230 California St.
Cross: Battery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Dinner Mon-Thu 5:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11pm
21, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
check it out: a new Italian restaurant has opened and whaddya know,
it's not some 49-seat number that's tucked into [insert
your neighborhood here] with wood chairs, a traditional menu of
minestrone, a radicchio salad with gorgonzola cheese, and a few
classic pasta (don't forget the risotto) and meat dishes.
No hawkers out front. No Chianti fiascos hanging around.
literally. (The ristorante's name directly translates as "For
Bacchus!," an exclamation not unlike "Hot damn!"
or "Rad!" which are both pretty close to the response
I had after eating there.) This refreshing addition to the San Francisco
Italian dining landscape is following tenets similar to the very
successful A16 concept (focus on a specific region in Italy, make
some excellent and legit food from that region, have a killer wine
list, and design a cool restaurant to contain it all), but Perbacco
is focusing on the Northern Piemontese region, with daytrips to
the Ligurian coast, and some added contemporary flair.
the space, hoo whee. It's chic, sleek, and feels very urban and
polished. And it's big, try 6,000-square-feet, with something like
120 seats, and two private rooms upstairs (The Barolo Room and The
Barbaresco Room, natch).
historic building has an olive green exterior and gleaming silver
letters that spell out PERBACCO all in caps (slick font choice,
by the way). Upon entering the space, the first thing you notice
is the long brick wall that runs the length of the building, which
hints to its provenance as the Hind Building, dating back to 1912.
of you may remember the space as the home of the pub-like Gold Coast,
but all traces of its ye olde vibe are quite gone. Instead, you'll
find a gleaming Carrera marble bar with a gorg red restored Berkel
meat slicer parked right by it. (I got to touch it.) There are padded
and modern bar seats that run the length of the bar, plus some booths
along the wall for bar-area diners.
the marble tile runway down the shotgun space and once you're
seated in one of the two dining areas, you'll begin to note
details like the luxe cognac baby ostrich banquettes, a design motif
of wood slats that lend an almost Scandinavian vibe, an exhibition
kitchen in the far back with an eight-seat chef's table, large
floral displays, and the plaid carpeting that offers partial relief
from the oh-too-common wood floor ricochet effect in most restaurants
room is definitely lit (there are some large and modern rectangular
light boxes), but it's flattering and glowing light, not dark
and moody. Cass
Calder Smith was the designer/architect for the refined space,
and you may recognize a few small elements or look-and-feel from
some of the other places his studio has recently designed, like
or Lettus: Café Organic. To me, the space feels very Milanese,
although the owner, Umberto Gibin, would prefer more of a northerly
Torinese association. Let's just say there's nothing
quite like it in San Francisco, that's for sure.
menu is extensive, and pretty darned affordable considering how
spiffy the space is—you'd almost expect to cough up more.
Yay, you don't have to. There wasn't a single entrée that
hit the $30 mark on my visit, and you still get elegant flatware
and stemware, attractive china, and some quality vittles.
try to resist a few selections from the list of salumi (resistance
is futile!), because Chef Staffan Terje knows his meats (before
his eight years at Scala's, he was also a butcher). He's
so into it that he spends his Sundays at the restaurant making salumi.
I even got to see his curing room downstairs—it's like
the mother lode of meat down there.
the house-cured salame al Barbera is some of the most tender and
mouth-melting salame you'll ever taste around town. And how the
hell did Terje know I am a total sucker for hot coppa and finocchiona
(a fennel salame)? Literally, my two favorites when I'm buying some
meat at a deli counter, and there they were on the menu. Hello,
are also some quality imports on the menu, a mortadella and a riserva
prosciutto di San Daniele that's been aged 21 months—it's
a rarity, and a must-try. While you're grazing on the salumi, go
for a flute of the Lambrusco, the Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Barbolini,
Emilia-Romagna ($8), a winning combo with meatses partses.
know, salumi, salumi, salumi. It's blowing up around town
like sushi or fro-yo many years back. Italians have been scarfing
down cured meats for years, but I will say I'm glad Americans
have finally caught on.
those who want to veer away from the fatty cured meats (but why?
why!?), there are four crudos to choose from, like a sashimi-style
thick-cut blue fin tuna ($12) (from the Baja) with a nicely acidic
green tomato vinaigrette on top plus ribbons of Serrano chile, or
exquisitely fresh and succulent Nantucket Bay scallops that are
served as a "ceviche," but have barely a whisper of
citrus, with thin shards of celery and radish that add extra punch.
of extra punch, I found both of these dishes desperately needed
a hit of salt. Not sure if this was a factor of initial growing
pains (the restaurant is brand spanking new), or a purposefully
light hand in the kitchen, but either way, both dishes benefited
after I gave them a sprinkling (not a spanking). Especially with
all the cool salts out there, I think there is an opportunity to
showcase some good salts on the crudo selections.
