In our very first post for this blog, we discussed how Incanto’s Chef Chris Cosentino served us our last legal foie gras meal in California. It was the natural choice for us since Top Chef Master Chef Cosentino is the “Offal King” in America, championing nose-to-tail eating as a way of paying respect to the animal that gave its life to nourish us. On or around January 25 every year, Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birthday is celebrated almost everywhere in the world. Burns is most famous for being the chronicler of Auld Lang Syne, a collection of old time sayings that is now sung worldwide right after midnight on New Year’s Day. His birthday is usually celebrated by serving Haggis, the Scottish “sausage” that is typically made with sheep offal parts (heart, lung and liver) with oatmeal and encased in its stomach. Since Haggis is essentially an offal dish, when we saw Chef Cosentino’s tweet that they would be serving a version at Incanto, the choice was clear that we would be eating this Scotch dish at the famed Calipolitan restsurant.
As we waited for some bar seats to clear, we drank a couple of bubbly aperitivos: a glass of non-vintage Carpenè Malvolti Viognier Brut and a Fattoria Colmone della Marca 2010 Il Ciarliero. The red Ciarliero was very similar to a very dry Lambrusco, and the sparkling Viognier might have become our favorite low-priced Champagne alternative (now that Franciacorta bubblies are almost as expensive as Champagne):
They brought over some herbed focaccia and ciabatta slices with olive tapenade once the seats at the bar opened up:
We really like the food-friendly Sicilian Cerasuolo wine made with a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes:
As great as their normal menu is, we always like to order off of the “Odds and Ends” board which features nightly specials.
Chef Cosentino recently won Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters competition, and rightfully so since he is an excellent cook — we are lucky to have him here in San Francisco. One of the competition challenges was to create a “Letter to Myself”, to which Cosentino created a platter that contained oysters poached in pork jus, a Sanguinaccio blood sausage, a fried duck egg and an herb salad made with parsley and tarragon. Our server Maddie told us that ever since Top Chef Masters aired, this dish has almost become a regular menu item since people always ask for it. During judging, former Gourmet magazine editor Frances Lam described this dish with the best quote, “That poached oyster is like if you took a swim in the ocean, you’re doing the backstroke, the sun is hitting you, you’re feeling good — and all of a sudden a pig comes and gives you a back rub. it’s the best thing I’ve eaten in maybe the last 30 years of my life.” It really is that good:
The next dish was another breakfast-for-dinner offering, also from the “Odds and Ends” board: the Ham and Egg in Gelée. A soft boiled egg was encased in a pork bone gelatin, served with a crème fraîche potato salad, a slice of prosciutto and decadently topped with black truffle slices:
The egg yolk formed a sauce for the cold dish. All the individual ingredients were quite tasty; however, the trick was getting a little bit of each element to form the perfect bite to see how well everything really went together:
Chef Cosentino’s interpretation of haggis was to make a super delicious pasta dish. It was made with lamb offal parts in a creamy ragù sauce, and the oatmeal was integrated into the strozzapreti pasta. Turnips were added to the dish since that they are typically served with haggis as a side dish. On Rabbie Burn’s night, the haggis is usually served with a recital of his ode to this specialty, but we were just anxious to dig into the dish and skipped that part:
The haggis pasta reminded us a little of the La Finanziera dish that we had at Antica Corte Reale in Piemonte, Italy. We could only wish that this item would be added to the regular menu, but we know that it’s hard to source all of the ingredients. Hopefully next year, Incanto will repeat as an annual celebration of Rabbie Burn’s Night.
To go along with the pasta, we also ordered a side dish of Brussels Sprouts that was made with Garum butter. The bourbon barrel-aged fish sauce made by Blis added a lot of umami flavoring to the brassica vegetable. It was super tasty, so we are totally stealing this idea and will try making this at home some day (albeit with normal Vietnamese fish sauce):
Since Cosentino was crowned a Top Chef Master, it is a bit harder to secure reservations at Incanto. They have plenty of seats at the bar to accommodate walk-ins, and we didn’t have to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for to be seated. Their wine list has thankfully been extended to include more Italian regions and varietals which makes this one of our regular places to go to for consistently great food and dining experience.
March 2014 Update: Sadly, Incanto is now closed.