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Apr 28, 2013 01:19 PM

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. The original comment has been removed
      1. 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.