also, Perbacco's service is outstanding, some of the best around. They beat Cotogna by a mile when it comes to well-trained waitstaff who understand how to work with the kitchen in timing dishes properly. Especially these days, when a group might have some people who are doing all small plates, but others are sticking with the traditional 2- or 3-courses, Perbacco has never erred on us.

              Perbacco's food is very good - the vitello tonnato is a MUST, they do it better than anyone else in SF - but Chef Jason Stratton of Cascina Spinasse is a true genius. Plus, his smaller venue at Spinasse really gives him a huge advantage over Staffan Terje at Perbacco, which is bigger and has to keep a little more mainstream to pay the rent.

              Our last visit to Perbacco Nov 2012 with friends (they have visited Italy many times, and Perbacco is one of the only two restaurants they requested a return visit to), the best were:

              - pork rillette. We don't actually like rillette, which we find too heavy and too rich. But Terje's version is light and fluffy, quite delightful. They bake their own bread, and it's excellent.

              - octopus. Spouse has had it on three visits, different ways, and each time it's been a winner.

              - the aforementioned vitello tonnato. This is a SMALL plate. The veal is sliced paper thin; the tuna sauce is sublime.

              - ravioli. They almost always do a good job on this, with some very creative combinations. During the Nov dinner, they were filled with roasted butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Superb!

              - duck. Like the ravioli, they usually do a nice job. I really appreciate that Terje has a restrained hand with fruits and meat, keeping the fruit sauces more savory than the dessert-like sweetness too many chefs do.

              After four visits we usually skip his salads - except for the beets, which are creative and well-done; the fritto misto (but Perbacco's aioli ROCKS), and desserts can be iffy. Also, on that last dinner, both seafood dishes were oversalted - and that was the opinion of my spouse, who loves salt and had ordered both dishes.

              We LOVED Spinasse - and also Olivar, another outstanding restaurant on Capitol Hill in Seattle that has no corresponding peer in the Bay Area.

              1. re: jaiko

                "Cotogna's cooking is very different than Perbacco. It's richer, heavier in feel, with lots of gravy."

                I don't think I've had anything with gravy at Cotogna, or anything I'd characterize as heavy, or anything as rich as Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin.


                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I have to agree with Robert: I would not describe the food at Cotogna as heavier and richer at all. I'd say the meals I have eaten there have consistently been lighter than at Perbacco.
                  That said, I'd recommend both without hesitation.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Third this. I actually love Cotogna because I associate the cuisine as lighter.

                    I think comparing Cotogna to Perbacco in terms of service a bit unfair without the context.

                    Cotogna is a neighborhood cal-italian place that turns out nuanced, light dishes with strong flavors. Cotogna is inherently casual and loud - with tables close together. It's also cheaper.

                    Perbacco is a more formal white tablecloth Italian restaurant that is used to having to perform at a much higher caliber of service (due to the high amount of business travelers/business dinners among the clientele) and just being pricier. It's quieter - less vibrant (at least on weekend nights).

                    Basically, in terms of casual to formal it goes like this:


                    1. re: goldangl95

                      I wouldn't call Cotogna a neighborhood place, just because I don't think many of the customers live in the neighborhood (which is mostly commercial), but it has that feel.

                      I wouldn't call Perbacco formal (to me that means a place where I wouldn't feel comfortable), but the service is polished and the servers dress better than I do.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        I wouldn't agree that Perbacco is that much pricier than Cotogna. Looking at their online menus today, both have pork chop dishes priced at $25. Both have quail dishes at $26 and $27, Both have agnolotti dal plin at $17 and $18. So it seems like the price point at Perbacco might be like $1 higher, which is not a whole lot compared to places like Farina. Of course, you have to take the size of the servings into account as well, but I think Perbacco is relatively reasonably priced for a fine dining restaurant in the Financial District given the quality of the food.

                        1. re: nocharge

                          Cotogna is slightly expensive compared with more or less similar places such as Incanto and La Ciccia.

                          Perbacco is relatively moderately priced compared with the other fancy Italian restaurants in town, Acquerello and Quince, both of which have significant French influence and are fancier than Perbacco.

                          Farina's in a class by itself when it comes to pricing.

