The celebrity chef. You know, the one you see on Food Network. Generally, they either have a show or guest star on one of many other shows. They are usually critically acclaimed and have won awards such as the James Beard. With so much fame and publicity, it is no wonder that their establishments are usually destination restaurants. Such is the case here. Myself, Mijune, Kim, TS/JS and Grayelf were all going to be in San Francisco, which would mean some planned eating (Gastrognome joined us as well!). Where to go for dinner? How about Chris Consentino's Incanto in Noe Valley? Sure, he's probably too busy with Aaron Sanchez running around in Chefs vs. City to be at the restaurant; but no matter, we had a hankering for offal. Well, at least most of us did. You see, Chef Consentino loves offal and rightly so, I do too! Thus, the menu is a reflection of that belief.
After settling in and doing some strategic ordering (no duplicates, well at least we tried), we anxiously waited for our food. I was actually quite hungry since I exercised considerable restraint in the afternoon and didn't really eat anything substantial. Hence, I ordered 2 appetizers starting with the Cod Milt. For those who are unfamiliar with it, milt is the male genitalia of fish containing sperm. Yes, insert joke here. However, Mijune had a good amount of the milt and she swallowed it all... Uh... yah... Anyways, I have eaten this lots before... Damn, there is no way to make this sound classy... However, it has always been steamed Chinese-style with ginger. So having it prepared any other way was a bit different. For me, it was very similar to sweetbreads. I liked how they pan-seared it so there was a nice crust. It was a little fishy; but for me, that just gives it some flavour. The runny egg yolk provided moisture to an otherwise gummy product. On the topic of Sweetbreads, that was my other appetizer. Accompanied by fingerling potatoes and dressed in a green walnut salsa, the sweetbreads were texturally pleasing. With an even better crust than the milt, it provided a nice crunch in contrast to the soft sweetbread. The salsa had a nice herb/lemon combination that really accented the natural sweetness.
For my main, I went for something a bit more "normal" in the Pork Belly with Buddha's hand citron, arugula, yuzu marmallata and citron salsa. The pork belly was braised to perfection. With a nice sear which provided a slight smokiness combined with the fatty melt-in-your mouth meat, there was a lot to like. Furthermore the marmallata provided a thick, sweet glaze which resulted in very little savouriness. The arugula and Buddha's hand salad helped counteract the intense sweetness of the dish. However, maybe a bit too much. Very bitter and tart, it was not really all that pleasant to eat - even combined with the sweet components. To further up the tart/bitter ante, there was a citron salsa with capers atop the pork belly.
Being right next to Mijune has it's privileges and no, it's not because she's cute either. Rather, I could sample her dishes easily (did that come out right???). Anyways, she started with the Paccheri al Nero or squid ink pasta with calamari, fennel and garlic. The pasta itself was al dente with a slight bounce, probably due to it being made with egg and being fresh. As with any squid ink pasta, there is not much difference in taste. The accompanying calamari was tender while the garlic/fennel was quite subtle. For her main, she had the California Yellowtail with pumpkin and erbette. As with almost all fully cooked yellowtail, this one was dense and slightly dry since the flesh is lean. Despite this, it was still flaky and exhibited a natural sweetness. Having never had erbette (beet tops) before, I wasn't sure what to expect. However, to me it resembled any other leafy green such as chard. I'm usually not a huge fan of pumpkin; but this one had good flavour with a slight caramelization.
Kim was also in the sharing mood, as always, and selected something I would've ordered if not for the milt - Pig's Blood Pappardelle. Being Chinese, I grew up eating pig's blood, particularly the cubed version. The taste is a bit gamy with a whole lot of iron aftertaste. In this case, it was almost exactly that. The extremely al dente pasta (how I like it) was dressed in a silky sauce with raisins which also had some essence of pig's blood. It was mostly sweet with some saltiness. For his main, Kim also chose a dish that I originally wanted to try - Offal Bollito Misto served with mustard, salsa verde and horseradish. I guess we were both thinking offal... Imagine instead of the Arby's hat, there was like a pig's tongue instead? Would for a highly disturbing commercial though... And about that pig's tongue, that was one of the components of the bollito misto which also included a piece of brisket, sausage and some other mystery meat. The meats were quite tender and I liked how the tongue was still slightly chewy; but that sausage was not very good. Melting away upon puncturing, it was fatty and bland. The accompanying condiments added the necessary flavour to an otherwise mild-tasting stew (which it is supposed to be). Nothing technically wrong with this dish per se, it's just not to my liking.
