My visit to Perbacco was a test. I have a hypothesis, you see. A theory. And it goes something like this: Contrary to what you might think, it’s really not a lot of fun to be a vegetarian in an Italian restaurant. Why? Cuz all you can order is pasta and risotto. Which gets to be carb-tastically old after a while.
However, until last night, I’d never bothered to ask if any of the chefs could whip up a vegetarian entrée for me. After all, pasta’s not really a main course, so don’t I deserve a little secondi love?
Apparently the answer is “no”. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
To be fair, I was feeling cranky long before arriving at Perbacco for our 9:15 reservation. We were supposed to meet an out of town friend at District, the new wine bar on Townsend, but when we arrived, the place was packed to the rafters. One of the owners was actually playing bouncer outside, telling people they couldn’t come in until the bar cleared out a bit. I’m happy for their success, I suppose, but I doubt I’ll be going back any time soon to give it a try. My reason, mind you, is wrong, wrong, wrong—but I’ll admit it to you, dear reader, so that I might spare you some pain. You know when you walk up to a place, and you see the crowd inside, and you think, “Shit, there’s no way I’m going in there.” (I’d call out the bar at Americano as an example, but I’ve already made fun of them recently, so it wouldn’t be fair.) Well, it was like that. Plus, most of the patrons seemed way too hammered for 6:30 after work. It’s supposed to be a wine bar, not a Bennigans. Feel free to leave a nasty comment and call me a Mission-loving lefty freak girl. Just be warned that I’ll take it as the ultimate compliment.
Anyway, back to Perbacco. I’ve read lots of nasty things about long waits, but we were seated promptly by a very kind host. Our waiter was perfectly nice, too, though something seemed “off” about him. After a bit of discussion on the subject, we decided that he was just kind of cold. He was prompt and knowledgeable, but he had all the warmth and charm of a robot. (Not you, C3PO. The other kind of robot.) His service was such a contrast to our recent service at Andina in Portland, it really stood out as a big negative.
I knew going into it that there wasn’t going to be a whole hell of a lot for me to order prêt à porter, so to speak. I wanted to see what would happen if I asked for a vegetarian entrée. Which I did. Captain Robotron pointed me to the pasta and risotto. “Oh, and they could make a plate of sides for you, too.” (Hurrah! I’m at Boston Market again!)
I don’t know. Maybe I’m being unfair. Still, I’d rather have him lie to me and say that the chef would be glad to honor my request, then just have him throw some sides together anyway. That way, I would have felt included in the experience. (Sad face goes here.)
So we ordered. My partner started with the Salame Valdostano, with Juniper and Alpine Thyme, and I got the Mozzarella di Bufala with Meyer Lemon.
This would be a great point for me to pause and tell you straight up. If you’re vegan, don’t even bother. The only veg stuff is cheese to the Nth degree. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world without cheese, so I’m okay with it. (Yes, my conscience bothers me in that regard. Life without cheese, though…I…I…just can’t talk about it.)
The Mozzarella arrived looking like two giant scoops of vanilla ice cream, all melty at the edges, with tasty bits of meyer lemon zest suspended in disbelief of their good fortune. The cheese was fantastic. For the first ten bites. And then something horrible happened. I got to the point where I simply couldn’t eat any more freakin’ cheese. I’m not actually sure if I’ve EVER been at that point in my life, previous to last night.
And so, here is my primer on the wonders of “small”.
There are times in life when small is good. Small is precious. Small is special. Small is just short of satisfying and leaves you longing for one bite more, that delicious, lip-smacking want that overlaps with something primal, something sexy.
Two giant softballs of mozzarella just ain’t sexy.
I’d have gladly paid more for less. (A16 serves the perfect amount, and it’s divine, by the way.) Instead, we gorged ourselves, feeling some weird dustbowl era guilt over leaving that beautiful cheese on the plate. Thankfully, I had my partner to help bat clean up. Because her eight paper-thin slices of salame, at a dollar a slice, had demonstrated the opposite effect. She was just frustrated and hungry.
I also ordered the Pear and Endive Salad with Gorgonzola, Chestnut Honey Vinaigrette and Hazelnuts. I think I would have enjoyed it more if my stomach wasn’t begging for mercy. “No more cheese!” it cried. I didn’t listen. Alas, I never do. The salad was solid. I’ll give it that. Solid, but not stellar.
While we waited for our final course, we started to remark on the interior. It was very downtown. Or rather, very out of town. You know? Like, everyone there was in San Francisco for the weekend. Plus, it has a foot-tall stripe of mirror that runs all along the wall, just above the back of the bench seating. Which reminded me of some kind of “Old Kountry Buffet” or something. I guess they wanted to make the space seem bigger, which struck me as totally unnecessary. From where we were seated in the back, the room seemed cavernous and impersonal. Who knows? Maybe that’s what they were going for.
My pasta—the Butternut Squash Mezzelune with Sage and Brown Butter—was perfectly cooked and just the right thickness. Dusty crumbles of Castelmango cheese, salty and sharp, kept the sweetness from becoming insipid. Still, I couldn’t keep from getting jealous of my partner’s entrée. It looked so…complete. (She had the Yellowfin Tuna. I stole a Corona Bean off her plate and it was really tasty. She claims the beans were truly the best part of the dish.) My pasta, though wonderful, felt like a kiddie dish. I wanted to follow it with something savory and complex. Sigh. I suppose it’s easier to come up with a suitable vegetarian entrée if you’re cooking California cuisine. Or Middle Eastern. Or Asian. Or French…oh, man, I’ve had some great success asking the chef for something at Boulevard. And then, of course, there’s the vegetarian tasting menu at Fleur de Lys.
WAIT A TICK. How come everyone else on the planet can do it but the Italians? My people, no less!
By the time dessert rolled around, I couldn’t eat another bite of gooey or sweet. I was stuffed, but not satisfied, and that’s a horrible feeling.
Maybe if I ate meat, I would have loved it. There was nothing technically wrong, but there were a few things that simply weren’t right. Our robot server, Escape from Mozzarella Mountain, the creepy Vegas buffet mirror, the fact that they couldn’t be bothered to pretend to make me a vegetarian entrée (What, pasta ain’t good enough for ya?). It all added up to a disappointment that could have easily been avoided.
Now will someone please tell me where to go to disprove my theory?