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Stu-i-moto

A16 or Incanto?

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OK - I have now been to both A16 in the Marina and Incanto in Noe Valley. And I have my opinions (which are *strong*) on which one I prefer. But, I wanted to hear from the rest of the forum on which you prefer and what you like/don't like about these two highly-touted Italian eateries so I can see if I'm off base or on target with the prevailing opinions. Let me hear your thoughts on:

food - overall taste/flavor

food - ingredients

food - execution

service -

atmosphere -

anything else you care to comment on -

Thanks,

Stu


________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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I much prefer Incanto - not just because is it a calm and comfortable place to eat compared to the scene at A16 but most importantly because the food in my opinion is far more interesting and more carefully executed at Incanto. What’s your take?

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Well, I'm looking forward to also trying Incanto then, because I had a very good meal at A16 (about a month ago). I decided to go ahead and post this as there isn't a separate thread on A16. I promise to come back with a comparison to Incanto soon. Other caveat is that I've only eaten at A16 once.

We were walk-ins on a Sunday night. We came in ~ 6:45 pm and were seated in a little under an hour. We took a stroll outside, and then came back and had a glass of wine before we were seated. We were seated in the narrow hallway section which I think may be the prime area for walk ins. It would probably be a bit more relaxing in the main room, but we were able to settle in comfortably. During the meal, our service was actually quite good w.r.t. pacing and making sure we had what we needed.

Many items appealed to me on the menu--we had a difficult time narrowing down our choices but decided to split an app, a pasta and a pizza.

We had:

Tomato caponata with tuna conserva, capers and basil $9

Orecchiette with octopus, fresh borlotti beans, chiles and mint $13

Pizze Verde (friarello peppers, mozzarella, grana padano, chiles, garlic, olive oil) $12

The tomatoes were dead ripe and delicous, the tuna, capers and basil blended together for a great, almost indescribable flavor. There were also chunks of good, toasted country bread in the mix, so it was a little like a panzannella.

The pasta dish was one of the best I've had---I just really loved the combination and the octopus and beans were cooked perfectly--the octopus tender and the beans cooked but not overcooked.

We thought the pizza was good re: the crust and toppings but only wished that there was more grana padano on it as a counterpoint to the bland mozzarella and the mild green peppers. (We should have asked for some additional parmagiano but ended up just salting it a bit). The crust did get a bit soggy as time went on, (as others have mentioned on the Delfina Pizzeria thread), but we ate it up pretty quickly!

We also found both of our desserts to be excellent:

Plum and almond cake with fresh ricotta and plum confettura $7

and

Honey semifreddo with toasted brioche and peaches $7

We had regular coffee along with the dessert and that was the only low point for us during the evening. While A16 is not unique in this regard, the coffee was weak!

To me, there were many things I wanted to try and it was difficult to choose--and I felt they followed through on the execution. This was the brightest spot for me and a major incentive for me to return. Also, we got good service and I was happy to see the large choice of half carafe wines offered. We had a nice red wine from Calabria.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I much prefer Incanto - not just because is it a calm and comfortable place to eat compared to the scene at A16 but most importantly because the food in my opinion is far more interesting and more carefully executed at Incanto.  What’s your take?

Those were my thoughts exactly...

A16 is good, but not as good as all the hype would suggest. It's like getting a build up for a highly touted new movie, and then when you actually see it, you're disappointed. You're left wondering what all the fuss was about -

Besides the execution of flavors not being totally there, I felt the pizza (something they are highly touted for), was merely OK. The crust was soggy once you got about an inch and a half in from the crust. I've had much better brick oven pizza in New York (try John's Pizza in the Village) - and I'm not just saying that because I'm a "New Yawka". A16's pie tasted good, but was too soggy for me...

A16 also sounded like a high school cafeteria - and I was there on a Monday night. I couldn't believe it was so loud (and packed) for 9PM on a Monday. No recession here...

Incanto is in a different league, in my opinion. The flavors are well executed, you don't walk out of there feeling bloated and stuffed, and the dishes are different and very creative. You also leave there more knowledgeable about food ingredients (i.e., lots of new ingredient names where you're like "what's that?")

Plus, I love the *free* mineral water at Incanto. It's a nice touch and doesn't make you feel nickle & dimed to death, although they now have a 5% service charge on all tickets. Don't know what that's about, but I'm happy to oblige -

Finally, Incanto's waitstaff seem much more knowledgeable about the wine and food pairings. You can always tell a good server who knows wine & food, because they don't just recommend based on what "tastes good" as a cocktail, nor do they go with the standard red wine with meat, white wine with fish/chicken thing. And they are great at asking about and accomodating your price range.

