Incanto is the Noe Valley dining scene's shining star.
Mark Pastore was such a hardcore food junkie that he decided to leave a successful tech career in 2002 to open Incanto. It took until 2003 for his Noe Valley Italian restaurant to really start churning, when offal-loving chef Chris Cosentino took the helm of the kitchen. Cosentino and Pastore have made it their mission to prove that no part of the animal should go to waste, and based on this meal, I’m a believer in their approach.
We entered the neighborhood Italian restaurant to find a tantalizing salumi case near the entrance. Pastore and Cosentino recently launched Boccalone, an Italian salumeria at the Ferry Building that specializes in “tasty salted pig parts.”
Incanto treated us to a deluxe bread plate: Focaccia, ciabatta and breadsticks with tangy purple olive tapenade.
We started with House Marinated Olives ($4) – small purple San Remo olives (similar to Nicoise), green Sicilian gigantes, and a small unidentified green variety, all marinated in sage, rosemary, thyme, coriander seeds, orange and lemon peel.
We split an Antipasto Platter for two ($18) featuring five varieties of Boccalone artisan salumi.
The generous helping featured (clockwise from left) Pate de Campagna – hunter’s pate – a cool meatloaf combining pig heart, kidney, liver and blood; Coppa di Testa – translated as “cup of head” – pig meat braised with tongue, trotters and spices; Soppressata di Calabri – spicy dry-cured salumi flavored with spices and chile; Ciccioli – the nose, ear, tail, fat, and skin of the pig, braised with garlic and rosemary; and silky Bologna-like mortadella studded with pistachios.
It was interesting that our waiter was so forward about what pig parts went into each salumi. I liked the antipasto pretty well, especially the pate and soppressata. The ciccioli melted in my mouth…because it was almost all fat. The center of the plate featured house-made whole-grain mustard, chunks of raw radish, delicious pickled lobster mushrooms and baby fennel, plus a whole roasted garlic bulb.
My appetizer was easily the richest plate of food I’ve ever eaten, combining gelatinous pig’s trotter, slabs of foie gras, strips of bacon and roasted figs ($14). Cosentino used a green-skinned fig with rosy flesh; I’m guessing Calimyrna. The dish’s flavor was staggeringly good, but I couldn’t help but feel my arteries clogging.
Our waiter suggested I pair the pig’s trotter with a glass of Verduzzo Friulano, 2004, La Tunella ($8). The amber-hued dessert wine was sweet, but not over-the-top.
To cut the richness, I turned to a nearby plate of shaved cauliflower with red onion and parsley ($8). The uncooked cauliflowers – purple, yellow and green – basically served as an innovative cole slaw.
Another light, simple starter combined heirloom tomatoes, Mediterranean cucumbers and basil ($9).
More pig was completely unnecessary, but not many chefs have such a deft handle on pork, so I opted for Cosentino’s fork-tender braised pork with fiorelli, summer squash, salsa verde and grilled squash blossoms ($23).
Sweet pork juices infused fresh summer vegetables, but it was too fatty. Squash blossoms are normally stuffed with ricotta and fried, but Cosentino proved simpler can be better. The salsa of parsley, capers and olive oil was nice and tangy.
Cosentino prefers seasonal, sustainable ingredients, but the handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragu ($15) is so popular that it rightly never leaves the menu. Fresh pasta sheets paired well with the rich, herb-flecked pork crumble.
Juicy char-grilled Cornish game hen ($22) was another winner, plated with tender eggplant sheets and shaved almonds.
Roasted halibut in minestra with pastini ($23) couldn’t compete with the big, bold flavors of the meat dishes. The browned slab arrived on a bed of what amounted to a summery minestrone soup, with cherry tomatoes, corn, peas, garbanzo beans and pearls of pasta.
Our final savory taste consisted of duck fat-roasted fingerling potatoes with rooftop herbs ($6.50) that literally grew on the restaurant’s roof. Unsurprisingly, duck fat + fingerling potatoes = gastro-victory.
Bay leaf panna cotta with fresh strawberries ($7.50) and strawberry sauce was a light dessert with some flavor pop, a firm dome studded with finely minced bay leaves.
Stonefruit & summer berry crisp ($8) featured big streusel chunks, fruits like apricots and a cinnamon-clove ice cream cap.
Mark Pastore may have set out to create a neighborhood Italian restaurant, but thanks to Chef Cosentino’s boldly flavored food, what he has six years after opening is a destination.