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Tenth Annual Head to Tail Dinner at Incanto, San Francisco

Tonight’s meal exemplified our slogan of “enlightening minds, enriching palates.”  We tried things at Incanto that otherwise we would never have dreamed of, thanks to chef-partner Chris Cosentino, the mastermind of the Tenth Annual Head to Tail dinner.  Two nights a year and with reservations fully booked well in advance, this is an event for true food lovers – those who love to push their own limits of palatability, those who relish in exotic delicacies, and those who simply love to eat.  We are not wine afficionados and each course was listed on the menu with two suggested wine choices, so our cheerful server Chad helped us with this, and he and manager Tony enlightened us on the enriching recipes of the night.

tripe crudo, hazelnuts & lemon

tripe crudo, hazelnuts & lemon; verdicchio di matelica 2011, colle stefano

Leading up to this meal in anticipation, we had been discussing our prior knowledge and experiences with offal/organ meats/variety meats.  Haggis and menudo are likely among the most well-known offal dishes, and based on the latter of the two, August already knew that tripe wasn’t her thing.  However, our first course was mino, the layer between the inner and outer layers of a wagyu cow’s first stomach… and Chef Chris changed August’s mind.  Crudo (raw) tripe is pleasantly mild, slightly acidic and nearly sweet.  Its texture is like that of sashimi, giving this salad multiple layers between the crisp green onions and the crunchy hazelnuts.  Fresh lemon added a zing that, while not a texture, had a nice affect on the mouthfeel of the dish.

duck blood soup, grilled hearts & seed quackers; montefalco rosso 2009 scacciadiavoli

duck blood soup, grilled hearts & seed quackers; montefalco rosso, 2009 scacciadiavoli

Second course was this soup with a drizzle of freshly pressed canola oil.  The soup was mildly salty, mineral so to speak – well, blood is the primary ingredient.  The grilled duck hearts were tender and rich, with the familiar sweetness of the Maillard reaction, aka caramelization.  The quacker was loaded with seeds like poppy, fennel, white and black sesame, plus cayenne as a seasoning to give the soup a well-balanced kick.

The liverwurst of the third course was made of pig head, liver, and kidney, each individually smoked before being combined for these slices of smooth, soft meat.  Sweet and tart pickled onions, by contrast, made the lightly smoky liverwurst seem sweet itself.  The snails were poached and sliced very thinly.  The ranch was anything but typical, made with crème fraîche and an earthy blend of herbs.  The crisp watercress was a delightful sprig of flavor and texture.

lamb bits, asparagus, chilli & pistachio; cerasuolo di vittoria classico 2009, valle dell'acate

lamb bits, asparagus, chilli & pistachio; cerasuolo di vittoria classico 2009, valle dell’acate

This was the one dish that pushed our limits, but it had nothing to do with the offal product.  The heat of the chilli was too much for either of us, but we did try several bites anyway.  It was a flavorful heat, though, like an American-Thai fusion.  If you could get past the heat, it was delicious.  The name of the dish gave us two ideas: one of frenched lamb, which is when the tiny leftover clinglers of meat stuck to a butchered bone are rubbed off with a string or twine, and the other of “lambits” (half lamb, half rabbit; sounds yummy).  These lamb bits, though, were tender pieces of liver, heart, and kidney.  Zach particularly liked the mild and “clean” taste of the kidney, and the abundance of fresh, crisp asparagus.

incanto 043

Before leaving the City, August had to recaffeinate so she got a coffee, but neither of us expected the cream to be so rich and high quality.  Was it farm fresh or raw?  We don’t know, but it was decadent.  Zach was impressed by the raw sugar cubes.

pig newton, chicken-chocolate cannolo & lemon-lime soda; vin santo di carmignano occhio di pernice 2006, villa artimino

pig newton, chicken-chocolate cannolo & lemon-lime soda; vin santo di carmignano occhio di pernice 2006, villa artimino

Fruit and meat is nothing new, but meat as dessert is.  Clearly it’s been done before at the previous nine Head to Tail dinners and by other offal pioneers around the world, but it was very, very new to us.  The Pig Newton cookie was made from reconstituted strawberry and pigs ears, but we couldn’t even tell there was a meat product in it.  The crust was flaky and slightly buttery, an excellent backdrop to the sweet and almost savory filling.  The cannolo was a rolled pizzelle (Italian waffle cookie), filled with velvety chocolate-liver mousse, the ends dipped in white chocolate and then crunchy bits of fried chicken skin.  If you’re not too much of a chocolate lover or liver lover, in a strange way the flavors balance each other out; Zach says this because he is not an extreme fan of either, but he enjoyed this cannolo.  The lemon-lime soda was a super special drink for cleansing the palate between desserts, and it tasted like a liquid lemon meringue pie.

