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Incanto enchants

Windy | Sep 15, 200303:17 AM

Just one more, and I'll stop eating for a while. Maybe someone else will take pity and write up dinner and dancing (belly, greek, with large snake) at Papas' Taverna in Petaluma....

I had dinner tonight with five charming friends at Incanto. This was after a hard day of oyster shucking, and I was not even faintly hungry when we arrived.

Despite the wine awards, no one I've met had actually eaten at Incanto, but it was quite crowded when we arrived thanks to a recent rave by Michael Bauer. The reviews are well warranted. The space is completely transformed from the Bavarian murals of Speckmann's, and apparently a new chef has taken a beautiful space and transformed the menu to the same caliber as the wine cellar. It's a little loud, but the menu offered many treats, and the food surpassed my expectations.

25 wines are offered by half glass, glass, or half-liter, along with several hundred bottles. They're served in beautiful glasses, with labels that remind you what you ordered. Despite this, I can't remember the white I drank; the barbera was aromatic and full bodied.

Highlights: fresh marinated sardines with baby spinach and shaved fennel; a salad of ricotta, almonds, and grapes with escarole; squid ink pasta with the absolute juiciest squid I've ever tasted; sand dabs with capers; a rich lamb, and a tomato and cheese pasta with the texture of gnocchi but none of the heaviness; the campari grapefruit sorbetto was the perfect dessert for someone who could not have stood another bite.

Our waiter was a bit flippant and distracted; he was friendly but lost the side dishes, which he eventually acknowledged and comped dessert. The wonderful sparkling water and bread were replenished constantly; the table was cleared efficiently. If the food hadn't been as good, or the bus staff hadn't been as capable, the service might have been more of an issue.

Incanto is not as cozy at Bacco, one of the few places in Noe Valley I look forward to eating at, but I think the food is better. There's a beautiful back room and a bar where you can taste wines, including mystery flights or three dessert wines. They are running a wine program on weeknights from 5:30-6:30 that I suspect would be very enjoyable.

The appetizers were generally under $9; entrees are $15-20, with half orders available for some items like the squid ink pasta. The missing sides of roasted greens were $4. Portions are quite generous. Incanto isn't cheap, but the quality of ingredients and the taste makes it a good value for a festive night out.

Incanto is on the corner of Church and Duncan, just south of 27th street in Noe Valley.

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