What turned out to be my favourite dish of all was ordered by Mijune's cousin. She started with the Spaghettini with Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley. With the "soft" al dente pasta tossed in the punctured egg yolk, it created a luxurious silky glaze that was both garlicky and spicy. The egg yolk helped cut the saltiness of the dish while the tuna heart "shavings" provided a nice textural chew. Initially, I was mocking the Pomegranate-Glazed Poussin with ciopolini and Treviso. C'mon, who wants to eat poultry in a place like Incanto??? Well, serves me right for being a smart-ass. Turns out this was the best dish of them all in my opinion. The poussin was tender and moist, even the white meat. The reduced pomegranate glaze had a complex tartness and sweetness. A good amount of radicchio lay underneath to counteract the sweetness.
While we were munching away madly at the different portions of food we were sharing, 2 more dishes came our way. From the other side of the table, Grayelf sent the Hankerchief Pasta with rustic pork ragù. Since this was well into our meal, the pasta had sat in the sauce for quite awhile. Thus, I'm not sure if it was past al dente or was it a result of it sitting around. It was quite obvious that there was basil onion and fresh tomatoes used in the simmered sauce; however, it was not that rich. Nothing particularly wrong with the taste, it just didn't have as much depth as I would've hoped. The second dish was the Golden Chantrelle & Nepitella Risotto. This one was not too bad. Nothing something to write home about; solid nonetheless. The rice had a nice bite while being creamy at the same time. The chantrelles were little nuggets of joy; but as expected didn't add an abundance of flavour. First time trying nepitella and it was quite mild with a hint of mint.
TS/JS had 2 dishes that I didn't get to sample much starting with the Marinated Local Sardines with sunchokes, sunflowers and capers. TS enjoys sardines, so it was not a stretch for her to enjoy the flavourfully briny dish. She thought that the quantity of sardines fillets to be quite generous. With somewhat of a brain cramp, TS admittedly wasn't thinking when she ordered the Rapini, Baccala, Olives & Boiled Meyer Lemon. 2 salted fish dishes... Thus, she wasn't too enthusiastic to say anything about it, other than she liked the sardines more. TS not saying much... That's a first! I did get to try the Best Parts of Chicken Risotto tough. Since this is Chris Cosentino's restaurant, the best parts of chicken don't include the breast. Rather, you have gizzards and crispy skin. Indeed the best parts! Once again, the ristotto was beautifully prepared. The entire dish was quite mild. I didn't find the chicken skin that crispy. Maybe it had been sitting atop the hot risotto too long.
Although we were quite full from the amount of food, some of us saved room for dessert. With some subtle coercion from Mijune (of course it would be her), I got the Seckel Pear Bread Pudding with pear sorbetto. The pudding was quite moist with a nice crispy top. Lots of tender pear strewn throughout the lightly sweetened bread pudding. I really liked that the pear was unpeeled. Gave it nice texture. The pear sorbetto was also very light and not really all that sweet. Rather, it had a nice pear aroma. Not spectacular; but a solid offering. Mijune decided to go with the Celery Root Cake with wet walnuts and vanilla ice cream. Apparently they had her at "wet walnuts". I don't even want to begin speculating what she was thinking... Well, serves her right for having a one-track mind since the dessert sucked. The cake was basically inedible since it was as dry as a loufa sponge. Despite the nicely burnt caramel sauce caressing the walnuts (did I just say that? Guess I did...) and the ice cream, it wasn't enough to save this lifeless cake.
Fortunately, Greyelf's choice of the Douglas Fir Panna Cotta and bush berries was both interesting and good. A definite woodsy taste gave the panna cotta some originality. It had a balanced texture of being completely set while still being velvety smooth. The berries added both colour and some extra fruitiness to the dessert. As for the cookie, I believe it was an orange peel sugar cookie.
Here we go. The full meal deal at Incanto. Home base of celebrity chef Chris Consentino. Whenever there is hoopla, fame and hype, expectations fairly or unfairly are heightened. The question is: did it meet our expectations? On a personal level, I didn't really go in thinking anything about Chris Consentino. I approached this as any other fine dining experience. As such, I felt that the overall meal was decent. Some highlights mixed in with some pretty average parts as well. The one thing that I really appreciated was the reasonable pricing. Service was pretty spot on as was most of the execution. In terms of personal likes and dislikes, it was due to conceptualization; rather than the actual cooking (Celery Root cake withstanding). If you can appreciate the variety of dishes we had, I can confidently say that the food is more than acceptable. Furthermore, you really have to tip your hat for the simple fact that Chris Consentino tries to offer something a little bit different than the run-of-the-mill fine dining establishments.
- Reasonable pricing
- Unique menu
- Spot-on service
- Surprisingly, some dishes were rather boring
- Desserts were okay; but not the strong point here