Thursday, November 29, 2007

(XLB x 2)+(Incanto x 3courses)= FULL

Despite the fact that I will be returning to SF for a few more days in a week and a half, I went out in a blaze of excessive eating glory yesterday. I kicked off the day with another double dose of xiao long bao in the Richmond, which confirmed my preference for those at Shanghai House. In my opinion, Shanghai Dumpling King's are a bit too sweet and have a less delicate pork flavor. SH's vegetarian goose was also good, very crisply fried and lightly sauced with sweet soy. On a previous visit, the same dish at SDK arrived not only cold but still slightly frozen in the center... never a positive quality. I also tried the cold tripe in chili oil (listed on the menu in a less appealing fashion simply as "cow stomach") at SDK, which was tasty but cut in thick, irregular hunks instead of shaved, of which I much prefer the latter.

After recovering for a good few hours, I moved on to Incanto, my fifth visit in as many weeks. I had come with the intention of just sampling the truffled mortadella agnolotti, but of course the menu had a multitude of new offerings that I found impossible to resist. This resulted in ordering three courses (all morbidly decadent, incidentally), to be consumed all by my lonesome. First off was the enigmatically alluring cod milt bruschetta with shaved fennel. I had assumed that milt was some unfamiliar term for roe... what arrived was a large piece of grilled bread topped with a delicate, pale, creamy mass that looked a lot like calves' brains. Its rich and melting texture, only barely hinting of fishiness, was offset nicely by the crunchy shaved fennel and crisp-chewy bread. Upon returning home, a google search revealed the reality of cod milt... it would seem that I swallowed more than I had bargained for! At first I found that thought pretty... off-putting, you could say. But really, is it so different in concept than eating caviar, or any eggs for that matter? And uni is in fact ovaries, from what I've understood (another polarizing delicacy of which I am a fan). But moving on... Next came another crostino, this time topped with two fat slices of seared foie gras, bits of braised pig trotter, a slice of bacon and sauteed pieces of pear. One third of the way and I wasn't sure I was going to make it to my next course, let alone through this plate. Delicious, yes, but it was truly one of the richest dishes I have ever eaten, anywhere. Oddly, I wasn't into the trotter component; its formlessness and bland fattiness detracted from the foie, whose richness was overwhelming enough already. However the relatively lean bacon partenered very well, its sweet-salty chew providing an interesting dynamic. I would say that the dish as a whole could have used a bit more acidity, as the fairly ripe pears were merely sweet and not at all astringent. Finally, ready to keel over, I mustered up the will to face the agnolotti for which I had originally come in the first place. Showered with shaved fresh truffles (which must have been domestic, given the low price), they were worth it. I didn't love the slightly grainy texture of the ground mortadella filling, which for some reason I had expected to be smoother, but the sweet, subtle flavor with just a hint of nutmeg was very nice. The brown butter sauce was once again velvety and well-balanced.

Third course conquered at last, I rolled myself to Cafe Flore in hopes that espresso might cut through the discontent in my maxed out belly. To no avail, my tummy ache lasted all night, through my flight and into this morning.

I guess gilding the lily has its consequences.

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