Meeting new friends and experiencing exceptionally good food are among my favorite memories. Wherever I am, each fills my heart with tremendous joy. On a recent trip to San Francisco I had the great pleasure meeting LouAnn of Oyster Culture, who writes a fascinating blog focused on the integration of food history and culture, where she researches in-depth the root and evolution of certain foods. How deep? If you want to get an idea read her post on Chorizo You Strain My Brain, where she dissects no less than 30 different styles of chorizo.
On our last visit, Lou Ann suggested we visit Barbacco, an Italian restaurant. Barbacco is the sister restaurant to Perbacco, which was so successful that the founders opened the second restaurant right next door. Based on the crowd at Barbacco, it wouldn't be a stretch to see another sibling born down the road. While this particular lunch was my first visit to Barbacco, over subsequent days I returned several other times, once even bringing my boss. If actions speak louder than words, mine reveal that I can't get enough of this place.
Barbacco's success is built on the ability to take high quality ingredients and allow them to shine plainly and simply on the plate. Every component is exceptional from the soft crusty breads to the house-cured meats and farm fresh fruits and vegetables.
In addition to the broad menu selection, Barbacco also demonstrates its forward thinking integration of electronics and restaurant service with such amenities as featuring its wine list on an iPad. With quick brush of your fingers, guests can find out the history of the winery, winemaker's tasting notes as well as information on the regional characteristics. Moreover, searching and sorting through the list by whites vs reds, regions and varietal makes finding the right wine to fit your mood much easier than tracking down a live person for suggestions. I hope that many more restaurants adopt this trend.
There were several not-to-miss dishes on the menu, of particular note are the appetizers which offer an opportunity for the tasters of the world, those who want to experience a wide range of Mediterranean flavors and styles. One of the surprisingly delicious appetizers was the house cured local sardines topped with shredded radish and salsa verde ($3). The tender, delicate and vinegary fillets of sardines were reminiscent of pickled herring, and while I am not fond of herring, I thought this was a standout appetizer among some very good dishes.
Duck liver pate topped with preserved dark cherries and drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinegar is another exceptional dish.($3) The buttery and creamy pronounced duck liver flavors meld together and is gently cut through by the mild acidity of the aged balsamic vinegar. On two separate occasions I split the appetizer, once with Lou Ann and a second time with my boss, each time thinking that it would be too decadent to handle myself. I can tell you that in the future it's not likely I will be sharing this appetizer again. I'm pretty sure that I can handle this one by myself next time.
Grilled filone bread with fresh, creamy and buttery burrata cheese ($7), is another appetizer that is not to be missed. The simple, pure and rich cheese is wonderfully paired with blistered sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh tender basil leaves. If you are not familiar with burrata, it isa fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is composed of solid mozzarella which envelops a combination of mozzarella and cream, providing an intriguing soft texture and pronounced buttery flavor. Simple and delicious.
If there is one reason to visit Barbarcco daily, it is to pick up one of its many satisfying sandwiches on the menu. On the day Lou Ann and I met we picked up the two most popular sandwiches on the menu: the Porchetta ($10) and the Muffeta ($8). The Porchetta is a beastly and prodigious sandwich with the bottom layer of bread soaked through with rich juices of the thick meaty slow roasted pork, which is blanketed with roasted sweet summer peaches, and fresh red onions. While good in its sweet rustic style, the porchetta sandwich does challenge you to keep the juices from dribbling down your chin and arms, and to devour it before the bottom layer of bread disintegrates.
The Muffeta ($8) is a simple sandwich with the house cured ham neatly layered cheese over a delicious fresh baked soft white bread. In contrast to the Porchetta, the Muffeta is visually absent many of the bells and whistles, but surprisingly this was the sandwich that I preferred. High-quality ingredients presented and enjoyed very simply, which is a trend that I can embrace everyday.
Barbacco is a great place to meet friends for a variety of light appetizers and well-thought comprehensive wine list. Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco on California and Sansome, it makes for a convenient stop over at lunch. They have an excellent take-out menu for those on the run. However if you decide to enjoy a sit-down lunch, come early because the seats go fast.