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Incanto > Porcellino [San Francisco]

Incanto's final dinner service will be on the 24th, later in the spring they'll reopen as Porcellino, which I guess will be more casual and have a significant takeout operation.

http://incanto.biz/2014/03/05/porcell...

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  1. How sad.

    Is it worth going before their final service? I think I'll be there that weakend...should they oust my AQ reservation??

    7 Replies
    1. re: BacoMan

      I was there on Sunday, having booked several weeks ago before word was out re Incanto Finito. Wall to wall diners, noisier even than usual, and we were told that they're completely booked through the closing but that seating at the bar may be available without a long wait if you show up when doors open. Quality was as high, menu as inventive and interesting, service as attentive as ever. Cosentino wrought yet another variation on lamb neck, this time with tatsoi rabe, polenta and horseradish gremolata; spaghettini with Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley is lifted right off La Ciccia's menu but it was done perfectly; diners at the next table raved about the Supper for Two of roasted pork jowl with clams, serrano, escarole and Meyer lemon. Cosentino stayed out front for much of the evening, talking and posing for pictures with customers, many of whom have been enjoying his food for most of Incanto's twelve years. It seemed clear from our brief chat that the change in concept was not Cosentino's idea but that he's working hard on his own new project near the ballpark. You'll get updates about Porcellino if you're on the Incanto email list; for news of Cosentino's new venture, follow his Twitter feed.

      1. re: dordogne

        I've always believed La Ciccia was the one "lifting" the dish from Incanto.

        It's a standard Sardinian dish, but not strictly, and my impression is seeing it on a menu right down the block, getting write ups, was validating.

        1. re: sugartoof

          Why is La Ciccia so famous for it then?

          1. re: BacoMan

            La Ciccia was not initially getting the national write ups Incanto was.

            I think Ruth's thread gives the best context:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3894...

            1. re: sugartoof

              Thanks for the shout-out, sugartoof. I agree. I believe Incanto was serving cured tuna heart first. What I don't know is whether it's the same preparation as La Ciccia's, and whether the current tuna heart dish being served at Incanto is the same one that it first served.

              Apparently the Incanto version now being served is specifically identified as Sardinian. Again, whether they've altered the dish (or the characterization of it) because of La Ciccia is unknown.

              To answer BacoMan's question about why La Ciccia is famous for it ... at La Ciccia it's more of a signature dish, while Incanto has a less narrow focus and thus isn't known for any one specific dish.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                La Ciccia and Incanto have both done the simple, classic spaghettini / spaghetti with tuna heart and they've both done other things with it. I think the most common prep at La Ciccia is with fregola.

        2. re: dordogne

          Who served it first I don't know, but Incanto had served cured tuna heart before the first mention of La Ciccia's on this board.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/395115

      2. I maybe the only person on the planet who thought our one dinner there a few years ago was ho-hum. So I'll look forward to the new iteration.

        1. Ten years ago, Delfina and Incanto were two of the most frequently recommended restaurants on this board. Now their names rarely crop up (Delfina Pizzeria more than Delfina itself). My impression is not that they are no longer good, but that the mid-range Italian (or Cal-Italian) niche has been oversaturated. Given its less-than-central location, it makes sense for them to refocus Incanto as more neighborhood-centric restaurant.

          22 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            As always, good points. And NV ought to be able to support them. Unlike when we were first there and no one had ever heard of NV :)

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Agreed Ruth, and interesting that they are taking this route given the recent opening of La Nebbia so close by. I hope the neighborhood will keep them both busy. I've been to La Nebbia a few times and it's now part of my regular rotation (as is La Ciccia), but I never liked Incanto as much as I did Delfina or La Ciccia. I'm looking forward to the new iteration.

              1. re: farmersdaughter

                On our 2010 trip to SF/Napa, we ate at Incanto and at La Ciccia. I expected to love Incanto and maybe like La Ciccia (I was not too familiar with Sardinian food back then but loved the head to tail food served at several places here in NYC). As I wrote on CH at the time, we fell in love with La Ciccia and had what I considered to be an "ehh" meal at Incanto. Nothing bad, just leaving us wondering what all the fuss was about. They seem to have had a very nice run & I hope we just had an off night there (it happens) and that things in the new place go well. Maybe by the next visit to SF...

              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                The only SF Cal-Italian place I've been to that to me is on the same level as Incanto is Cotogna, and the two places are so different that it's actually kind of odd to make that comparison.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  But now Incanto is going to have a massive decline in quality huh?

                  Is it worth canceling Cotogna plans to eat there once on the 22nd?

                  1. re: BacoMan

                    I'd expect Incanto to be pulling out all the stops in the final stretch.

                    Side note: almost no reservations available on their website (but calling may present more options). I plan on trying to get a seat at the bar at least once more before the 24th.

