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Meat Me in Noe Valley

Rustic California-Italian food, prepared with thrift and skill, makes Noe Valley's Incanto one of the most appealing restaurants in the city. To most of its patrons, Incanto is simply a thoroughly appealing neighborhood restaurant. But to those who closely follow the food media, the place buzzes.

Chris Cosentino, Incanto's crusading chef, former Iron Chef competitor and operator of the new Boccalone salumi company, is a champion of offal. Offal, of course, is what the squeamish would describe as "the parts of an animal that should never make it on a plate." More literally, it’s "an animal's edible organ meats and extremities."

From cockscombs to trotters, Mr. Cosentino isn't afraid to offer up these overlooked organs. A winter menu, for example, included a pasticcio of pig's trotter, kidney, chestnuts, and nettle ($13). The kidneys in this meaty little pie weren't chopped or sliced to obscurity. Cosentino makes sure you know what you're eating.

In using unpopular parts, and then forcing diners to confront what they're eating, he's making a clear statement about responsible eating: we can't afford to waste as much of each animal as we do, nor to forget that our entrée was once a functioning body part.

For those who share his passion, Incanto offers the QuintoQuarto tasting menu ($65 per person), a culinary journey through an animal's innards.

But for every chunky kidney or lamb's neck on the regular menu there are two or three less challenging items. It's with these items, when Cosentino isn't trying to prove a point, that his cooking is at its best. Recent offerings included an appetizer of shaved artichokes with mint and pecorino ($9), and entrees such as asparagus risotto with Prosecco cream ($15) and halibut with baby leeks ($22), all skillfully executed.

The dining room is comfortable, without a hint of hipness. With its masonry walls and arches, spare wooden furniture, and heavy curtains, it recalls an Italian restaurant in Italy, as opposed to the all-too-common romanticized theme version that prevails in America.

For all the meaty swagger of its chef, one would expect Incanto to draw a young crowd of extreme eaters. Instead, the dining room fills up with quietly prosperous Noe Valley citizens and knowledgeable culinary tourists.

The secret of this place is that, for all the loud crusading of its famous chef (see for example, his website, Incanto is actually a lovely, restrained neighborhood restaurant with delicious--and accessible--food.

Noe Valley

Reservations essential? Yes.