Local chef Chris Cosentino and business partner Mark Pastore closed the book on their 12-year-old Noe Valley restaurant Incanto Monday night, marking the end of an era both for the neighborhood dining scene and for the pair. As reported a couple weeks ago, they're planning to reuse the space for something more takeout-heavy and family friendly, with a retail component attached, called Porcellino, which they hope to open by late April. (Also, there's strong evidence that Cosentino has another project in the works in the former Zuppa space on Fourth Street in SoMa, but they haven't revealed any details about that.)
Of the change, Pastore tells SFist, "Ultimately, our goal hasn't changed: We want to provide good, wholesome food that inspires people. What has changed is merely the delivery system. We're just done with 'fine dining' in favor of something that we think is going to greatly widen our audience."
Cosentino became a national food celebrity over the last seven years, taking on the mantle of America's Premiere Nose-to-Tail chef and identifying himself with all things offal his website: offalgood.com; his Twitter handle: offalchris; branded t-shirts: I ♥ Offal and Eat Tripe. His cause is a good one, and one now more widely embraced by chefs coast to coast, as we all have become more conscious of our meat consumption, and sustainable practices around butchery.
Cosentino's career began in the kitchen at San Francisco's Rubicon restaurant, a high-profile Financial District hot spot (where Wayfare Tavern now calls home) that was opened by business partners Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, and Francis Ford Coppola and became a star-making platform for chefs Traci Des Jardins, Elizabeth Falkner, and, later, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krazinski of State Bird Provisions fame. After some stints on the East Coast, Cosentino returned to S.F. in 2002 to open Incanto, hosting his first Head-to-Tail dinner in 2004, marking an annual tradition that would become a defining signature of the restaurant. Cosentino's talent and brash, passionate personality led to his being cast on The Next Iron Chef in 2007, and by mid-2009, he and fellow cheftestant Aaron Sanchez were handed their own adrenaline-filled Food Network show, Chefs vs. City. That was followed by regular appearances on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. That led to his first book, in 2012, Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal, and to his winning appearance on the fourth season of Top Chef Masters.
But in 2012, Incanto dropped off Michelin's list of Bib Gourmand picks, and then last May, not long after Cosentino's Top Chef Masters victory, the restaurant lost its long-held slot on Michael Bauer's Top 100 (following a lackluster update review).
Bauer's wide influence has been often talked about, and may have led to a slip in business over the last year Inside Scoop refers vaguely to a sense of "where were these people before?" in assessing the crowds that have packed the dining room in the last week. But Pastore says there were a number of reasons for the decision to close and morph into something new, not the least of which was the changing demands of the neighborhood. "We've listened to our neighbors," he tells us. "They have told us that having a restaurant that is more casual, more approachable, with more hours, and more focus on takeout are all things that they want."
He adds, "Few restaurants last forever. For the rest of us mortals it's merely a question of whether you choose your own time to move on, or if you wait around long enough for circumstances dictate your exit for you. We chose the former, when we could make the transition completely on our own terms."
After a meal last week, it was clear that Cosentino and his team were trying to go out on a high note, featuring one of his most talked about Top Chef finale dishes, a beef heart tartare, as a special, and treating diners to some longtime favorites of the menu, like the cheekily named "Bitter Hipster" Rotelli. The highlights for me were the salty and satisfying spaghettini with grated Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley; and an offal-rich, spicy, and a dish of pig's head, octopus, dandelion greens, and garbanzos in a pork, herb, and tomato broth. It was both rustic, bold, with a terrific interplay of textures, and and expertly balanced dish, with enough salt, acid, and spice to let you know you're eating something that required a lot of care.
As for what's next for Cosentino, besides consulting on the menus for Porcellino and running his charcuterie business Boccalone products from which will be newly available at Porcellino, as well as at their Ferry Building shop we are still waiting to hear.
Below, you can watch an unaired pilot for a Cosentino-led show called Chef Unleashed, in which he talks about his passions (cooking, innards), and at the 6:15 mark gets pretty emotional on a hunting expedition, saying, "I like to cook and eat meat, but I'm not a barbarian... We eat animals, and I think there's this forgetting moment that that animal was once breathing and running and living. I made a clean kill, and I'm proud of that. But at the same time I'm not. It's a hard thing to choke down."