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Back to Perbacco

April 11, 2007

A few months ago, we visited Perbacco, a relatively new addition to the Financial District specializing in the cuisines of Piemonte and Liguria, two regions of northern Italy in close proximity to France. We had a fantastic lunch there, and every aspect of that experience was spot on, including prompt, attentive, and helpful service, and of course, delicious dishes featuring high quality ingredients and very good preparations. As positive as this experience was, it still was only a single experience, and for some time now, we’ve planned on a return visit to see if Perbacco could live up to our expectations by providing another whiz bang meal. This time, though, we went for dinner, since the dinner menu has some different options, including a small handful of crudo dishes (creative preparations of raw fish) that are not available at lunch. The big question, though: did this dinner live up to the standard set by the lunch from a few months ago?

Well, one thing is for sure: the starting salad certainly did not. If you read our first review of Perbacco, you might recall we were a fan of the beet salad, both for its delicious combination of contrasting flavors and for its bright, diverse colors. We enjoyed the salad so much that Short Exact and dining companion ordered it again at this dinner, but unfortunately, it did not live up to the expectations set by our first experience. Actually, the salad looked as though it had been only partially finished but accidentally brought out to the table anyway, as it was noticeably smaller (with far fewer gold and red beets) than the dish we received at lunch a few months ago. The Castelmagno cheese had the same great flavor and crumbly texture as before, but the whole salad was dry, and the promised white balsamic vinaigrette was nowhere to be found. We really should have just sent this dish back, but we were also on a time crunch to make it to a Symphony concert, and the salad was not the focal point of the meal in any case, so we just brushed the whole thing off.

Next up was the uni (sea urchin) crudo:

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This crudo had a nice bright flavor furnished by the lime and kumquat, while the small slice of Serrano chili included in each bite of the crudo added an appropriate amount of heat to finish it off. Still, the impact of the Serrano was somehow too disconnected from the lime and the kumquat; we were hoping for the effect of these different ingredients to be more unified, but instead, the trajectory of each single crudo bite was a little abrupt. Meanwhile, the delicate brininess of the uni was overpowered by the other elements of the crudo, so the main contribution of the uni was its nice creamy texture, rather than its flavor. Not perfect, but this was a pretty good crudo. We didn’t have the opportunity to try any of the other crudo dishes, but on the day we visited Perbacco, four crudo total were available. In addition to the uni, there was hamachi with blood orange and fennel, a yellowfin tuna with grated apple, and sea scallops with grapefruit oil.

From the pasta section of the menu, we tried the the tortelloni,

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pasta filled with bits of roast pork and prosciutto. The peas provided a well-rounded sweet flavor that was a good complement to the tinge of saltiness provided by the pork in the tortelloni. The pasta here was not quite of the delicate fine quality exhibited by the tagliatelle (with pork sugo) that we ordered on our first meal here, but it was definitely decent. To top it off, the dish was served with a teasing broth that is a mixture of beef, lamb, and pork stocks. This pasta dish was not a revelation, but it was still rather successful, on the whole.

By far, the winner of the night was the milk-braised Berkshire pork shoulder:

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One note here: Short Exact split this entree with our dining companion, so the portion size you see in the above photo is smaller than a full entree portion.

The pork shoulder rested on a bed of fresh, crispy Savoy cabbage, and it was served with a side of Anson Mills polenta that was creamy, with a very delicate sweetness. The main star of the show, though, was the pork shoulder, which was rich and deeply flavorful. It was certainly tender, but not consistently so. While some sections of the shoulder were merely somewhat soft, other sections were so exceedingly tender that the meat literally melted underneath the slightest pressure from our fork. Nonetheless, it was a very good dish, and we would order it again. Judging from this pork shoulder, the pasta with pork sugo we ordered on our last visit, and the house-cured salumi misti (also from our last visit), it is clear that despite the availability of vegetarian dishes on the menu, Perbacco excels in its preparations of meat dishes, particularly pork.

Although we reported on our first lunch at Perbacco on January 29, 2007, the actual lunch took place a month earlier, at the very end of December 2006. We’re going to be completely honest and transparent here regarding our first review of Perbacco. The entirety of 2006 was an extremely difficult, taxing, emotional roller coaster sort of year for us, and the lunch at Perbacco was literally and symbolically a celebratory way of looking forward to what would hopefully be a much better year in 2007. Given this, it is entirely possible that our initial exceptionally high rating of this restaurant was colored by our enthusiasm and hope at being able to put the hard times behind us. The recent dinner we had at Perbacco was not quite as stellar of an experience, and this is likely due to a combination of an actually inferior experience and the fact that we were a bit more discriminating this time than we were at the lunch in December. The service the second time around was at least as helpful and enthusiastic as it was the first time, but the food did not perform at the level that a rating of 4.5 stars implies.

In any event, despite the mishap with the beet salad, our recent dinner at Perbacco probably floats in the 3-to-3.5 star range, with the quality service putting it at a more solid 3.5. Averaged with the 4.5 stars from our last review, we’ll update Perbacco’s rating to 4 stars. Even though the dinner was not as nice as the lunch, our overall impression is still a favorable one, and we would like to return to explore more of the menu.

RATING:

COST:

Please scroll to the bottom of our original review for the restaurant hours and contact information.

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5 comments

  1. […] 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 […]


  2. Anita and Cameron over at Married with Dinner just wrote a negative Perbacco review too. They were worried about being the only ones dissatisfied with their experience. I’m glad to see another SF food blogger who was equally unimpressed.


  3. I did see their review, and I commented over there that I agreed with them on many points, although I think that I still emerge in the end with a more favorable impression than they do, probably because my first visit there was actually excellent. The sharp contrast between my 1st and 2nd visits (despite the decline in quality) actually encourages me to go at least once more, or else I’ll keep wondering if the 1st visit was just a fluke or not. If, on average, Perbacco is more like the 2nd visit, rather than the 1st visit, I’m afraid that the 4-star rating I ended this post with would still be too high.


  4. Gee, what is up with the lack of consistency in restaurants nowadays? That is quite disappointing to hear that the beet salad was an utter dud.

    I have a quick question: as for the half portion of the milk braised pork shoulder, did you cut the portion in half yourself, or did you ask your server to bring it already divided in half? If you did the latter, then I just learned something new! I should try that!

    Also, I am sorry to hear that 2006 was a bad year, and hope that 2007 is turning out to be a better year. But your friendship is making my 2007 to be a bright one!


  5. Hey, PE. We actually asked that the pork shoulder be split between two people, and we received two separate plates — both looked exactly like the picture.

    I have enjoyed getting to you know you this year as well, despite being just behind the computer screen! Thanks for your nice words at the end — 2007 has so far been an immeasurable improvement over 2006.



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