In the end, I liked A16, but I *love* Incanto. I wouldn't necessarily make a huge effort to go back to A16, especially given how hard it is to get a table there. I would (and have) gone to Incanto *multiple* times...

Stu


________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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well, i am still trying to get to incanto, but i've been to a16 about 20 times (it's close to the bridge, which i cross regularly). i love it.

i know it can be loud, and hard to get into. you gotta plan! or go when the open their doors. lunch is a great option there, as it is not as busy.

i've been to a few of their wine dinners, all of which have been exceptional experiences. a great menu and killer wine pairings. their wine person has made one of the best lists around. i have learned a lot about italian wine because of her. she is awesome. try the falanghina white wine. perfection.

they have burrata, which is always fresh and sublime. i ate on the of the best things ever there: tube pasta with octopus ragu. it doesn't sound that exciting, but it was so damn good.

the pizza is great. i have had it crispy to the middle. the broccoli rabe one is very good. it's fun to go there and sit at the bar in the back and watch the pizzas being made.

they have really friendly servers, too.

to me, a16 is a+!

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I've been to incanto a few times and to A16 just once so far.

Overall I guess I would say I prefer incanto; but, there are some high points in the A16 menu that incanto hasn't surpassed.

We had some excellent first courses, salads, and some of the best frozen desserts ever at A16. In fact their amazing trio of blueberry, caramel and apricot "ice creams" inspired me to get my own ice cream maker.

In the middle part of the meal, pastas and main courses, I prefer incanto.

-Erik


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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A16. Hands down. They have amazing burrata and housemade salumi, their pizzas and pastas are great and not overly mundane (maccoronata, anyone? I'm sure I spelled that dreadfully wrong...) I have to give Incanto kudos for their food -- it's good -- but overall prefer A16 for their atmosphere which is far more casual and more upbeat, and frankly, the folks over at Incanto were really rude to me on the phone when I called them about a reservation so that put me off. The people at A16 are really, really, really nice and they care if you like the food -- despite being one of the hippest, most buzzed about and popular restaurants in the City.

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We tried A16 in mid-August. We had reservations, so we were seated promptly despite the mob-scene at the door. That was the last good thing that happened all night.

The menu was brief enough that we both had a hard time finding more than one thing that appealed to us. We split an order of roasted red peppers to start. The fresh sardines garnish was good, but the peppers themselves weren't peeled (possibly intentional?) or seeded...very unappetizing.

Cameron ordered the pizza margherita -- it was decent, but not actively good. The crust was too thin in the center, not crisp, and too thick at the edges. I ordered the pizza verde... unlike Ludja's, mine was a train wreck. Crust was sprinkled with red chile flakes (good), a little bit of olive oil (not enough), 4 or 5 small slices of cheese (good, perhaps not quite enough), and something like 2 cups of sliced sweet italian peppers (also not skinned or seeded). Even for an American-style pie, this overdose of topping would have been unappetizing... for an Italian-style pizza, it was a disgrace. There was literally 3/4 of an inch of solid peppers burying the crust.

Service was sloppy: We were done with our appetizer before our wine flights came, and the waiter dropped scraped-up food from another table onto ours when clearing our plates... eww.

All in all, it seems like a pretty serious case of hype. Reading the reviews on CitySearch, it seems we got off easy: There are numerous posts of people waiting 45 to 90 minutes past their reservation times, and more than one where the waiter (apparently intentionally) decided to serve something different than the guest had requested!

Edited to add: I haven't been to Incanto for more than a year, but I recall it being a cozy, welcoming neighborhood place that exceeded my expectations for neighborhood-place food.

Incanto got some nice mentions in last week's Chron story about house-made salumi... whereas the A16 guy came off sounding like snob:

At A16, Appleman won't serve more than one meat at a time.

"Too many is too much," he says. "They're extreme flavors, with tons of salt."

Uh, yeah... That's why they never offer mixed salumi plates in Italy. :rolleyes:


Edited by ScorchedPalate (log)

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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Did anyone happen to go to A16 during their "PIg and Barrel" event?

The dinners were on Nov 6 and 7 I just saw the listings today.

