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Nopa or perbacco [San Francisco]

Visiting from NYC and deciding between these two restaurants...

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  1. Both Good. whatcha wanna eat. how much you wanna pay. How far you wanns go fom your digs.

    1. I like Nopa.

      Never been to Perbacco.

      1. If you can't decide: do Perbacco for lunch and Nopa for dinner.

        1. Perbacco but Nopa is more popular.

          1. Nopa. Perbacco Is a more formal restaurant very reminiscient of what you can find in NYC.

            1. Nopa feels more like a local institution, if that matters to you. Perbacco is great but not as distinct and as has been mentioned, there are similar restaurants in NYC. Ultimately it depends on what you're in the mood for - check the menus out as they're very different restaurants.

              9 Replies
              1. re: OliverB

                I haven't been to any of them, but a lot of newer NY restaurants sound stylistically very much like Nopa, especially places in Brooklyn.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Except they don't have our ingredients. To me Nopa is now the quintessential San Francisco restaurant.

                  1. re: dunstable

                    I believe NYC has narrowed the gap considerably as far as ingredients, though we obviously have a huge advantage in colder months.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      100% true. Been saying this for a while.... And even during the root vegetable months, the limited offerings are beautiful, and unlike anything I've found in California. It's been a while since I've experienced something like chard or basil upstaging everything else on a plate out here.

                      That said, I can't think of anything in Brooklyn like Nopa, but it may be understated...in part because they're confident it what they present without letting a dish get overpowered by something like the chard.

                      I'm also not aware of anything like Perbacco in NY.

                2. re: OliverB

                  The last time I went to Perbacco, I took friends from out of town. The two overall impressions were 1) the food was very well-prepared, and 2) the atmosphere was similar to lots of restaurants in midtown Manhattan. It's somewhat of a generalization, but I think it makes sense.

                  1. re: calumin

                    "the atmosphere was similar to lots of restaurants in midtown Manhattan"

                    The atmosphere at Perbacco is pretty generic fine dining complete with tablecloths but not super stuffy. I'm sure you can find plenty of restaurants with that kind of ambience and not just in Manhattan.

                    1. re: nocharge

                      I think one thing that makes it feel like Manhattan, at least at certain times of the day, is that it is a favorite of the banker crowd.

                      1. re: calumin

                        I'm sure Perbacco generates quite a lot of business from the Financial District people, but when I go there in the evening, usually to the bar, the crowd always comes across as touristy or night-on-the-town types more than corporate suits. But then I usually go pretty late, not around 5:30 or 6.

                    2. re: calumin

                      I don't think either Perbacco or NOPA is particularly original or only-in-SF as regards atmosphere.

                  2. The question is really want kind of food you would like to eat. Both restaurants are very good and very popular.

                    Perbacco specializes in the regional foods of Piemonte & Liguria and you don't often find those foods at Italian restaurants in the U.S. They do not serve "Italian-American" red sauce food.

                    40 Replies
                    1. re: DavidT

                      That kind of Italian regional cooking is quite common in NYC, where the OP comes from.

                      Not saying that that should be a deciding factor one or another, but just something to consider.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I don't pretend to be an expert on restaurants serving Italian food in NYC, but I doubt the food Perbacco serves is "quite common" there. If you know of any restaurants in NYC serving the foods of Piemonte, please list a few of them here, as I am visiting NYC next week!

                        Regardless, I just wanted to make sure the OP is aware of what kind of food Perbacco serves.

                        1. re: DavidT

                          I don't know if you mean specifically Piemonte, but as Ipsedixit said, as far as regional Italian food goes, yeah, they have plenty of that there -- and I don't mean red sauce places either. Unless the OP is extremely specific about regions of Italy (regarding which I am not an expert), if we're just talking Italian food, Perbacco will not seem especially notable.

                          For Italian food in NYC, it's not Piemontese, but I really like Esca. Southern Italian food; it's basically an Italian seafood restaurant, which isn't super common here. Shouldn't be too hard to get a table. I don't revisit it too often, as NY is a big place and every time I go, I want to try something new, but if I still lived over there I'd go there regularly.

                          1. re: dunstable

                            Yes, I referenced Piemonte specifically because, in my experience, it is still relatively rare to find a restaurant in the U.S. primarily serving the foods of that region of Italy.

                            I know of Esca in NYC. Clearly the food they serve is vastly different from the food Perbacco serves.