Guaranteed, we will be back next year for the eleventh annual dinner.  Hopefully we’ll get to sit with cheerful Chad again in his “office” (the Dante Room with a beautiful mural and the full text of the Divine Comedy), and we’re probably going to make plans to visit again even before next year, booking tables with friends of Seasoning And Salt for the Leg of Beast and Whole Pig dinners.

Incanto, San Francisco CA

chef chris cosentino and chef zach

chef chris cosentino and chef zach

Zach had been looking forward to dinner at Incanto all week, and he left very, very happy.  Not only was dinner great, but manager Tony introduced us to chef-partner Chris Cosentino, known for offal cookery.  Incanto is quickly becoming famous as one of the most inventive “nose to tail” establishments.

piglet boccalone salumi platter

piglet boccalone salumi platter

We began with a platter of various meats: pate di campagna, wild fennel orange salami, prosciutto cotto, mortadella, and porchetta di testa (head cheese).  The non-meats included roasted garlic, pickled micro carrots, chard stems, and mustard.  This was an impressive show of Incanto’s sister company Boccalone that produces the cured meats.  Every item was exceptionally fresh and flavorful, and Zach feels that the mortadella was the best he has ever had.

brain on drugs v 2.0

brain on drugs v 2.0

Chef Chris’s nod to a 1980s ad campaign addressing the dangers of drugs came to us as half a calf brain on a slice of house-made brioche with nameko mushrooms.  The brain was like a velvety soft and mildly flavored liver in terms of texture and flavor.  The brioche was very buttery, and Zach made sure to tell Chris that the pastry chef is doing a great job.

asparagus, mint, and ricotta salata

asparagus, mint, and ricotta salata

Like lunch, the asparagus here was from Zuckerman.  Incanto uses products harvested and processed through sustainable practices, such as local sourcing.  It’s a fast growing trend that many Bay Area restaurants are starting to embrace.  This simple salad was a tasty side for our entrees.

striped bass, young spigarello, potato, olives & leek salsa

striped bass, young spigarello, potato, olives & leek salsa

August’s dad ordered this flaky, moist fish.  He ate the whole plate while we weren’t looking, he thought it was that good.  He commented particularly on the quality of the bass filet and the green olives’ role in the balance of flavors.

artichoke rissoto, bloomsdale spinach & preserved lemon

artichoke rissoto, bloomsdale spinach & preserved lemon

August liked her vegetarian plate.  Large artichoke hearts were mixed into the risotto, which itself was cooked thoroughly.  The rice wasn’t al dente but it wasn’t mushy either.  She doesn’t like hard risotto so this was a great texture for her.  The artichoke chunks went well with the texture, and there were also fried artichoke slices sprinkled over the top.  Due to the preserved lemon there was a very mild lemon flavor, but it was more of a mouth feel after having swallowed a bite.

handkerchief pasta & rustic pork ragù with a sizzled duck egg

handkerchief pasta & rustic pork ragù with a sizzled duck egg

Zach really liked the house-made pasta he ordered; it had a good, firm texture for being handmade, as it wasn’t overly cooked (fresh pasta cooks quickly).  The ragù was very rich and meaty with fresh pork, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a nice array of bold spices.  The broken duck egg yolk added to the depth of flavor.  The egg yolk was perfectly soft while there was no uncooked white, so it was cooked superbly with attention to timing.

We are really looking forward to seeing Chef Chris again at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions weekend in May, and we’re happy we got to introduce ourselves to him in his house tonight.  We are also planning on making reservations soon for the Leg of Beast dinner and the Nose to Tail dinner.  Offal cookery is something that you need to work yourself up to trying, but you will find some delightful bites that will surprise you!