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Incanto: I love it.

pane | | Dec 21, 2007 08:32 AM

Last night I went to Incanto with a friend who had not visited before, and the experience reminded me of why I like this restaurant so much. The food was spot on and the service was great.

We both had mystery flights of wine; Incanto's list is entirely Italian with some excellent values. I didn't save the helpful tags they attach to the wine stem, so I can't remember which wines I had (other than that one was a Pinot Grigio) but two were great and one was a bit tannic for my taste.

We shared an appetizer of sliced fennel with chunks of citrus; two pasta courses: handkerchief pasta with pork ragu, and a pasta with nettles; cod with potato and orange; and egg nog panna cotta.

The thinly sliced fennel was tart, intense, and a nice set-up for the richer dishes to come. Tis the season to enjoy some really lovely citrus, so I was happy we ordered this.

Of the pastas: the handkerchief pasta is simple and savory: like mom would make, if mom were a really talented Italian cook with access to excellent pork. The nettle pasta was incredible. I can't recall the name of the pasta, but it was green, about the size of a fat pinky, and variegated.

"Looks like bugs...tastes delicious!" my friend said. Exactly yes.

The crispy-skinned hunk of cod was served in olive juice with a boiled potato and a halved mandarin. The cod was luscious, the mild flavor nicely offset by the sparky orange and full, deep flavor of olive.

Best of all is the service. It's official: I am no one special. I think I've been to Incanto frequently enough that they probably recognize my face, though it's hardly the case that I walk in and everyone shouts "Norm!" (I would love that, even though my name isn't Norm.)

Despite my total lack of specialness, service has always been great. On past occasions, they've given me half glasses of wine when I didn't want a full glass, but the server really wanted me to try something paired with a certain dish.

Last night I was standing outside the restrooms trying to use my shoddy Italian to figure out what some signs said, when the chef came over and explained that he dedicated the bathrooms to two of his friends who are servers in San Francisco. The owner dropped off our appetizer and asked if we liked the wine flight, and our main server was polished, delightful and offered great recommendations. The pacing was great, too: we did not feel rushed, and spent more than two hours enjoying our meal.

Overall, it's official: this is my favorite restaurant in San Francisco, and I feel lucky that it's within walking distance of my home. It's a combination of the warm, attentive service, thoughtful, creative dishes, and exceptionally reasonable prices.