Thursday, January 27, 2005

Incanto - 1550 Church Street - Noe Valley - San Francisco - CA

Incanto - 1550 Church Street - Now Valley - San Francisco - CA - 415 641 4500
Visit the Incanto Website here
A decent enough little neighbourhood place...

Things I really liked about Incanto:
- The generous bread basked contained what appeared to be homemade bread sticks and savoury crackers. Delicious. I have never eaten so many bread sticks in one sitting.
- One complimentary litre of house-filtered Hetchy Hetchy Water (still or sparkling). Refills appeared at no extra charge.
- Dessert - the creamy panna cotta was superb, with a contrasting marmalade-like bitter kumquat accompaniment.
- Wine pairings - I asked the waitress to recommend a wine to match the dessert. She went to ask the chef and I was brought a fantastic 2003 Moscadello di Montalcino 2003 Caprili, sweet, slightly sparkling dessert wine. An excellent match and a delicious wine I hope to try again soon.
- Each wine by the glass is labeled. This is a totally brilliant idea. You can keep a note of what you ordered, what you particularly liked, and you can even take home the labels, which sit around the base of the glass, as a reminder of what you drank .
- The Red Thumb Potatoes that were a backdrop for my appetizer of Grilled Prather Ranch Beefheart & Salsa Rustica $9 were perfectly dressed and tasted delicious. The meat itself was a little more ordinary than I had expected and was overpowered by the large chunks of raw garlic in the salsa.

Things I didn't really like about Incanto:
- The bread portions in the otherwise excellent bread basket were dry and verging on stale.
- A 5% service charge is added to the bill "enabling us to share the awards of serving you with out non-tipped kitchen employees"
- The Handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragu $14 had obviously been lovingly prepared in detail. Too bad they forgot to season it quite enough.
- My Chestnut papparedelle with duck conserva & chestnuts, $16, was slightly on the dry side, and again, underseasoned causing it to be more bland than I would have liked. I would have preferred a more succulent pasta. The duck itself, thankfully, was a little more juicy.
- The waitress offered to comp one of our items (we ordered it by mistake after a our sorry knowledge of Italian let us down). However, it was still on the bill when the time came to pay. We didn't ask or expect for our misorder to be comped, but because the offer was given, we expected it to be honoured.
- The prosecco, by the glass, was almost flat.
- Apart from my disappointing, less than bubbly, aperitif, a flight of Spicy Southern Reds was unexceptional. I wish I'd saved the $30 round-trip taxi fare and driven instead.

Other Observations:
- The menu is rustic, don't expect 'chi-chi'. I might describe it as peasant food.
- The service was fussy on the surface but lacked depth.
- Another wine chosen, by the glass, was superb.
- Neighbouring diners were bought a small plate of charcuterie (not featured on the menu). When we asked for the same thing, we were told it wasn't possible.

Would I go again?
I wouldn't make another special journey, but if I lived in the neighbourhood, I probably would.


Today is the four year anniversary of me arriving to come and work in the U. S. of A! Thanking America for its hospitality, I'll raise a glass and keep my fingers crossed that one of these days the first stage of my green card might actually come through.
Incanto - 1550 Church Street - Noe Valley - San Francisco - CA


  • At 27/1/05 08:20, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    you beat me to this review - though mine was going to focus more on chris cosentino and his point of view re offal, etc. but we went there for the first time last week, and i pretty much agree with your assessment. we decided that it would probably be an excellent place to go sit at the bar and have wine and starters ... but for a full meal, i would rather go to bacco if i am going to haul myself out there.

    congrats on your anniversary!

    life begins @ thirty

  • At 27/1/05 08:45, Blogger Sam said…

    Hi Jen
    well it took me a few weeks to get round to writing this up! I would still love to read your review, still, especially as your angle sounds so interesting. And you'll have to tell me about Bacco too!

  • At 27/1/05 09:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Congratulations Sam!!! :-)Viv

  • At 27/1/05 14:35, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with your review of the food too. I've been twice in the last three weeks. The service is lackluster, a bit absent given the price point of the restaurant. I sat at the bar and had a flight and some food. The service was even worse at the bar than in the main room. I think this place is a little overhyped. Maybe it's popular due to the chef and his approach. It may also be because there's nothing at this "level" in the 'hood.

    Happy Anniversary!

    World on a Plate

  • At 27/1/05 16:46, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, I agree on the restaurant. Most importantly though, happy anniversary. I am so glad you are here. Look forward to raising a glass with you sooner than later my friend. XO Katja

  • At 27/1/05 17:36, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was going to post this on chowhound but decided I'd rather do so here, anonymously. If you want to know who is saying this, let me know where to email you.

    I've never had very good luck with Incanto's Southern Italian reds by the glass. Northern or Central wines are reliable, but not Southern. I don't know if it's their selection or if I just don't like Southern Italian reds in general.

    That last point about not being served charcuterie for one like another table: you raise a great point there. Every time I've been there, there have always been a few tables/barstools with regulars and they are treated with obvious favoritism. It's like there's an "inner circle" of diners there and it's obvious to me who they are, and that I'm not one of them. I've seen the chef plate, deliver, and discuss dishes with some tables and not even look at others. Once I was sitting at the bar and the chef walked behind the bar, chatted with the people next to me for a couple minutes and paused for a few moments to look around the room. I said hello and nodded, he looked at me and then walked away without even acknowledging my greeting. I get special treatment as a regular at some places, and have witnessed other places give other diners special treatment, but I can't recall anywhere that makes the difference between VIP and non-VIP service as obvious and visible as Incanto. It doesn't bother me enough to stop going--the non-VIP service is prefectly adequate for me--but I can't help but wonder how much more often I would go if things were different.

  • At 27/1/05 20:56, Blogger Sam said…

    Alder - I think I made a mistake by choosing the cheapest red flight on the list. I wasn't impressed. Next time I'll have to take you so you can be my wine guide!

    Jeanne Sorry you had a second lacklustre experience. Thanks for stopping by :)

    Katja! Thanks - yes we must raise that glass together. I am not well at the moment, so when I recover. Also we have to move appartment :( so busy looking for somewhere new. I will call you soon.

    Anonymous Chowhounder: Thanks so much for stopping by and taking all that time to write such an indepth review on my blog. I am wondering whether I should place bets with myself to guess which chowhounder you actually are:) Incanto has always had such great reviews on SF chowhound which is what encouraged me to try it in the first place. But since I wrote my slightly less enthusiastic review, a lot of people have been piping up to agree with me. I am glad I am not out on a limb here, and thank you again for your comments. I am a regular elsewhere and get special treatment too, and I wonder what my restaurant friend owner would say to anyone who requested what he gives us. I hope he would oblighe them. next time I see him I'll ask him what he'd do in that situation.

    I have added an email address to my blog page now, in case anyone wants to write to me. It was about time! (Thanks to another chowhounder, Fatemeh for sending me the gmail invites!)

  • At 28/1/05 05:52, Blogger DementedPhotographer said…

    Great. Now I'm hungry. And it's only 9:00 AM. Bagel time!

    Thanks for stopping by!



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