Pig and a Barrel Menu

Starters

Escarole salad with pancetta, persimmons and walnuts

Beet and pork tongue salad with fennel and black olives

Coppa di testa salad with parsley, capers, raisins, pickled onions, and almonds

Crispy pork skin with mashed pumpkin and calabrian chiles

Minestra maritata with prosciutto brodo and cornbread

Potatoes fried in lard with garlic and mint

Salumi

Housemade country boar terrine

Thirteen-month pork prosciutto (cured on premises)

Boar and pork lonza (cured on premises)

Boar and pork coppa (cured on premises)

Boar and pork salami (cured on premises)

Pizza

Guanciale and gamboni mushroom pizza

Pork sausage and roasted pepper pizza

Pasta

Maccaronara with ragu Napoletano and ricotta salata

Gnocchi with porcini and pork polpettini

Chestnut and ricotta crespelle with wild boar ragu

Spaghetti with wild boar pancetta, onions and black pepper

Main courses

Wild boar scallopine with wild arugula and lemon

Grilled wild boar zampina with chickpea puree

Berkshire pork shoulder braised in milk and soffritto

Duroc pork mixed grill for two: spare ribs, braised belly and roasted loin


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Incanto was also recently reviewed on the new KQED TV program, Check, Please. for the Bay Area. The review by three different diners is in episode one and can be read by scrolling down a bit.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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This is my second negative thread reply today, so I'm sorry if I seem to be a grouch, but I've eaten at Incanto about 4 times since they opened, most recently two weeks ago.

It's definitely a very "nice" and comfortable space, and they do try, but it's never impressed me as any more than one star (out of four).

I had no intention of going back again until I read all the glowing reviews here and elsewhere, so I thought that perhaps things had changed for the better.

No, still one star. And only just: not more.

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I'm interested to know more about why you weren't favorably impressed. I've eaten there a dozen times or so, and although every dish hasn't been top-notch, overall most of the dishes have been very good -- some have been outstanding. I've always gotten great wine suggestions with my dishes when I've asked. The service I've had is good (I usually sit at the bar, so I don't have a lot of experience with the table wait staff).

Is it the food, the service, the wine, or something else about your experiences that you haven't liked?

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I'm interested to know more about why you weren't favorably impressed. I've eaten there a dozen times or so, and although every dish hasn't been top-notch, overall most of the dishes have been very good -- some have been outstanding. I've always gotten great wine suggestions with my dishes when I've asked. The service I've had is good (I usually sit at the bar, so I don't have a lot of experience with the table wait staff).

Is it the food, the service, the wine, or something else about your experiences that you haven't liked?

It really seems rather generic in every way to me. The decor is mall-esque. The food I've had has been fairly good but tame, and not particularly creative.

That's why I give it one star. One star means that it's good, nothing really wrong with it, but nothing memorable or great.

It's safe, comfortable and boring.

Compare Incanto to Lupa or L'impero in NYC and you'll see what I mean. There's just no comparison at all.


Edited by Syre (log)

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I'm feeling protective of Incanto because I had such a great time there at the e-Gullet wine pairing meal JAZ organized. I don't see it as generic at all. Their wine list is Italian; it's unusual to find a Bay Area restaurant that doesn't feature local/regional wines. Offal is heavily promoted. The design is spacious and very easy to move around in. (Many restaurants, while technically accessible, are full of obstacles.) I haven't found all three of these variables at other mid-price restaurants.

Incanto's website says explicitely that they consider themselves to be a California restaurant that serves Italian food. A restaurant in NYC is bound to differ and, if memory serves, there are lively disputes about their quality. Except that, in those cases, the judge tends to come from Italy.

Are there more creative and original Italian restaurants in SF? At the same price range -- no Aquerellos, please.


My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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Compare Incanto to Lupa or L'impero in NYC and you'll see what I mean. There's just no comparison at all.

I'd like to see you walk in and get a table at Lupa. I'd also like to see your check at the end of the meal. I think you'd find yourself saying "there's just no comparison at all" with a whole new tone. :smile:


Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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Compare Incanto to Lupa or L'impero in NYC and you'll see what I mean. There's just no comparison at all.

I'd like to see you walk in and get a table at Lupa. I'd also like to see your check at the end of the meal. I think you'd find yourself saying "there's just no comparison at all" with a whole new tone. :smile:

Actually, every time except one that I went to Lupa I DID walk in and get a table. Lucky me. Then again, I've also walked into French Laundry and gotten a table too.

And the check price isn't really that different between the two places. Sure NYC is a bit more expensive, but in this case the quality difference much more than makes up for it.


Edited by Syre (log)

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Sure NYC is a bit more expensive, but in this case the quality difference much more than makes up for it.

