Last week Perbacco’s “little sister” – Barbacco Eno Trattoria - opened right next door to Perbacco on California Street, and my friend, Yutaka, and I were there on Monday for “opening day.”
I have to admit that when I heard that Umberto Gibin and Staffan Terje (Perbacco’s owners) were opening a new Italian restaurant right next to Perbacco, I had doubts as to whether they could pull it off without drawing customers away from Perbacco. However, I am happy to be able to report that I feel they have done a great job of both creating another first rate dining experience, while positioning the two restaurants to complement each other without competing.
That more relaxed atmosphere was evident when Yutaka and I arrived on Monday of last week. The only disappointment was that due to the vagaries of the San Francisco city administration, the issuance of Barbacco’s liquor license had been delayed so the enoteca experience was on hold (happily I learned that Barbacco's license was issued last Friday!). However, while Barbacco is a certainly a different experience than Perbacco from the standpoint of overall atmosphere, culinary focus (Perbacco emphasizes primarily northern Italian – primarily Piemontese - cuisine while Barbacco focuses on more rustic and somewhat spicier foods from the central and southern regions of Italy) and price, on two critical factors – quality of the food and service – it is in my view the equal of Perbacco (even on opening day!). Of course, this should not be a surprise given the common ownership, the investment that has been made in the training of the staff, and the fact that two of the key positions – General Manager and Executive Chef – are held by Maria Eugenia Armando and Sarah Burchard, two women who are Perbacco veterans. Needless to say, Umberto and Staffan, as well as Mauro Cirilli, the Wine Director of both Perbacco and Barbacco, are also very much in evidence to ensure a first rate dining experience.
The specific items on Barbacco’s menu will change with the seasons and availability of ingredients, but I believe the basic categories found on Monday’s menu will remain fairly constant – i.e.:
~ inizio (at the start)
~ bruschette (grilled bread with toppings)
~ foglie e radici (greens and roots – i.e. salad)
~ nella ciotola (in the bowl – i.e. soup)
~ tra fette (between the slices – i.e. sandwiches)
~ dal grano (from grain – i.e. pasta, polenta, etc.)
~ piedi-ali-pinne (legs-wings-fins – i.e. meat)
~ a lato (on the side)
~ latte stagionato (aged milk – i.e. cheese)
~ zucchero (sugar – i.e. dessert)
Yutaka and I were hungry on Monday and in the mood to try a number of items. With the help of our waiter, Michael, our selections were:
~ inizio: quick braised squid/ tomato/ chili/ garlic/ spicy pan grattato
~ bruschette: broccoli rabe/ chili/ bellwether farm crescenza cheese and duck liver pate/ basalmico/ onion marmellata
~ foglie e radici: butcher’s salad – house made salumi/ lettuce heart/ olives/ pickled peppers
~ dal grano: penne/ tomato sugo/ barbacco pancetta/ onion/ chili pepper
~ a lato: soft polenta/ parmigiano reggiano/ extra virgin olive oil
~ zucchero: vanilla panna cotta/ citrus curd
Absolutely everything was excellent. The squid was tender, the pasta al dente and with a bright flavor, the polenta creamy, and the panna cotta with just the right sweet/tart balance. However, the single most impressive item for me was a dollop of the Calabrian salame called ‘nduja made there at Barbacco that was included in the Butcher’s Salad (it is also offered separately in the inizio section of the menu). The only ‘nduja (pronounced “en-DOO-yah) that I have ever had is that offered by Boccalone in the Ferry Building, which was the subject of a recent New York Times article, but I have to say there is just no comparison between Barbacco’s version and that of Boccalone from either the basis of flavor or texture. You really need to try it.
I am looking forward to getting back to Barbacco to further explore their menu and to learn more about their wine program which should now be up and running.