Dined at Incanto sola tonight. I first ate here a year ago, on the recommendation of Robert Lauriston. I had a meal that I think of whenever I’m very, very hungry. The starter was pig’s trotter on foie gras, the pig’s trotter being not the gnarled lump of knuckle I’d imagined but somehow a slender strip of meat, like a slice of a sheet of pasta, imbued with the savory flavors of my most intense umami dreams, and it sat on top of a foie gras that was, well, light, and flavorful, and I know foie gras is not meant to be light, I’ve had far too many that sat there like a lump of lard, but this was. Then I had rabbit. The sauce was a soupy, herby, flavorful delight, the rabbit itself above average, but not exceptional. The only off note was the bartender (we ate at the bar that night,) who was off-hand.
Cut to 2009 – I’m eating alone so am eyeing the bar as I come in, but the diffident and charming host suggests I eat in the main room, as the bar is empty, and he thinks I’ll “tune in on some good conversations” and be less lonely there. He tucks me in against the tapestried wall. Sparkling water from Hetch Hetchy arrives, gratis, and I order the “mystery flight” and a grilled beef heart. I’m determined to eat the famous offal. The white wine is tasty, but I have to skip straight to the dark, heavy red to stand up to the beef heart, which is rare and strong, and sitting on a bed of miniscule mushrooms both brown and white. Good, but overall too vinegary for my taste. I should have taken the waiter’s advice to try the mackerel crudo, but I was cold when I came in (what’s with it in San Francisco, always freezing,) and wanted to warm up.
Next came boccalone sausage and smoked escolar. I am an ignoramus and had no idea I’d ordered fish, but so, so glad I had – it was intensely smoky, nicely balanced by the sausage, with a creamy horseradish sauce with just a nice amount of burn, the whole lightened up by a peppery bite of watercress. I abandoned the flight at this point and asked for a recommendation from the sommelier; happily, the barkeep of last year was replaced by an industrious and knowledgeable man who served a Valpolicella, which was delicious and did not overwhelm.
One hour later, still eating … had a cheese plate, just asked for their recommendation, and a totally divine dessert wine – which, and it would be so excellent here if I had put the little wine names that come thoughtfully tucked around the base of one’s glass in a proper place so that I could find them later, instead of tossing them in my bag to rattle around with loose coins and stale starbucks nuts, but by now I was sinking into a haze of cheesy, winey happiness. I was reading the Latin inscriptions on the wall hangings, and anticipating visits from the friendly owner, the sommelier, the boy waiter, the girl waiter, all of whom talked just enough to make me feel happy and at home, but not so much that I was overwhelmed with details about the elevation at which the goats grazed to produce the cheese (hello, Gary Danko.) But it was a great, full, port-like but much lighter with lots of, um, I’m going to say top-notes here, and you’ll just have to go in and ask for something to go with the cheese and hope you get it.
Then I had the plum granita, which they call dessert but I’m going to say is a palate-cleanser and should have come before the cheese, and for good measure I had the flourless chocolate cake which was very, very good, and I make a lot of these at home, and then a cappuccino. Go and eat, but expect what you’ll find: this is not a see-and-be-seen place; the crowd was sixty-percent fiftyish, with a huge, younger table in the private room at the back, and a round table of high-tech/finance go-getters in their twenties discussing hedge funds (I guess they didn’t get the memo,) a family celebrating a birthday … warm and lovely. Nor is it a place for twenty-five two-inch tasting courses (love them too.) It’s charming corner restaurant where with a combination of some slam-dunk, world-class menu items and a lot of savory goodness, great wines, and good-hearted, knowledgeable people to talk to and watch, you can, for an evening, touch the sublime.