                            1. re: DavidT

                              That would be a perfectly valid response if you did not originally make this remark:

                              'They do not serve "Italian-American" red sauce food.'

                              That strongly suggests that you think quality Italian food is not available in NY, Piedmontese or otherwise. It is.

                              Mind you, no one is saying Perbacco is no good. It's great! It's just not somewhere so unique that I'd send a tourist from NY.

                              1. re: dunstable

                                Clearly you have misunderstood my comments.

                                1) The fact that I referenced "Italian-American" red sauce food in no way implies that quality/authentic Italian food is not available in NYC. While I have visited NYC annually for 20+ years and have dined at a number of fine Italian restaurants there, I have yet to find one that has a menu similar to Perbacco.

                                2) The reality is that many residents of the U.S. northeast (including NYC) still associate Italian food with Italian-American food (veal parm, baked zitti, spaghetti & meatballs, etc.). There was a remarkable thread about this on the Los Angeles board a couple of months ago.

                                3) The food of Piemonte is rather different from most of the food served in Italy. The food on offer at Perbacco is different from most of the food served at Italian restaurants in San Francisco and elsewhere in the U.S.

                                I was simply trying to make the OP aware of that.

                                P.S. Also note that I neither said nor implied that "Italian-American" red sauce food cannot be of a high quality & well worth eating!

                                1. re: DavidT

                                  While #2 might be true if you took a poll of the entire northeast, meaning you are including all the suburbs where "Italian restaurant" means The Olive Garden, that would be a bad assumption to make for a person from NYC proper who is on Chowhound. (Frankly, as someone who was born and raised in NY, I found that assumption borderline insulting.) Say what you want about Mario Batali, but he is a huge step up from the Italian-American cuisine you described. The OP's posting history shows that s/he has been to Babbo, at least.

                                  1. re: dunstable

                                    Well, I grew up on the Jersey Shore in the 1950's & 60's, where pizzas were often called "tomato pies." My little league baseball was sponsored by the Italian-American Memorial Association. I marched with my high school marching band in multiple Columbus Day parades. I am VERY familiar with the nature of "italian-American" red sauce food and I still have a certain fondness.

                                    While I will confess to not checking the OP's posting history, which I never do for anyone, I was simply trying to provide her with some very specific and, I believe, helpful information.

                                    Finally, I would remind you that plenty of "Italian-American" red sauce food still is served in many, many restaurants in NYC, Boston and Phildelphia. You do not have to go to the suburbs or to Oliuve Garden to find it.

                          2. re: DavidT

                            I am also not an expert in NYC regional Italian, but places that you might look at would be Perla (esp. the agnolotti with beef cheeks), L’Artusi, or dell’anima (ask for the tajarin alla carbonara). Babbo as well.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Tajarin alla carbonara is not regional Italian, it's inter-regional fusion. Tajarin are the Piemontese version of tagliarini, alla carbonara is a Roman preparation for spaghetti, bucatini, or rigatoni.

                            2. re: DavidT

                              There are places like Babbo and Lincoln which focus on monthly regional menus, including Piedmont.

                              There are countless places focusing on regional Italian in the city, though not necessarily Piemonte dishes... Maialino, Scarpetta, Perla, Rosemary's, Il Buco, etc.

                              Perbacco is wonderful but it's not at all exclusive or unique to San Francisco in any way. That's not to detract from it's superb kitchen, but if comparing distinctly local restaurants - I would say that Nopa takes it head and shoulders.

                              I don't think it matters one way or the other; you can't go wrong picking either restaurant and the decision should really be based on the personal preference and appeal of the menu.

                              1. re: OliverB

                                When I'm in NYC I seek out regional Chinese cuisines that are not available here. The wide variety of regional Chinese cuisines that are available here just makes me that much more eager to fill in the blanks.

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  Yes, there are "countless places" that focus on regional Italian in NYC (and even in SF!). But there a very, very few of them that focus extensively on the cuisines of Piemonte & Liguria and regularly offer a similar menu. That makes the food Perbacco serves rather unique to either city.

                                  1. re: DavidT

                                    I should also add the other thing that makes Perbacco rather unique is its wine list features more wines from Piemonte than possibly any restaurant in the U.S. The wine list just for the Piemontese reds is 8 pages. In addition, there is barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo and Barolo available by the glass, 1/4 or 1/2 liter. Name another restaurant anywhere in the U.S. that does that!

