Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Il Cane Rosso

Il Cane Rosso is a casual restaurant, located inside the Ferry Building.  I remember when they first opened in 2009, as I was excited to have a casual place in the neighborhood, particularly one that served fairly healthy cuisine.

The format has changed a bit over the years, but the focus on local sourcing and fresh, seasonal ingredients has been a constant.  They always list their producers on the menu, from the name of the lettuce farmer, to the bakery they get the bread from (obviously, Acme, just down the hall in the Ferry Building).  Most of their produce comes from the same farms I see at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market.  The current incarnation serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.  The menu changes slightly every day, but lunch and dinner are the same menu, consisting of soups, sandwiches, salads, and rotisserie chicken.

When Il Cane Rosso first opened, breakfast and lunch were the same as they are now, but dinner was a totally different format.  It was only a 3 course menu that changed daily, usually beginning with a vegetarian starter showcasing stunning seasonal product, followed by your choice of either vegetarian or meat entree, and then dessert, for only $25 per person.  It was a sit down affair, with table service, although still extremely casual.  Often, the chef herself would walk a dish out to your table.  It was a fantastic deal, and we went whenever the daily menu sounded great, probably even once a week for a while.

I loved having a place that served good food, at a great price, using high quality ingredients, in a casual environment, so I didn't need to make reservations nor get dressed up.

I also used to visit for brunch on weekends, but never for lunch, since sandwiches, soups, and salads are just not my thing.  When the dinner format changed to match lunch, I stopped going, until recently.  The chef/owner is Lauren Kiino, who also opened a few new places in the neighborhood in the past year (Fearless Coffee and Red Dog Restaurant), and when I discovered those new places, I remembered Il Cane Rosso and decided to return see if it was still as tasty as I remembered.
Outdoor seating right along the bay.
The seating is fairly unique, with a few tables in the hall inside the Ferry Building, and then the prime tables outside on the sidewalk overlooking the bay.  On a busy day, all tables are constantly full.

Ordering is done at the register, you receive a number, and your food is brought to you when it is ready.  It usually takes less than 10 minutes, even though all prepared to order, pretty much the definition of fast casual.

Breakfast

Breakfast is served on weekdays and weekends, although the menu is expanded on weekends.  The menu is not extensive, but it does seem to have something for everyone.

When I used to visit regularly on weekend mornings, there were 3 breakfast items that I was crazy about.  The first is their version of an egg and cheese sandwich, comprised of two fried eggs, Boccalone pancetta, aged provolone, and sweet onion butter on an Acme pan de mie bun.  Several of my friends have described this as the best egg sandwich they've ever had.  I always tried to get Ojan to split one with me, since they are large, but he refused to share.  And somehow, I always managed to finish my own.  They have the perfect combination of a fluffy, slightly sweet bun, salty delicious pancetta, perfectly melted cheese, and eggs that ooze out perfectly.  Seriously, best egg sandwich ever.

The other stunning egg dish is the slow scramble, with crescenza cheese and chives, served with Acme garlic crostini.  Available only on the weekends.  Yes, they are *just* scrambled eggs, but these are the most magical, creamy scrambled eggs I've ever had.  The egg sandwich usually won out for me, but, these eggs were always a close second.

The daily breakfast menu also includes housemade yogurt with granola and toast with housemade preserves, and a frittata on weekends, but I never tried those.

The final breakfast item is one that I went crazy about for a while: broken farro porridge.
Broken Farro Porridge: raisins, brown sugar, toasted almonds.  $7.
Years ago, I adored this porridge.  I was in a overly health conscious phase of life, having discovered all sorts of new whole grains after moving to the Bay Area.  Farro was one of my favorites, and I loved making farro based salads.  Breakfast porridges were also an obsession, particularly all styles of overnight oats, which I experimented with constantly.  Some of my closest friends were vegans, or at least vegetarians, and their lifestyles rubbed off on me.

Back then, Il Cane Rosso's breakfast porridge was the ultimate breakfast: it was so healthy, would fuel me up for hours, etc, etc.  It was creamy and comforting.  I adored it.  I recommended it to a friend, saying "this dish is perfect in every way. I love oatmeal/9 grain cereal a lot, but their broken farro porridge takes that whole concept and elevates it to another level. I'm sure it has something to do with the cream I think it is cooked in. The flavors, the textures, they are all just fabulous if you like warm porridge-y things."

But in the past few years, I can tell you exactly how many times I have eaten any sort of porridge, oatmeal, or even cereal for breakfast: 0.  Why on earth would I pick that, when I can have pancakes or french toast?  Um yeah, I've changed.  I can also tell you exactly how many times I've ordered farro, or other whole grains, as any sort of side dish, hot or cold: 0.  Again, why pick these things?

Nostalgia set in while I was walking past Il Cane Rosso one morning, and I saw that they still had the farro porridge on the menu.  If it has been on the menu for so long, it must still be amazing, right?

So I got it, almost as excited for it as I was for my decadent french toast the day before.

But ... it turns out, I really just don't care for porridge anymore.  I still liked the texture of the broken farro, a little bit chewy, far more interesting than oats.  It wasn't all chew though, as it was very creamy.  It was hot.  It was comforting.  But ... totally, completely boring to me.  There were plump golden raisins throughout, which I did like.  The top was loaded with almonds.  I actually really did not like the almonds, most were whole, the rest were crumbs, and they tasted burnt, although they didn't look it.  I'm glad they weren't mixed in, as I was able to push them aside.  Even if I had liked the taste, I would have wanted these slivered, not whole.

I was pretty saddened by this experience, not because I think it was bad, I'm sure it was just the same as back when I loved it, but, because I've clearly changed.  All I could think about was how I wanted to drizzle it with maple syrup, even though it had brown sugar in it for sweetness already.  And how it needed more spice, and I even considered going next door to the coffee shop to use their cinnamon shaker to top it off.  I also wanted to run out to the farmer's market to get some strawberries to slice on top.  Even though it had raisins and almonds, it was just too plain for me.

