January 29, 2007

UPDATE (April 11, 2007): Since writing this post, we have visited Perbacco once more (for dinner) and have written a new review. Please note that we have changed Perbacco’s rating since this dinner. Please click here for the latest review of Perbacco. What follows is the original review.


Perbacco is a superb Italian restaurant located in the Financial District, in the same block as Aqua and the venerable Tadich Grill. Opening in just fall of 2006, it is a recent addition to the local dining scene, yet it seems to have hit its stride almost immediately. The word “perbacco” means “by Bacchus”, and it is essentially an exclamatory sort of remark. After you visit Perbacco, you may just inadvertently find yourself doing a lot of exclaiming, because it is actually that good.

Perbacco specializes in the cuisines of Piemonte and Liguria. These two regions are located in the northwestern corner of Italy, and the geographical proximity to France can be felt in their cuisines as well. With respect to the growing of grapes and production of wine, the Piemonte region is especially rich, and, unsurprisingly, Perbacco stocks a variety of these wines; the wine menu is quite extensive and is carefully divided by type of wine and region of origin. The restaurant also has a long and deep menu, chock full of appealing choices. Unfortunately, on our visit to Perbacco, we were not even able to make it to the entree section of the menu, because there were so many delicious options under the appetizer section and the soup/pasta/risotto section. Short Exact cannot wait till our next visit to try out more dishes, with the hope of one day reaching the entrees.

The Bay Area’s most noteworthy Italian restaurants usually have a collection of house-cured cold cuts. Perbacco is no exception, and the assortment and quality of the salumi misti here is superb. The prosciutto had a light, almost ethereal texture, and the finocchiona (fennel salami) featured a perfectly smooth, balanced, rounded fennel flavor. The mortadella was delicately soft, while the ciccioli (pork pate) was rich and smooth. In short, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.

We enjoyed an appetizer of squid,


featuring perfectly grilled local squid with a subtle, yet well-balanced background set of flavors furnished by arugula and an orange vinaigrette. The meatiness of the Corona beans (a large, white type of Italian bean) and the soft sweetness of the tomato was a great complement to the squid.

Next up was a salad,


featuring beautiful red and gold beets. The subtle sweetness of the beets was delicately offset by a white balsamic vinaigrette and the crumbly Castelmagno cheese. Castelmagno, which is a cheese from the Piemonte region, has a pungent quality that is reminiscent of Gorgonzola, but it also has an extra bit of tang behind it, and the effect of the cheese in this salad is great. Not only were the flavors spot-on delicious, but the plate had a great mix of colors: deep purple and gold from the beets, bright leafy green rucola, and the white cheese sprinkled on top. All in all, this was a superb salad with excellent composition.

For an entree, Short Exact ordered the hand-cut tagliatelle with pork sugo:


This dish was exquisite: easily one of the best pasta dishes that we’ve had in a long time. The pork sugo, which the menu proudly proclaims (and justifiably so) is cooked for 5 hours, has all the depth and richness of flavor you would expect from a slow cooking. The pork sugo was served atop a bed of fresh, housemade pasta which was of high quality: light, delicate, and perfectly cooked.

Dessert included a vanilla panna cotta


with amarena cherries marinated in grappa. The alcohol and cherries lent a very nice fragrant quality to this dessert, which was a great complement to the sweet vanilla and the perfect custardy texture of the panna cotta. However, what really caught our attention was the trio of gelati misti,


The three gelati were pistachio, bittersweet chocolate, and caramel. All of three of these were excellent, with rich and clearly delineated flavors. Still, our favorite of the three would certainly have to be the caramel, which, by a stroke of genius, was served with black sea salt. The black sea salt lent a very light crunch which, when combined with the cool, rich gelato, created an almost sparkly sensation in our mouth. It was a superb effect, and it just goes to show how the seemingly simple addition of one ingredient can make the difference between a special dish and a dish that is merely very good. As you can tell, our meal at Perbacco featured many great moments, but if we were hard-pressed to pick one favorite moment, it would probably have to be our first taste of the caramel gelato with black sea salt.

At this point, we will say that our report on these Perbacco desserts is probably already out-of-date. The Tablehopper has reported that Ted Nugent, who was the pastry chef at Perbacco when we dined there, has already left, and is now to be found at Scala’s Bistro, in Union Square. She also reports that Nugent has introduced “salted caramel gelato” to the menu at Scala’s, so it might well be that if you want to try this excellent caramel gelato, you will have to visit Scala’s instead. Still, that should not discourage you from visiting Perbacco; even without the caramel gelato, this is a strong and very interesting menu.

Perhaps what struck us most about this restaurant was the smoothness of our lunch there. Not only was every dish well-prepared, but the service was kind, helpful, and attentive. Although the restaurant was crowded at a busy lunch hour, service was smooth, and the delivery of the dishes was well-timed. Perbacco has only been in town for a few months, and so it’s only natural to expect some mistakes, or perhaps a timing disconnect between the floor and the kitchen. There was no evidence of any such mistakes on our visit. Perbacco has a very established feel, almost like it’s been there all along. While we may wish that they had been here all along, we are certainly glad that they are in town now. As a superb addition to the Financial District arsenal and one of our favorite new restaurant openings for 2006, we highly recommend Perbacco for all your downtown Italian cravings. Short Exact can’t wait to return.



230 California Street (between Battery St. and Front St.)
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: 415.955.0663
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am – 10:00 pm; Fri, 11:30 am – 11:00 pm; Sat, 11:30 am – 11:00 pm. Closed Sundays.

Cuisine: Italian
Neighborhood: Financial District

How to get there: Perbacco is located right on the California Street cable car line, and is near Muni lines 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 14, 21, 31, 41, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N and T. Embarcadero BART/Muni station is a couple blocks away.



  1. What a superb review on Perbacco’s. It would be a long shot to go there (I’m in Provence) but you have given me the taste of it all! Thank you!

  2. Wow, that restaurant sounds melt-in-your-mouth divine! I am especially impressed by the gelato and black sea salt. I am always surprised at how salt-enhanced desserts actually turn out to be pretty good.

  3. The black sea salt and caramel gelato really is a treat. If it turns out Perbacco doesn’t have it anymore (as it sounds like might be the case), I might just have to drop by Scala’s, just for the gelato. 🙂

  4. […] scroll to the bottom of our original review for the restaurant hours and contact […]

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