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Pacific Heights Posh

Nestled in a residential section of Pacific Heights, just two blocks from Lafayette Park, Quince is one of the more upscale restaurants in town. The cuisine focuses on organic, local and seasonal ingredients and is mostly Italian. It's been a challenge to get a table since it opened two years ago, and you'll still wait several weeks before getting a spot between 7 and 8, regardless the night of the week.

So is Quince still worthy of the hype? Taking into account the small portions where each course is clearly meant to be a single portion, and the accompanying high prices, the answer is "maybe" and only if you happen to choose the right dishes. An overly lengthy menu seems to allow the kitchen to lose focus, and sometimes it loses its way completely.

While friendly, the service was a bit spotty. Some of the recommendations of the wait staff were our least favorite dishes, and the waitress showed that she clearly didn't know the menu that well when she asked if we wanted the "spezzatino" which is a braised stew, served medium rare. The wine list has some wonderful options, including many French and Italian half bottles to choose from that work well with hearty dishes.

We began with the mortadella della casa con gnocco frito ($11). The gnocco, a kind of deep fried cracker, wasn't as ethereal and puffy as it should have been, nor was it served warm, which is what was needed to create a perfect foil to the rich, thinly sliced mortadella. The fritto of rex sole, broccoli di ciccio, spring onion and lemon ($11) was hands down our favorite starter dish. The long strips of fish and broccoli were perfectly fried and completely greaseless, and the contrast of the onion and tangy lemon was refreshing. Another good starter was the delicate and briny fish & shellfish sausage ($15).

The pappardelle with Liberty duck ($17) was a well-balanced combination of toothsome pasta and slowly braised duck, though a tad salty. Unfortunately, the cannelloni of wild nettle, artichoke and San Daniele prosciutto ($17) was not well balanced. The nettle-flavored pasta was almost imperceptible, overpowered by the salty cooked prosciutto and the profuse rich artichoke cream filling.

Moving on to the third course selections, the Watson Farm spezzatino & fava beans ($24) was a respectable lamb stew with a scattering of vegetables, but it suffered from being over-salted. The Devil's Gulch rabbit tris: loin, spiedini and sausage ($27) was an expert showing of the kitchen's skill with meat. The sausage was finely textured and well seasoned; the loin was savory and herbal. The roast sea scallops with Coke Farm Jerusalem artichoke puree and prosecco sauce ($28) was perhaps the best dish of the evening. The sweet scallops were paired with a rich and creamy Jerusalem artichoke puree, and topped with a crunch of fried parsnip -- a symphony of textures and fresh flavors of the season.
Almost all desserts come with homemade gelato or sorbet, which is outstanding. We chose a semolina crespelle with creme fraiche, blood orange marmalade and olive oil gelato ($9). The crepes were an easy dessert to share. Though the crepes were slightly tough, the filling of creme fraiche and blood orange marmalade was heavenly -- light and creamy, almost fluffy -- with just the right amount of sweetness. The ice cream provided a refreshing contrast to the stuffed crepes. The baba napoletano with rum gelato, poached apricots, pine nuts and dark rum syrup ($9) was a very satisfying version of the classic baba au rum.

Though a bit too noisy to be truly romantic, the understated, elegant, cream dining room is intimate and comfortable, making it a refined spot for small celebrations. While the food was inconsistent on our visit, we can certainly recommend giving Quince a try if its price range is well within your comfort zone.

Pacific Heights

Reservations Essential? Yes