As I remarked in my last article on Incanto, I was excited to attend their annual Head to Tail dinner to find out just how delicious the seemingly foul parts of animals can truly be. If I wasn't 100% convinced by my first visit, after being exposed to the sweet, sweet goodness of innards at this meal, I'm officially on Incanto's offal bandwagon.
First and foremost, I really enjoyed Chef Cosentino's decision to create a menu that served the heaviest dishes first, and moved towards lighter dishes at the end, leaving the diner satisfied but not bursting at the seams. Secondly, while I wasn't necessarily enthralled by the flavor of every dish, everything served made sure to effectively highlight the central ingredient, and was exceptionally well-executed. And, as their amiable host remarked, they wouldn't be achieving their goal with this meal if some of the dishes did not push their guests culinary limits.
The dinner started out with a bang - VENISON PLUCK fra diavolo served with mint and onion ash. Apparently, pluck is the heart, liver, and kidney of the animal, and fra diavolo referred to the exceptionally hot sauce and spices in which the meat was sauteed and seasoned. Despite requiring different lengths of cooking time, each meaty morsel was done to perfection, with the liver being the real stand-out in its imitation of a rich foie gras, as opposed to a 1960's homemade liver and onions dinner.
Next, the SALT CURED PORK LIVER with blood mousse, egg, and peasant pappa reminded me of a dish that I would want to come home to after a long day of plowing the fields - well-developed, hearty, and comforting. The robustness of this dish was contrasted by the following dish, BEEF LIP & OXTAIL TERRINA (with artichokes and tarragon), whose pronounced flavor yet light composition was a perfect transition into the second half of the meal.
SICILIAN COD TRIPE & TONGUE followed, which for me (and presumably by the facial expressions of neighboring diners) was the least successful dish of the meal - the powerful, fishy flavor of the cod combined with the unusual textures of tripe and tongue was a bit too daring for my taste buds. However, in Incanto's defense, each element was perfectly cooked, and the dish achieved its goal of shining a spotlight on the unique qualities of these items.
Finally, we concluded our meal with LAMB MINCEMEAT PIE served with lavender-hay ice cream. First let me say that despite repeated attempts, I've never enjoyed lavender in a dessert. Not once. Therefore, to me this dish was an accomplishment not only because of its spot-on execution, but also because it showed me how great lavender can taste. A new lease on lavender, if you will.
At the end of the day, as a restaurant, Incanto achieves exactly what it's going for - technically solid Italian cuisine, a menu that brings attention to the value of every part of the animal, and a service mentality and atmosphere that makes every guest feel like they've just walked into the home of a close friend.
1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA 94131