$7 price for a large breakfast porridge was fine, but sadly, until I have my next change of heart, this isn't going to be something I return for.

Lunch

The daily lunch/dinner menu consists of two soups, two salads (featuring seasonal, local produce), two meat sandwiches, two vegetarian sandwiches (one of which is always their egg salad), plus rotisserie chicken and a few sides.  You can make a soup/sandwich/salad combo meal featuring half portions as desired.

Since I don't like soup or sandwiches, even when I regularly ate at Il Cane Rosso, it was never for lunch.  Of course, I tried their signature egg salad a few times, but it wasn't ever my thing.  It is rather amazing that it is still on the menu, every day, and has been since they opened.  Granted, it is a very unique egg salad sandwich: served warm, open faced, with melted provolone on top.
Kale Caesar Salad, half size, $5.
A few days ago, I had a fantastic kale salad (in the Centurion Lounge at the Las Vegas airport of all places).  I've been dreaming about another since.

So even though I rarely gravitate towards salads, I was excited to see kale salad on the menu, described as "Country Line Farm's Kale & Avocado Caesar Salad: croutons, parmesan, lemon-anchovy vinaigrette".  Except ... I'm allergic to avocado.  I asked to have the avocado left out, and then suggested subbing in peaches from the other salad, just so I'd have something a bit more interesting than just kale.  No problem.

The kale was crisp and very fresh, the salad tossed to order.  The dressing wasn't a super creamy, heavy caesar style, and clearly had some tang from the addition of lemon.  The salad, and particularly the croutons, were well dressed.  I adored the croutons, presumably made from Acme bread, since Acme supplies all of the bread for the sandwiches and breakfast items.  They were crazy crunchy and flavorful.  There were tons of them, perhaps the ratio was a bit off, but, since I loved them so much, I didn't care.  Classic shredded parmesan cheese completed the salad (along with the peaches I added of course).

Overall, it was fresh and a well executed salad, but wasn't quite as good as the one I had in the lounge.  I still can't get over that salad.

The price for a half salad was listed at $4.50, but I was charged $5.  Since a full salad is $10, this seemed reasonable to me anyway.  I probably wouldn't get this salad again, but, I'm interested in exploring more of their salads, since they are so clearly made with high quality ingredients.
House Pickled Market Vegetables.  $4.
I adore pickles.  You've probably heard me mention this before.  I like it even more when people pickle things besides cucumbers.

A few days ago, Il Cane Rosso posted a photo of all of the beautiful vegetables they were pickling, so I had to try them.  Available by the jar, or, as I had, just a side.

The mix was mostly cauliflower (white and purple), onions, and turnips, although I did have a lone carrot and a large clove of garlic as well.  The garlic permeated everything, but the overwhelming flavor was vinegar.  The vinegar was stronger than I like.

The vegetables were all fresh and crisp, but, just not my style.  I wouldn't get these again.

Dessert

The only dessert offering is cookies, and the variety changes daily.  You know I'm a dessert girl, but rarely does a cookie satisfy me.
Ginger Molasses Golden Raisin Cookie.  $2.
And, of all cookies, ginger-molasses-raisin didn't sound particularly interesting.  But, it was the only choice, so I got one.

It was clearly a homemade cookie, but it was crispy style, my least favorite type of cookie.  It had ok ginger and molasses flavor, but, still, just a crispy ginger cookie.  I think mine had a sole raisin in it.  I tried a few bites, and brought it home to Ojan, who does like cookies, although, I don't think ginger molasses would ever be his first pick either.

$2 is a standard price for a large homemade cookie.

Dinner

This is an old review, of dinner from May 2011.  This was long before I wrote a blog, but, somehow, I still have photos and some brief notes.

As I said, they changed the format of dinner so dinner and lunch menus are identical, but, back in the day, it was a 3 course affair for only $25.  They would publish the menu mid-day, and it was always totally different.  I remember regularly checking the website to see the menu, and I'd eagerly send Ojan an IM when the menu came out.  My chat history is full of "OMG, Cane Rosso has a great sounding menu tonight!", encouraging him to join me.
Starter: Yerena Farm strawberry salad with pickled buddha’s hand, toasted almonds, & yogurt-mint-dill vinaigrette 
There were so many different micro greens in this that I'd never had before.  And you can't go wrong with strawberries at this time of year!  A nice fresh start to the meal.
Acme Garlic Bread.
Perfectly garlicky!
Vegetarian Main: Spring vegetable pasta with cheddar cheese & agretti salad.
I went for the vegetarian choice, spring vegetable pasta, which doesn't sound all that exciting, but was totally amazing.

This was seriously some of the best "mac and cheese" I'd ever had. The big noodles were perfect conduits for sauce and were filled up full of it, the sauce was ridiculously creamy and delicious due to half and half and several types of cheese.  The veggies mixed in, including caramelized onions and kale, really kicked it up a notch!

So ridiculously tasty, and I devoured this.
Meat Main: : Pork sugo baked pasta with tomato, chili & parmesan. 
The meat option was pork sugo pasta, which Ojan got.

I only had a few bites, but this was quite delicious too, featuring the same noodles, and really flavorful sauce.

[ No Photo ]
Dessert: Chocolate pudding with espresso whipped cream.

And ... dessert.

ZOMG. Decedent, chocolaty, and the espresso whipped cream gave a nice bitter contrast.  How do I always manage to forget to take photos of dessert?  I'm incapable of resisting digging in the moment they arrive!

Cane Rosso's $25 dinner prix-fixe continues to be one of the best deals around town!  
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