230 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Chef Staffan Terje
Dinner Monday through Saturday
Last tried: February 2008
Since the restaurant was jam-packed on a Tuesday night, I suspect the restaurant has hit its sweet spot. For my personal taste, though, everything I tried was merely not bad, with the high notes being the vitello tonnato and the pasta offerings.
The scallop crudo with chunks of cucumber and transparently thin micro-radish disks was a pleasant beginning, with the sweet pool of olive oil and crystal specks of sea salt almost masking the slightly tired scallops. The mortadella was oddly perfumey, like hotel shampoo, but the rest of the salumi platter was acceptably satisfying and certainly generous in portion size. The grilled squid was generally fresh and nicely charred, although the bed of buttery pureed potato on which they were served nearly drowned out its flavor.
The agnolotti with cabbage and veal was the perfect combination of sweet cabbage, savory veal, and rich and flavorful yet not the least bit overwhelming sugo d'arrosto. The pappardelle, clearly homemade, had perfect texture, although somewhat marred by the oddly flavored duck confit with citrus and cilantro adding a jarring Asian accent.
Other people seem to love this place. With its generous portions and well-priced wine list, I can appreciate its appeal for a business lunch or dinner, but I think I'm done now.
Last tried: June 2007
Perbacco seems to be hitting its stride a bit more consistently. The tortelloni filled with prosciutto in brodo with fresh peas was well balanced and better than any of the dishes tried on my first visit. The strawberry sorbet was refreshing yet creamy with the right amount of sweetness and fresh tart flavors (the supermarket-type strawberry shortbread rounds I could have done without).
I'm curious to see whether Perbacco will continue to improve.
Tried: January 2007
Perbacco is the new restaurant in the space that formerly housed The Gold Coast, an unpretentious watering hole in the San Francisco financial district that used to have cups of cigarettes at the bar, flouting the nonsmoking regulations. The only remnant of the old bar appears to be the exposed bricks. The entire space, although still somewhat awkward in dimension, has been transformed into an impressive-looking restaurant, a destination worthy of client entertainment. However, with Aqua on the same block and Italian restaurants the caliber of A16, Quince, and Delfina just a short cab ride away, Perbacco needs some seasoning before it can stand up to these establishments.
The first obstacle we encountered was the inexperienced service. Although very friendly and well-intentioned, our server had little knowledge about the menu or the wine list. When I asked about the difference in sauce between the agnolotti with sugo d'arrosto and the tagliatelle with pork sugo, she either did not know or could not explain and ended up just reciting the written contents and descriptions of the menu back to me. After several such problems, we decided that we should navigate the menu on our own. Fortunately Perbacco's menu offers many delicious-sounding options, ranging from crudos and salumi to small plates, pastas, and main courses of fish, poultry, and meat. Perhaps most diners do not order items from each category? After our first several courses, all of the plates, breadsticks, and silverware were cleared away as though we had asked for the check even though we were still awaiting the grilled dry-aged sirloin steak.
The second obstacle was the inexperienced kitchen. Our crudos were served too warm (fortunately they were fresh enough to withstand this minor mistreatment); our pastas were all overcooked; and our steak was so rare that the meat was bloody and pulpous as though it had just been slaughtered and laid to rest for a moment on one side near the grill. I could see, however, that the flavors and seasonings were well integrated. Had the temperature issues been addressed, the dishes could have been quite good.
The upside. The grissini (thin breadsticks) and salsa verde served in lieu of the standard bread and butter are almost worth the trip alone. The long, thin, buttery, crunchy breadsticks are spectacular, and the bright green pureed salsa verde has just enough spice and garlic to complement the breadsticks beautifully.
Perbacco has potential. But it faces a lot of competition in San Francisco to be offering this type of cuisine without some critical attention to the details to make it come together.