deliver on their name—it was tough to choose. We dove into
the savory sweetbreads ($14), sporting a crispy exterior of semolina
and fennel pollen, with braised fennel, onion, and a luxurious sauce
with truffle. Perfect seasonal dish—hearty flavor and satisfying
folks might arch an eyebrow at the prospect of raw veal (vitellone)
served like a tartare ($12), with black truffle and crostini on
the side. I found this execution to be a delightful alternative
to the classic steak tartare—the meat was hand-cut, and had
a creamy, smooth texture, with hints of pink. (Vitellone means "big
veal," and the animal is in between the period of being milk-fed
and more mature.) While the accompanying crostini were salted, I
thought the meat still needed some—without enough salt, it
tasted too flat.
house-made pastas will tempt (and corrupt). The star for me, the
Anna Magnani if you will, was the classic Piemontese dish of agnolotti
dal plin ($12/$17): plump pillows stuffed with roasted veal breast
and Savoy cabbage. This execution featured a trio of cheeses with
some melted on top, too. There was ricotta, Parmesan, and Castelmagno
cheese, a fluffy yet pungent and tangy cheese I've never had before
(we're becoming fast friends). The pasta also had a drizzling of
some roasting juices, with that viscous taste and texture you get
from slow-roasting with bones—just heaven. Bravo.
pasta called for a gorgeous glass of red, and boy, did I start flirting
heavily with the 2003 Langhe Nebbiolo, Perbacco, Vietti, Piemonte—you
could get a glass for $12, but this is an excellent time to take
advantage of Perbacco's quartino feature, a quarter liter for $16.50
(it's more like a glass and a half, bring it on).
on the menu were thick-cut ribbons of house-made pappardelle topped
with braised short rib ragu ($14/$19) with roasted black and gold
chanterelles—the savory sauce had fantastic flavor, and a
note on the pasta: it ends up Terje has been working with the same
pasta maker for the past eight years, and the guy is a master: complimenti,
Donaldo Valenzuela. Seriously. This guy has serious chops. There
are other traditional Northern stuffed pastas, like mezzelune and
pansotti on the menu—I'm willing to bet that second pasta
looks unfamiliar to you, and some things certainly will be strangers
(it’s okay, you can talk to them). Just ask, the servers expect
you to have questions.
those who want to dabble in the mains, there's a Berkshire
pork shoulder braised in milk ($21) accompanied by polenta and roasted
fennel. This dish was homey, and the pork had a lovely texture,
but I found it just didn't feature the oomph of some of the
other dishes flavor-wise—it's a gentler, milder dish.
Even the colors were all somewhat muted on the plate. Personally,
I wouldn't want to commit to an entire serving of it on my
own, but from what I've heard, people really dig this dish.
the opposite end of the spectrum, the quartered Wolfe Ranch quail
($21) was downright colorful, with spicy chunks of persimmon, apple,
and a savory jus studded with pomegranate—totally the picture
of late fall/early winter. This dish fell more on the contemporary
side of things, and I liked the leaves of fresh Italian parsley
mixed in with the meat on the plate—it added a nice bite of
freshness with the luscious jus.
was also quaffing a 2004 Barbera d'Asti, Montebruna, Braida
Giacomo Bologna, Piemonte ($14/glass). I learned that Giacomo Bologna
is considered the father of Barbera (you will discover that sommelier
Mauro Cirilli is happy to educate)—I was reading that Bologna
was the first to really maximize the effects of aging Barbera in
small oak barrels. Oh, and in case Cirilli looks familiar, he was
the lead sommelier at Aqua for almost four years. Be sure to engage
him if you can.
dessert: pastry chef Tim Nugent (no relationship to Ted) busted
out a fantastic chocolate tart ($8). I don't really opt for "the
chocolate" when dining out, but in this case, I'm glad I did.
It came with a perfect flaky crust and a decadent swatch of dulce
de leche, which the restaurant is charmingly calling "dolci
di latte," plus some whipped cream and candied hazelnuts on
the side. A refreshing option is the Meyer lemon semifreddo ($8),
a fluffy and chilled cylindrical tower, with candied lemon zest
on top. Or, you could always go for some cheese! Mmmm, cheese.
meal concluded with some complimentary squares of house-made gianduia
and some torrone—these two flavors totally remind me of Christmas
(my grandma always flies us candies and chocolate from Southern
Italy for Natale).
sure this place is going to do well, and is destined to become a
cool lunchtime spot; my only gripe with the evening hours is that
I wish it was open later—it's a sexy space with a bar I'd
like to hang out at late, especially with one of their tasty cocktails,
like the Dieci, a lovely aperitif with Campari, Tanqueray Ten, and
grapefruit ($9). Oh well.
the kind of restaurant that you'll be able to return to again and
again, with numerous unique dishes and an extensive and interesting
wine list to explore. Couple all that with the gracious staff and
the spiffy space, and I'd say people are gonna dig it. Mangia!