                                    1. re: DavidT

                                      I think the Piemontese wine selection at Acquerello is significantly larger.

                                      1. re: DavidT

                                        Acquerello's list is a couple of orders of magnitude longer. Perbacco's by the glass menu is better, but you might get some special old wines as part of the pairing at Aquerello.


                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Wow! Acquerello's 30+ page list of wines from Piemonte is indeed impressive.

                                          1. re: DavidT

                                            They're celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, so they've had a lot of time to accumulate bottles.

                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                  I don't believe my favorite dishes at Perbacco are common in NYC. I can't find any report of salsiccia di bra in NYC. Scarpetta and Del Posto have had agnolotti dal Plin on occasion but at a much higher price.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    While it's true that the exact dishes at Perbacco, may be hard (or impossible!) to find in New York. I think it's safe to the say:

                                    1. The atmosphere is very common in NY
                                    2. Agnolotti pasta is far more common in NY than in SF

                                    I haven't been in about a year and a half (and NY dinning scene changes quickly) but! I would say while there are a lot of copy cat farm to table restaurants in NY - they don't do it half as well. One yes the ingredients, but more importantly the more relaxed, playful and irreverent attitude in both the service and food.

                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                      "the more relaxed, playful and irreverent attitude in both the service and food."

                                      Diner, Back Forty, and Roberta's come to mind as hitting these marks (especially Diner, where the severs used to sit at the table and scribble the specials on the paper), but I think I know what you mean - there's a regional difference in approach.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      No offense, but if I may comment...

                                      "I don't believe my favorite dishes at Perbacco are common in NYC. I can't find any report of salsiccia di bra in NYC."

                                      This is a line of reasoning that you have used before to defend a restaurant's rarity outside of the Bay, and by itself is not a particularly cogent argument. If a restaurant's uniqueness were solely contingent on the inclusion of specific dishes, then almost every non-chain restaurant in every city could claim to be an establishment unlike that found in any other city. For instance, I don't know if anyone else in America is shoving mozzarella sticks into falafel sandwiches, as they do at Rutgers University grease trucks, but I would not say these are unique establishments as a result -- it is Middle Eastern fast food, and it exists all over America, mozz sticks or no.

                                      Even if we accepted this reasoning, this thread is not an exercise in culinary pedantry; we are trying to advise a visitor on a restaurant choice. In this context, it is perfectly fair to say that "there are similar restaurants in NY," even if the menu items differ. Is there good Piemontese food in NY? I don't know. Is there good Italian in NY? Tons.

                                      1. re: dunstable

                                        The claim was that "that kind of Italian regional cooking is quite common in NYC." I checked that by searching for two of my favorite dishes that are on Perbacco's menu every day. I'm not making any claims beyond that slight reality check.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            You mentioned "salsiccia di bra" which I'm certain I've seen at Salumeria. Here's a post from 2011 on their Facebook page advertising it in a panini:

                                            "Sapete cos'è il Mac Bra? È la risposta locale allo junk food: un panino che contiene la Salsiccia di Bra, il tipico formaggio di Bra e foglie di lattuga. Se siete nei dintorni non perdetevelo"

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Bra Sausage is a raw veal, and pork sausage. I'm reminded of the discussion over the tuna heart dish at La Ciccia... you couldn't possibly think these are unavailable in NY. Different regions have different names, and variations of almost identical dishes...but there's this...

                                              "Salami d’anuja, a sweet, dry, pork sausage, and salsiccia di bra, a fresh pork sausage, are made in house at Salumeria Biellese in Chelsea, and served in their restaurant next door, Biricchino."

                                              From 2006, so probably served longer than Perbacco has been open. I've also seen it at Salumeria, and I know D'Allessandro's also makes it.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                Maybe they do it occasionally, but there's no mention of it on salumeriabiellese.com or biricchino.com, or any trace of it that Google can find besides that one old NY Post mention.

                                                There may not be enough New Yorkers who aren't freaked out about raw pork to allow anyone there to offer it every day.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Salumeria in NY is similar to Salumeria in SF, in that the menu isn't entirely formalized, and what's in the case changes.

                                                  Manzo at Eataly serves Piedmontese ground raw beef.

                                                  Anyway, the obscure dish game isn't very defining.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    The point isn't to define anything, just to decide where to eat. When I'm traveling I go out of my way to get dishes I can't get at home.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Are you sure?