                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Hardly competent as an Italian restaurant, the wave of hype around Incanto was not initially for their pastas.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    "When it opened about two years ago, this outer Noe Valley restaurant was a typical neighborhood place, but during the past year, it has become a destination. … the new chef, Chris Cosentino, has made this one of the best Italian stops in the Bay Area. … Specialities: Handkerchief pasta with pork ragout; any house-made pasta; braised meats; panna cotta."—SF Chronicle Top 100 Restaurants 2004

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Bauer.

                      Major omission? Offal as a specialty.

                      Again, fans of Incanto ultimately did the place a disservice by routinely hyping the place with little basis in reality.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        No omission, that just came later. It was my favorite Italian restaurant from my first meal there (missed the first chef), which had nothing to do with offal:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/30382

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yes, your love of Incanto has always been off the charts and hard to avoid. Didn't you once refer to them as the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy?

                          I've been a vocal critic. It's the only place in SF I can recall being served a pasta broken down, stuck together in a massive clumped tangled ball. Shameful.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            "Didn't you once refer to them as the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy?"

                            I never even said they were the best Italian restaurant in the Bay Area.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Oh, but IIRC you did call some place "the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy" -- what was it?

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I am incredibly curious about Robert's answer!

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Who would say such a thing except as a joke?

                                  In 2005, when Paul Bertolli was still chef, I said Oliveto was the best Italian restaurant in the Bay Area, but the competition has gotten much stronger in the meantime.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Could be there's been some satire behind a grandiose statement or two that went over my head.

                                    If I was mistaken about it being Incanto, it may have been in the context of La Ciccia, or even a general comment about San Francisco's Italian restaurants, but I distinctly recall the discussion, questioning if you had done the leg work (even to NY) to make such a statement.

                                    In any case, I believe a less polarizing, Boccalone style project will do well there.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      I don't really know Robert...but if you look at his website, it appears that he has done the leg work.

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        To justify that level of hyperbole?

                                        I don't think even Robert is claiming that.

                                        I think the tendency for all of us is to go overboard at times when talking about San Francisco restaurants, or bars, or even Farmer Markets. There's often a lack of context or first hand exposure to what's happening in other cities, or even just Brooklyn, Austin, Portland, alone.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Yes, I was more just saying that, if anyone is qualified (and no one may be), it probably would be Robert.

                                          The guy appears to be a professional food critic, who just happens to enjoy posting to CH.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Actually, what you said was:

                                      Robert Lauriston Mar 25, 2005 01:20 PM
                                      Oliveto makes the best Italian food in the Bay Area, maybe the best anywhere outside of Italy

                                      .http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3522...

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Maybe they did, who could possibly know? It was empty hyperbole, proportional to the post I was responding to.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          And so the statement is no longer operative.

                    2. Part of the problem is that the trend that Incanto helped create (head to tail dining) has now become much more commonplace.

                      A major part of its allure was its uniqueness vis-a-vis everyone else. Now that that's no longer the case, Chris has to rely just on cooking moxie to separate his restaurant from everyone else. And while he's a good chef, that's a difficult road to travel.

                      Regardless, 12 years is a great run for any chef or restaurant.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Part of the problem was branding and turning an old tradition into a novelty experience people were afraid to honestly critique. Once the place slipped with the Chef focusing on his other projects, there was a floodgate of criticism, and it became okay to admit you weren't impressed.

                        The Church St. room itself always looked dated. I think he'll just move his head to tail dining to the new location more suitable to his image. Zuppe had a terribly akward layout though.

                      2. One is left wondering if this commodification of Chris Cosentino was Chris Cosentino's own idea.

                        1. I will miss Incanto.
                          But as a Noe Valley resident, I am very excited that there may be a good lunch place in the neighborhood. Lunch options right now are rather limited.

                          1. Is it too late to squeeze in one last Quinto Quarto meal?

                            1 Reply
                            1. More on the change:

                              http://www.sfgate.com/food/insidescoo...

                              Among other things, Cosentino is taking over the old Zuppa space and that may be his main gig.

                              This blog post includes a link to an Eater article with a link to the liquor license application:

                              http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Someone told me that an insider at Incanto told him that they had to bring in $6,000 per night just to break even.

                                With the new place, even tho they will be open for lunch as well as dinner, more moderate prices perhaps, I wonder if they will make a profit. Is their rent too high? How can these places make a profit w/out selling a lot of wine, cocktails?

                                1. re: walker

                                  Looking at the SF public records map it appears that Mark Pastore, the co-owner of Incanto, owns the building. Perhaps they are figuring they can offset mortgage and other operating costs by doing a brisk takeout/retail business? We also don't know what Cosentino is doing with his other resources - maybe he's doing enough business with Boccalone that it makes sense to reorganize and use Incanto's kitchen to focus on cranking out salumi that will be sold at the other locations.

