Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dinner @ Perbacco

Ah, Monday nights.  So many of my favorite places are closed.  The rest are often working without their executive chefs, and without fresh products.  Such a bad night for dining out.  But ... I had a friend  who I hadn't seen in over a year who wanted to have dinner, so I tried to find a suitable place.  Italian seemed like a good pick, particularly somewhere known for pasta, since that doesn't require fresh ingredients nearly as much.

We headed to Perbacco, a mid-range italian place, which I hadn't yet been to, although I've seen the chef at a cooking demo recently, and have read decent things about.

I was surprised by how large the restaurant was, with a bunch of different seating options.  Two stories,  open and airy, with some booths, round tables, and several private rooms.  The crowd was mostly older, nicely dressed.

Service was good.  Water glasses refilled, share plates and utensils replenished between courses, good level of detail provided when we asked about dishes, wine recommendations given and a small taste provided before committing.  The only issue we had was at the end it was a little hard to find someone to ask where our leftovers had gone to.

The menu included many starters, pastas that could be sized as appetizers or entrées, main dishes, and of course, desserts.  I'd read the best things about the pastas and desserts, so we decided to stick with those, particularly as the noteworthy appetizers and mains were seafood based, and ... it was Monday.  I basically wanted to try all of the pastas, so I appreciated the two size options, as it meant we could order just a bunch of the smaller ones, rather than a single entree sized one.

The pastas arrived crazy fast.  They were clearly all made with fresh, handmade pasta, but across the board I felt that they were overcooked.  None could have been described as al dente.  Perhaps that was the intended style?  The sauces also weren't particularly great.  And they arrived rather lukewarm.  They weren't bad exactly, certainly edible, but were disappointing, and I wouldn't order any of them again.  The dessert however was delicious.  Value was good, the serving sizes generous for very moderate prices.

I don't really have any reason to go back, but if someone wanted to go, I wouldn't say no.  I'm a little interested in their casual sister restaurant next door, Barbacco.  (What is with all these italian places having casual sisters next door anyway?)
Breadsticks with salsa verde.
Immediately upon sitting, we were presented with some breadsticks and salsa verde.  Neither the breadsticks nor the sauce looked that great, and I mostly tried them just to be able to make a note of it here.  But ... they were surprisingly tasty!

The breadsticks were super thin, crisp, crunchy, buttery, with a slight saltiness.  I really didn't expect to like these, but I'd happily nibble on them as a snack anytime.  Apparently they were created by accident when the chef was playing with a new pasta machine.  Everyone loved them, and they have been served since 2007.  As of 2011, they were making 2,300 of these bread sticks a day!

The breadsticks however were overshadowed by the salsa verde!  It was fantastic.  Very flavorful, made with parsley, bread crumbs, lemon zest, and olive oil.  The breadsticks weren't the best dipping device for it however, as it was a little hard to scoop up much of it.  The bread that would come later worked better.

I really enjoyed this on several levels: it was nice to be given a munchie before ordering, it was far more unique than standard bread and butter, and it was tasty!
Speaking of standard bread and butter, we did receive that as well, after ordering.

This was a huge let down from the breadsticks.  The roll was served cold.  It had a decent chew, but was very generic.  The butter was creamy and actually really good.  No salt provided.
Pappardelle: wide pasta ribbons / slow cooked short rib ragu / roasted cipolline / grated horseradish.  $13 small/$18 large.    
The pappardelle was a really nice form factor, large pasta ribbons.  Clearly fresh pasta, and cooked fairly well, but a little overdone, as it wasn't al dente and didn't have much chew to it.

The short rib in the ragu was really tender, flavorful, and there was a generous amount.  I'm not usually a huge fan of short rib, and liked this much more than I expected.  The sauce was pretty rich, and had a real "meaty" flavor to it, but I didn't really like it much.  The horseradish didn't come through much in many of the bites I had, but occasionally would come through on the finish, where it was really delicious.  The sauce needed more kick overall.

I have a thing for cipolline onions, particularly roasted ones, and found them very tasty.  There were a few small, whole roasted onions in here.

Topped with shaved parmesan, which went well with the ragu.

I can't help but compare this to the pappardelle I had a Cotogna recently, which was far better executed, the pasta cooked perfectly, and the ragu more enjoyable.  It also reminded me of another dish I had a Cotogna subsequently, with a tomato and horseradish sauce, that again, I enjoyed much more.

This was my and one other diner's second favorite dish of the evening, and the least favorite of the other.  I wouldn't order it again, as I'd rather try something else.  For $13 however, this was a generous serve of fresh pasta.  I'm curious how much larger the bigger size was!
Agnolotti dal plin filled with roasted vitellone and savoy cabbage / sugo d’arrosto.  $13 small/$18 large.
This is probably their most famous dish.  Everyone raves about it.  Been on the menu for ages.  It was just recently on list of top San Francisco eats.

Unfortunately, it arrived barely warm.  I wonder if it would have been better warmer?

The pasta was again nice, clearly fresh, but again, slightly overcooked, not having the chew to it I was looking for.  The filling was a ground veal (and cabbage?) that was fairly flavorful.

Included in the sauce was some cooked cabbage chunks, which looked a lot like the agnolotti themselves, and I didn't originally realize were there.  They added a slight freshness and crunch to the dish.