                                                      Nobody would suggest Nopa because it's serving some exotic rare dish, it's suggested because they're good at what they do, and the entire package. An exemplary version of a dish or experience also has merit. Focusing on the one unique dish on a menu to make any determinations reads as pretty trivial unless the OP specifically asked for that dish.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        I'm not recommending Perbacco only because of one dish. The salumi platter and cheese plate (one of the main reasons I go there) are the best in town, they're great at pastas, seafood, vegetables, and braised meats, they have great wines by the glass, and service is correct. You can get similar meals in NYC, albeit without the Piemontese focus, but they'll cost you a lot more.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          "but they'll cost you a lot more."

                                                          Good post until you got to this part.

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            When I go to Italian places here with my NY friends they always remark on how much lower the prices are.

                                                            When Drew Nieporent closed Rubicon he told Michael Bauer one reason was that San Franciscans wouldn't accept the steep wine markups he gets away with in New York.


                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              A blog from 2008, and comparing wine mark ups? Uh. You're probably unaware that the laws for wine sales were revised, and it took a while, but prices have leveled due to greater distribution. Drink mark ups are higher. Using that as a litmus is kind of like picking out a raw pork sausage dish and using that as criteria.

                                                              SF doesn't have an equivalent to these price points on a hidden gem, does it? http://www.gaiaitaliancafe.com/MENU.html

                                                              Obviously we can name higher/lower priced places anywhere - Perbacco is not one of those cheaper options either way.

                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                Standard wine markup here is still 3X wholesale = 1.5X undiscounted retail, just like it was in 2008. (Markups are often lower on >$100 wines and older vintages.)

                                                                The New Yorkers who bought Tosca are trying to get away with NY markups, we'll see if they have any better luck with that than Nieporent did.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Value aside, Perbacco and Tosca are in the same price ranges for wine. The OP isn't looking for a wine bar though.

                                                                  No idea why you're trying to change the context of the discussion to wine, but once again, I urge you to revisit NY sometime soon to revise whatever second hand impressions you're getting.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    Same subject. Wine is part of an Italian meal.

                                                                    2008 Tenute Sella "Lessona," $67 at Perbacco, $80 at Tosca.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Wine is a preference, it's not required of an Italian meal. You're comparing pricing off two SF menus to support your claim about NY prices. Very weird.

                                                                      All that matters is you can find bottles or order by the glass in the exact same price range if you're under a budget. It may not be the bottle, or value that you want, but this is a predicament you invented.

                                    3. In an attempt to get things back on track as to the OP's original question, here's my take. Nopa is a bit more casual in feel, has a more "farm to table" style menu that is typical of San Francisco cuisine especially as exemplified in the past 15ish years (maybe more?). Obviously trends in dining change, but Nopa is a solid, quintessential "SF style" restaurant. Perbacco to me feels a little more brasserie-like, slightly more upscale and refined than Nopa. I can't say for sure whether either or both places have tablecloths, but I suspect Nopa does not and Perbacco does, if that helps you any. And also as others have noted, Perbacco is solidly Piemontese, using mostly local ingredients, and executed brilliantly. It's more a choice of what kind of food you want to eat, and what atmosphere you want. If I moved to NY, and was coming back to SF for a visit, I'd choose Nopa, because Perbacco to me is easier replicated in NY than Nopa is.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: farmersdaughter

                                        To me, NOPA is fairly similar to Zuni, only more casual (not that Zuni is formal), more of a pub-like atmosphere, maybe a younger crowd. Classic California cuisine in the Chez Panisse tradition Daniel Patterson was railing against before he opened Coi:


                                      2. Hi Jamala,
                                        I've skimmed the comments here and am a little surprised...my 2 cents, Nopa is a much better choice. Food, atmosphere, service, experience...etc. Not that Perbacco is a bad restaurant but with so many choices in SF, you could do much better IMO. It's totally fine for a business dinner or a last minute group dinner but not a place to plan a trip around. If you are looking for an Italian/SF experience closer to downtown, take a look at Cotogna (offshoot of Quince). Or maybe SPQR in Pacific Heights. If you're looking for a "quintessential farm to table" California experience in the city try Rich Table or Frances (or Sons & Daughters on the higher $ scale). Have fun!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jacksonkev

                                          Second Contogna.

                                          This thread didn't produce many alternative suggestions, otherwise for sure, Cotogna is the missing link between the OP's choices.