Celebratory, urbane northern Italian dining

In Europe, people sit down to lunch at two o’clock and finish at five. Perbacco, the urbane new northern Italian restaurant lets you do that here — joyfully eat and drink your way through a holiday afternoon.

One such day, two of us began a celebration with Harry’s Bar cocktails (hard-to-find Carpano Antica and gin, served up), and a photogenic plate of house-made salumi ($12). Each slice was so tissue-thin, it immediately released its flavors on the tongue, like the pepper, wine and fruitiness in salame al barolo, the first of many dishes that would show off chef/owner Staffan Terje’s talent for meat cookery.

The second was a warm pig’s head terrine called coppa di testa ($7). Don’t panic — it’s more terrine than head, a mosaic of different bits of pork barely molded together and topped with a pickle-y vinaigrette — one of the best starters in town.

Consider Terje’s exquisite tajarin, a tangle of thin, delicate, housemade tagliatelle topped with five-hour pork sugo, a meat sauce so buttery and integrated, it practically melts into the noodles ($10/$15). This is a destination dish if there ever was one.

Not far behind in my esteem are agnolotti dal plin ($10/$15), “little priest’s caps” of house-made pasta lusciously filled with a paste of veal and cabbage, sauced only with the juices of roasted meat.

Terje’s fish cooking shines too, as evidenced by a crescent of crunchy semolina-crusted skate, with a juicy orange and fennel salad ($22).

Mussels and roasted tomatoes tasted awfully good with excitingly al dente spaghettini ($17), just the way it’s done in southern Italy.

But if you’re in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs, you’re in luck. Garganelli ($10/$15), “little wind pipes” tossed in tomato sauce, get big, moist, balls of ground veal and pork. Terje, who was Swedish before turning Italian, shows particular affinity for the meatball.

The man is a bona fide Italian chef now, having spent a whole career heading the original Piatti in Yountville and the wildly popular Scala’s Bistro near Union Square in San Francisco. Now he’s teamed up with Umberto Gibin, a native Venetian and a super pro in the dining room, as partners in Perbacco.

Gibin, who knows practically everyone in town, sets the warm, welcoming, anything-is-possible, tone. He’s an Italian wine expert and offers some of his tastiest wines in half carafes, which greatly enhances the Perbacco experience — you can drink well and just enough.

The long, red brick space with a marble bar, sleek leather banquettes and crisp linen, transports you to Milan. Separate dining areas buzz with their own rhythms. Lingering over shimmering pistachio-infused panna cotta ($7), delightful with a little glass of honeyed Moscato, late into the afternoon, feels absolutely necessary.

Though only a month old, Perbacco already has the aura of a grown-up restaurant. The versatile, affordable menu encourages a bite at the bar or a three-hour meal. Enthusiastic service has improved with each visit.

And best of all, this ambitious, bustling, big-city operation feels right for its location — in the heart of the Financial District, yet only a few blocks from the farmers market on the Embarcadero. I’ve seen the chef push a loaded cart right up California Street straight into his kitchen!

PERBACCO

Location: 230 California St., San Francisco

Contact: (415) 955-0663 or www.perbaccosf.com

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday

Price range: Starters $6 to $12; main courses $14 to $29

Recommended dishes: Salumi, coppa di testa, tajarin, agnoloti, skate, pork shoulder roasted in milk, pistachio panna cotta

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Recommended

To send a gift subscription of “Unterman-on-Food,” a printed, bi-monthly newsletter, e-mail pattiu@concentric.net.

entertainmentFeaturesFood & DrinkFood and Wine

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A ban on smoking or vaping in multi-unit buildings has drawn opposition from cannabis advocates, who say it would leave users with no legal place to consume a legal substance. (Shutterstock)
Cannabis group slams Yee’s proposed apartment smoking ban as ‘classist’

Legislation would impose fines of $1,000 a day on repeat violators

The most dangerous behaviors by drivers include failing to yield right-of-way at crosswalks, unsafe speeding and failing to stop at red lights or stop signs. <ins>(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, which supplies water to San Francisco, is among the concerns of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is undergoing a change of leadership. <ins>(Courtesy SFPUC)</ins>
Changes in leadership at SFPUC spark concern, hope for future water policy

Will agency’s new commissioner continue to support Big Ag?

Supervisor Shamann Walton joined with community members to speak out against rising homicides, which have taken a heavy toll in the Bayview-Hunters Point in 2020. (Samantha Laurey/ Special to S.F Examiner)
SF homicides surpass 2019 total with month left in year

Police attribute rise to COVID-19, shootings and deadly gang violence

A screenshot from SFPD body worn camera
New videos show police shooting man armed with knife, frying pan

Police say Antonio Estrada set fire to apartment building before shooting

Most Read