The sauce was really, really boring.  It didn't taste like anything at all, just a little salty.

Topped with grated parmesan, which didn't really seem to add anything to the dish.

This was my and one other diner's second to last pick of the night, but the favorite of one other.  I would not order again.  I think it was overall better than the version we had at Cotogna, but only slightly, as I didn't like either one.  Another very generous serve for $13!
Raviora: pasta filled with ricotta di pecora and mint / spring pea passato / mint butter.  $12 small/$17 large.
This was the best executed pasta of the night.  Again, clearly fresh and this time, it had a slight chew to it.

However, I really, really did not like the filling.  It had a strange mouthfeel to it, and was kinda bad tasting ricotta.  Generic grocery store ricotta tastes better than this.

The spring peas came in two forms: full snap peas and some shelled peas.  They were really delicious, full of flavor and freshness.  Cooked perfectly, the snap pea was crisp and the shelled peas not mushy at all.

There were also whole mint leaves, which were really refreshing and combined nicely with the peas and grated parmesan cheese on top.

The sauce looked more flavorful than it was, I didn't really think it had much going on.

This was almost a good dish, and I really enjoyed the freshness and flavors of the peas and mint, but the filling was just awful.  Least favorite dish for two of us, although second favorite for another.  I would not order again.  And yet again, this seemed like a really good value for only $12.
Rabatòn: herb and spinach ricotta gnocchi / local green asparagus / ricotta salata.  $12 small/$17 large.
Now this was a fresh, seasonal dish!  Ordered because we knew that local asparagus season is winding down.

The gnocchi were fairly forgettable.  They were fluffy, clearly just boiled and not pan finished (how I prefer my gnocchi).  I didn't really taste any herbs or spinach in them as advertised, although they were green, so it must have been there.

The asparagus came as some cooked chunks of spear and as the sauce.  The cooked chunks were nicely done, still a little crunchy.  The sauce was also quite good.  The consistency was a little too thick, but it was really light tasting, refreshing, and full of delicious asparagus flavor.  You certainly had to like asparagus to like this dish.

Topped with ricotta salata, which added a good saltiness that paired well with the asparagus.

Favorite dish for two of us, but third favorite for the other.  I still wouldn't order it again though.
Sformatino: caramelized milk chocolate mousse  dark chocolate glaze / cocoa-almond streusel / crema inglese.  $9.
This was a decent chocolate mousse dessert.

The base was a thin chocolate cake layer.  Earlier that day I'd had a dessert that was a much thicker moist chocolate cake topped with chocolate mousse, and I felt it was more successful than this one, as this cake layer was too thin to really be noticeable.

The mousse was a good, creamy, chocolate mousse, but not particularly noteworthy.  Again the mousse I'd had earlier in the day had a more intense chocolate flavor that I enjoyed more.

The dark chocolate glaze was a really nice touch.  It was fairly thick, bitter, and added a lot more chocolate intensity to the dish.

The cocoa-almond streusel on top and on the plate wasn't particularly noteworthy, just a basic chocolate crumble.

The crema inglese was sweet and good, but there wasn't nearly enough of it.

Overall, not a bad dessert, but not particularly memorable.  Decent size and quality for $9.  I wouldn't order again.
Douglas fir panna cotta / pine nut crumble / mugolio.  $9.
This dessert didn't sound that great, but I do enjoy a good creamy pudding dessert, like a panna cotta.  I'd also read great reviews of this, but then again, I've kinda learned not to trust the Yelpers.  But most of the other desserts on the menu were all chocolate, and I was trying to limit my caffeine intake, and the other diners weren't interested in the other dessert that sounded good to me (a semifreddo with meringue, my other dessert obsession!).  So, we tried this one.

It was awesome.  The panna cotta had a fantastic wiggle to it!  The consistency was perfect, very creamy.  The flavor was really hard to describe, certainly not what I'd think douglas fir would taste like.  I never once thought I was eating a christmas tree :)  It was more citrusy, but subtle, and fairly sweet.  Really delicious.

The pine nut crumble on top was made up primarily of pine nuts.  It tasted strongly of pine nut.  I don't really like pine nuts, so I didn't like this component at all, but I did understand how the flavor would work well against the other sweet components.

The huckleberry sauce was too much, there were tons of huckleberries, and the flavor of this was intense and easily overwhelmed the dish.  We left some of it behind.  It was good, and paired decently well with the pine nut and the panna cotta, but there was just way too much on the plate.

The other syrup on the plate was made form mugolio, a pine cone syrup.  I didn't really pick up on this much at all.

This was certainly my favorite dessert and the highlight of the meal for me.  I'd order it again, but I'd really like to have it without the pine nut.  Perfect execution on the panna cotta.
Mignardises: hazelnut chocolate, almond honey torrone.
These arrived with the bill, on a plate that was clearly fresh out of the dishwasher.  By which I mean, it was hot.  Which ... caused the chocolates to melt onto it.  When I picked up a chocolate, 30% of it was left behind on the plate, and another 10% of it melted all over my fingers.  Whoops.  This was just a generic creamy hazelnut chocolate.  Not noteworthy.

The almond honey torrone was a piece of sweet nougat with almond slivers.  It would have paired well with tea, but like the chocolate, wasn't really memorable.
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