                  2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                    I would say the pasta at Spinasse and the pasta at Perbacco are similar in style (this is a vast and somewhat hazy generalization, given that I have eaten at Spinasse only once; I loved it but didn't have the opportunity to eat widely across the menu). The rooms, however, are very different--Perbacco is much less charming, much larger, financial district space.

                  3. The food at Cotogna strikes me as home cooking, and that at Perbacco as more sophisticated. I've only visited Cotogna once, but I prefer Perbacco based on that experience.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Paul H

                      I went to Cotogna for one of their Sunday dinners. We had been to Perbacco just a month previous. Cotogna's dinner was, as Paul H said, very much more home cooking, with generous amounts of fruit purees in the starter (expensive tropical fruit, too, not cheapo stuff) and a whole lot of tasty but intense gravy with the meat. The pasta course swam in a very rich, salty cheese sauce.

                      It was good food, we enjoyed the meal overall, but none of the four of us felt Cotogna was a "destination" restaurant. It's a great restaurant if you're in the area and in the mood for a high quality, well executed hearty meal.

                      Perbacco aims a little higher. They don't always hit the mark, but Terje always tries to do some dishes that push the "comfort zone" edges of their diners. I give him a lot of credit for that, because I think too many restaurateurs/chefs stick with the same "safe" dishes over and over.

                      I think you'll get a good meal at both. But they will be very different meals; it is like comparing apples to oranges.

                      1. re: jaiko

                        I think you got a very atypical meal at Cotogna. Their Sunday prix-fixe menus are sometimes quite different from the regular menus. Often they even have guest chefs: when I went last year it was Chad Shelby from Mozza in LA and none of the dishes were things Cotogna served before or since.

                        The pastas I've had there have all been lightly sauced and the secondi not sauced at all, the way they would be in Italy. The menu changes daily and reflects the season.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Atypical or not, I think Paul H. and I are agreeing about Cotogna.

                          Why should anyone care about guest chefs when the OP was asking to compare Cotogna vs Perbacco - I assume s/he meant the regular menus, not a guest chef appearance at either place?

                          If somebody's Piemontese mother made butternut squash ravioli garnished chopped hazelnuts in browned butter and pomegranate seeds, that must be SOME house!

                          1. re: jaiko

                            The Sunday meal you had seems so profoundly unlike anything I've ever seen at Cotogna that I wonder whether it might have been a guest chef.

                            Cappellacci di zucca (winter squash ravioli) are home cooking in Ferrara. The hazelnuts and pomegranate are California creativity, traditionally they're just tossed with butter, sage, and Reggiano. Browning the butter is cross-regional fusion, brown butter with sage is the traditional sauce for ricotta and spinach ravioli.

                            All Italian food is home cooking except the high-end stuff that's more or less French, like they serve at Quiince.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              FWIW I was looking at the Sunday dinners at Cotogna thinking we might try one this trip. I preferred the options on the a la carte menu so went for a weekday reservation for our first dinner there. Our lunches at Cotogna have all been primi free as there was much to love in the other courses per Robert's post on his standouts there below.

                              Someone commented above on the excellent service at Perbacco and I have to agree. I still remember thinking how marvelously unintrusive and intuitive it was. Not a fan of the room itself, however, either up or down.

                              1. re: grayelf

                                At Perbacco I like the room on the side under the stairs, feels cozier than the main part of the downstairs. I also like the booths in the bar.

                      2. re: Paul H

                        Perbacco's food would be like home cooking if your Piemontese mother or grandmother lived with you and cooked your meals.

                      3. To me, Cotogna and Perbacco both rank among the top Italian restaurants in SF (along with Incanto and La Ciccia). I don't prefer one to the other, they're too different.

                        standouts at Cotogna:

                        vegetable dishes and salads
                        creative and original pastas
                        pizza (some of the best in town)

                        standouts at Perbacco:

                        salumi (arguably the best in town)
                        carne cruda & salsiccia di Bra
                        traditional pastas
                        braised meats
                        roasted brassicas
                        cheese course (one of the best in the area)
                        high-end old Piemontese and Tuscan wines

                        1. for me Perbacco is inconsistent and Cotogna has not been. But, maybe you should try Perbacco if you've not been, or even its sister restaurant, Barbacco, which I prefer to Perbacco.