I'm still unclear about the relevance of NYC restaurants to a diner in SF. My response was upthread:

"I don't see it as generic at all. Their wine list is Italian; it's unusual to find a Bay Area restaurant that doesn't feature local/regional wines. Offal is heavily promoted. The design is spacious and very easy to move around in. (Many restaurants, while technically accessible, are full of obstacles.) I haven't found all three of these variables at other mid-price restaurants.

Incanto's website says explicitely that they consider themselves to be a California restaurant that serves Italian food. A restaurant in NYC is bound to differ and, if memory serves, there are lively disputes about their quality. Except that, in those cases, the judge tends to come from Italy.

Are there more creative and original Italian restaurants in SF? At the same price range -- no Aquerellos, please. "


My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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Actually, every time except one that I went to Lupa I DID walk in and get a table. Lucky me. Then again, I've also walked into French Laundry and gotten a table too.

Hmmm...didn't know we had celebs posting here. I'd like to know how you can "walk in" to the F-L and get a table - please run me through that trick, because you better believe I'll try it. If you're Thomas Keller's mom or dad, don't bother telling me your secrets...

As for Incanto, I do believe their food is quite good. The flavors are subtle, textures interesting, and you can always be inspired by whatever fascinating ingredient they have on their menu that day (beef heart, anyone?). It takes guts (literally and figuratively) to put that stuff on any menu. I also like Incanto because as much as I study cuisine, I always learn some new ingredient when I go there that Ihad never heard of before.

Maybe we'll have to agree to disagree on this, but it would be interesting to know what italian places (in SFO) you enjoy.


________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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Comparing restaurants is tricky business.

Even comparing A16 to Incanto is questionable. They are different restaurants in very different neighborhoods that succeed at providing different things to different customers.

However, comparing Incanto to one of the Batali restaurants in NY is just silly.

I haven't been to Lupa; but, I have been to Babbo, and I expect that at Babbo they probably have as many cooks on the line on any given night as Incanto has in toto.

In my opinion, you can only judge a restaurant on how well it succeeds at accomplishing the goals it sets for itself and how well it pleases its target clientele.

Isn't that very California of me?

Incanto is a homey, well run Italian restaurant in Noe Valley. It succeeds at that, and appears to please much of its clientele.

While I do agree there isn't much price difference between Babbo and Incanto, (they are both fairly expensive,) really, you can only judge Incanto against its peer restaurants in San Francisco and try to weigh its relative merit it on that basis.

At the risk of being tedious, I think Incanto does do well when compared with A16, Delfina, and other similar restaurants in San Francisco.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I forgot to ask -- is anyone going to Incanto's 3/6 "Dining From Head to Tail" dinner? It's 5 courses, $60. A good deal and should be done well.


My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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Comparing restaurants is tricky business.

Even comparing A16 to Incanto is questionable.  They are different restaurants in very different neighborhoods that succeed at providing different things to different customers.

However, comparing Incanto to one of the Batali restaurants in NY is just silly.[...]

I had comments to make in response to this, but since they are general, rather than specific to Incanto or A16, I posted them in the General forum:

Evaluation and comparison of restaurants, What criteria do you use?


Michael aka "Pan

 

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A16 sous chef takes the lead

According to this week's Inside Scoop in the Chronicle, "There's been a shake-up at A16, the always-buzzing Italian trattoria in San Francisco's Marina (2355 Chestnut, near Scott). Despite assurances that he would stay at least through May, chef Christophe Hille last week sold his partnership in the restaurant and, citing personal reasons, returned to the East Coast to be closer to his family in Connecticut."


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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It really seems rather generic in every way to me. The decor is mall-esque. The food I've had has been fairly good but tame, and not particularly creative.

That's why I give it one star. One star means that it's good, nothing really wrong with it, but nothing memorable or great.

It's safe, comfortable and boring.

Compare Incanto to Lupa or L'impero in NYC and you'll see what I mean. There's just no comparison at all.

I have to disagree. the last time I was there I had a pig ear salad, and salted pig liver brusschetta with a beautiful fried egg on top. in my opinion there is nothing tame or boring about it. What was thge menu when you were there. I believe the menu changes depending on what is currently fresh and available.

As for A16 I had a great meal there the porchetta I had was great, the only complaint I had was that therer was to much cheeses on the pizza so it was very soggy. I am biased as I like light sauce light cheese. For me a pizza is all about the crust.

It is close but I need to give it to Incanto

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