                                  1. re: bigwheel042

                                    The salumi are made at the Boccalone plant in Oakland.

                                    From what Mark Pastore and the bartenders were saying when I was there the other night, at Porcellino customers will order at the counter and take a number to the table. The food will also be simpler. So they're looking at cutting labor costs substantially.

                                    Making a profit running a restaurant is a challenge. Most places in the country the target profit margin is 10%, I've heard that in SF you're lucky to get 5%. In 2009, Michael Bauer blogged some statistics showing that the total annual costs per waiter were over $24,000 in SF vs. around $10,000 in NY and Chicago.

                                    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Yeah, because in California we have no tip-credit, and the minimum wage in SF is a rather staggeringly high $10.55.

                                      Somehow NYC has a tip-credit, despite being a more expensive of a place to live than SF.

                                      So the minimum cost of a waiter, whether they make excellent money from their tips, or not is at least double, or more than what an NYC waiter gets.

                                      It's actually amazing that so many restaurants are started in SF given this.

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        New York waiters aren't paid minimum wage in many cases. They work for tips, often pooled with the front of house, and bus boys.

                                  2. re: walker

                                    To break even? That's about 1.7 million a year give or take. Maybe that's a goal of what they think they should have been making.

                                    If they really have gathered that much debt and overhead to where 1.7 still doesn't show them a profit, they shouldn't be opening another place.

                                    I guess the idea is they can do a different type of volume, less dependent on wine sales.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      "They" aren't opening another place. Cosentino's partner in the Zuppa space is Oliver Wharton.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Dubious claim unless you're claiming Mark Pastore is parting ways with Boccalone, or know for a fact who their investors/partners are.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Pastore and Cosentino are partners in Incanto, the Boccalone factory, and the Boccalone shop in Ferry Plaza. They're not opening another place, just giving one of them a makeover.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            They are business partners, and it's hard to believe the new restaurant will be void of Boccalone product.

                                    2. re: walker

                                      How big is/was the restaurant (how many seats)?

                                  3. Dropped by around 7 figuring there might be a spare seat at the bar and there was.

                                    "Beef ♥ tartare with a quail egg" from the chalkboard, porchetta di testa tonnato with shaved radish (photo on Cosentino's Instagram feed: http://instagram.com/p/leVLvNyTQS/# ), "chef's last meal" from the chalkboard with blood sausage, fried egg, and poached oysters (as seen on TV), ribollita with pig's head, all great. I put my order for the blood sausage in shortly after I sat down which was good as they 86'd it not too long after.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Was there twice over the weekend and got seats at the bar (at or before 6 pm) both times also. That porchetta was really great; I wonder if/hope the Porcellino concept will have more dishes like it. Also had the lamb neck one night and the pork ragu pasta the other. The pasta was perfectly fine but I was kicking myself for not sticking to meat; the lamb neck was outstanding. Served with two forks to gently pull the succulence off the bones.

                                      1. re: Frosty Melon

                                        I have a lamb-neck stew recipe that I just love that I'm pretty sure came (via my mother) from the Berkeley Co-op (their "home economist" liked to feature organ meats and other cheap cuts). I never thought cooking lamb neck was anything particularly daring!

                                    2. What do you do when a restaurant pours you two half glasses of wine without your requesting them and then charges you for one of them? Happened at Incanto.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: barleywino

                                        Seems like an incomplete story. What did you say when they poured the wine? Did you drink both? Did you order wine?

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I did not order wine. I had a drink and told them I was good for the moment. I said thanks when they poured each and did drink from each pour, assuming they were complimentary and that I would just adjust my tip to show my appreciation. I gave no indication that I was planning to order wine nor whether I had a preference for any type. They just said "I have something for you" and brought over a bottle and showed it and started pouring. If they had asked me whether I wanted to order some wine, I would have said no.

                                          1. re: barleywino

                                            A similar thing happened to me at Michael Mina... with water. We did order a first bottle of sparkling water, but then they kept replacing them automatically, without asking us. When we got the bill, it turned out we had spent $30 on water. We probably would have ordered the water anyway, so it was probably okay (though it did inspire jocular boasts about our Kardashian-esque extravagance), but I can imagine that other people might have been upset by that.

                                            1. re: dunstable

                                              I've seen that happen with group dinners. One person orders the sparkling, they in turn bring several bottles to the table. Then they keep replacing them. Its kind of a hustle.

                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                Well, that wouldn't happen at Incanto, because the house-sparkled water is free.

                                              2. re: barleywino

                                                That's odd, at Incanto they normally pour glasses at the bar and slip labels on the stem before taking them to the table.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  yes i was sitting at the bar. I was not upset but i was surprised when I saw it on my tab.

                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                    In that case, when I got the bill, I'd have said, wasn't this a comp? I didn't order it.