In March, San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino announced that he'd be closing the 12-year-old eatery Incanto. Despite Cosentino's reputation as a pioneer in offal-centric cuisine and his ascent into the world of celebrity chefdom, in recent years, his flagship fine dining restaurant had been met with mixed reviews. (I admittedly was one of those diners who never understood the restaurant's hype; at one of its annual farmers' appreciation dinners, the most memorable part of the meal was the duck farmer who sat across from me.) A month later, Cosentino and his partner, Mark Pastore, reinvented the space as an entirely new casual concept, a restaurant-slash-retail space named Porcellino. Guests can swing by to pick up a few bottles of Sangiovese and cured meats for later, or they can order salumi platters, sandwiches, pastas, and more at the counter and stay. After a recent visit, I'm convinced Porcellino makes more sense right now than the restaurant that stood there before it.
Given that the restaurant switchover happened so quickly, it wasn't a surprise that the space looked nearly identical, with the same burnished arches and tromp l'oeil earthen walls, which have since fallen out of favor and lend the place a dated look. Still, there were a few new details, most notably this retro movie poster hanging by the window, a humorous nod to one of Cosentino's popular cured meat preparations.
While a few eclectic Incanto standbys (like the signature spaghettini with egg yolk and shaved tuna heart) still make appearances as specials, Porcellino's menu is less ambitious: no longer will you see plates that showcase beef heart and lamb kidneys. But that's actually a good thing: what comes out of the kitchen accessible, approachable, and, most importantly, downright delicious. After all, who cares how elevated a dish is supposed to be if the first bite doesn't make you hum with delight?
Having had plenty of Cosentino's cured meats, I skipped over the salumi platter section of the menu in favor of the small plates — in particular, lard-fried potatoes and hot nduja ($8). Home fries have nothing on this dish, which featured cubes of potato fried to a shattering crispness, then topped with chunks of spreadable spicy salame and sprinkled with scallions.
With all the past focus on organ meats, I worried the classic pasta list, which featured basics like pasta marinara and pappardelle with pesto, would be a disappointment. But I was reminded that sometimes the simplest things are the best things, like my spaghettini carbonara ($14), slicked with just enough egg and cheese "sauce," topped with perfectly-sized slivers of bacon, and cooked to just the precise level of toothsomeness to make a gal happy. The rigatoni in pork ragù (also $14) could've rivaled any Northern Italian nonna's, thanks to a deep, saturated flavor and thick, stick-to-your-ribs texture.
We didn't have room for dessert, but lingered over Dolcetto. Which brings me to my only true gripe about Porcellino: the stingy wine portions. I'm not one for overly generous wine pours (nothing is more annoying than a wine glass filled to the top!), but the wines by the glass were served as scant four-ounce servings in the world's smallest tumbler glasses. Thank goodness I hadn't opted for the nearly-$12 glass of Brunello!
Wine aside, the value at Porcellino was undeniable. For two glasses of Dolcetto, fried potatoes, and two pasta dishes, the total came in at just over $55. And unlike my previous experience at Incanto, I'm inclined to say that I'll actually remember this meal. I'll be back to try more lunchtime-centric offerings (think mortadella dogs and porchetta sandwiches) — and for more of those potatoes, of course.