Exquisite Italian Small Plates at Barbacco at San Francisco

Who doesn’t feel fiercely proud when a younger sibling shines?

Such is the case with Barbacco in San Francisco, the new sibling to the ever-popular Perbacco in San Francisco, both just a short hop from the Mandarin Oriental.

The chef is Sarah Burchard, who was a protege of Perbacco Executive Chef Staffan Terje for three years. In this day and age of macho men butchering their own animals with major bragging rights, Burchard was right in there with them. Formerly in charge of Perbacco’s salumi program, the petite chef regularly broke down whole pigs just like the guys. And no surprise — the salumi continues to be outstanding at Barbacco.

Opened in January, this sleek Cass Calder Smith-designed restaurant rocks a decidedly New York vibe. The narrow 66-seat restaurant has brushed stainless steel columns, exposed pipes, a brick wall, and seating at a long counter stacked with jars of olives. The bare wood tables are at just-below bar stool-height with chairs that have comfy rests for your feet. A couple of large flat screen TVs add buzz without being too distracting.

The lively restaurant is a perfect spot to stop in for a glass of wine and something to nosh on. At lunch, there are to-go items, with the menu displayed on the TV screen at the front counter. Or take your time at dinner, and wind your way leisurely through the extensive menu of mostly shared plates.

That’s just what we did on a recent evening when I was invited in to dine as a guest. Ever since I first tried fried olives many years ago in Spain, I haven’t been able to resist them. I mean, come on — something oily and rich made even more oily and more rich? What’s not to like?

At Barbacco, they come stuffed with pork. The $5 “ascolane” are large, meaty green olives with a serious crunch on the outside. You know they’re bad for you, but you can’t stop yourself. Not with these.

No way could we pass up the house-made salumi here. We went for the small chef’s selection ($11 or $18, depending upon the size of the platter). Among the standouts was the mortadella, which tastes like the most exquisite, grown-up, gourmet version of baloney you’ll ever eat; and the ‘nduja, a crock of spicy, spreadable smoked Calabrian salame. Dolloped with Calabrian chili peppers, it was creamy, fatty, and mind-blowing good.

Next, a selection of three bruschette (three for $8) that came topped with fluffy, whipped salt cod; smooth duck liver pate with an intense duck flavor; and truffled lardo, thin slivers of cured pork fat that melted on the tongue.

A chilled seafood salad followed, with tender mussels, scallops, and squid tossed in a sprightly, lemony vinaigrette.

I can never resist meatballs, so when I spied “polpette” ($12) on the menu, I had to order them. Unlike fluffier, lighter versions, these Sicilian meatballs were hearty and meaty with pine nuts, raisins and braised chard in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.

Perbacco’s pork sugo pasta sauce is one of my all-time favorites, which I make regularly at home. When I spied a different version of the pork ragu on Barbacco’s menu, I had to see how it compared. While Perbacco’s ragu uses ground pork, Barbacco’s is full of shredded pork instead. Thick, rich, spicy and with that unforgettable cooked-for-hours complexity, the Barbacco ragu tops toothsome paccheri (wide, tubular pasta). Think big pappardelle noodles rolled up into hair curler-size.

Desserts are fairly simple, with a selection of housemade gelato and sorbettos, as well as citrus curd tart and espresso panna cotta.

A scoop of the butterscotch-chocolate crunch ($2) was a fitting finale — sweet, dreamy and memorable.

Although I love working from home most days now, what I wouldn’t give for a job in the Financial District, if only to be able to drop into Barbacco regularly.

More: Make Perbacco’s Five-Hour Pork Sugo

More: Perbacco Chef Staffan Terje’s Scallop Crudo, As Well As Other Scallop Recipes

More: A Honey of A Dinner at Perbacco

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  • I was just talking about how much I love fried olives the other day, and the fluffy whipped salt cod sounds fantastic. I want to learn how to make that!

  • Excellent yummy bites! Right now I would love a scoop of the butterscotch-chocolate crunch!

  • Mmmm….every dish just look so good. That butterscotch-chocolate crunch just looks so tempting.

  • fried olives, the glory of Marchesani cooking…awesome awesome awesome, your post makes me want to jump onto a plane right now…

  • MMMMMMM,…the foood & the dishes look lovely especially the ice cream,…yum!

  • fried olives? meh, why not. 🙂
    that butterscotch and chocolate dessert looks luscious.

  • Carolyn – Have I told you how much I love your blog lately? I would like to start doing some local restaurant reviews. I have Will Write for Food; can you recommend any other helpful resources about the subject? Thank you!

  • As always – YUMMY!!!!!!!!!!

  • Evil woman! Again with a lead on lardo!! After discovering it in a centuries-old monastery-turned restaurant in Italy, I was perfectly happy believing that lardo was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I do *not* need to know that it’s obtainable, and from the looks of that picture, delicious, right here on our own side of the planet. Please, Carolyn — put me on the “Advance notify to avoid reading future lardo-related posts” lists, would you?


  • This is great timing. We will be in SF in 2 weeks. Aside from Slanted Door, we are still building our list of restaurants to visit.
    Do you have a fav spot for Dim Sum?
    We will also be in Carmel for a few days. Any suggestions you have would be fantastic!

  • Carroll: I guess I shouldn’t tell you that you can buy a small block of lardo at Boccalone in the SF Ferry Building? OK, I won’t mention that to you. 🙂

    Debi: One of my fave places for dim sum is Yank Sing at the Rincon Center in SF. It’s one of the more pricier dim sum places around. But the quality is fabulous. I like to take out-of-town guests there and none of them has ever left without feeling dazzled.’

    I don’t get to Carmel as often as I would like. But I would say, I’ve long been a fan of Chef Cal Stamenov. His food is elegant, modern and satisfying. He’s at the Bernardus Lodge. Dinner is a pretty penny, but if you want to splurge on vacation, it’s a great place to do so.

  • I love Perbacco, so I know I am going to lobe Barbacco – just been looking for a good excuse to check it out!

    Regarding dim sum – have you tried Hong Kong Lounge yet on Geary? Me neither, its close to home and the lines are out the door, which is a good sign, even over a year, but I am determined to make it in one of these days@

  • ooh that salumi plate and the pork ragu have mesmerized me completely. I rushed past it the other day, so close and still so far away. It looks great and girl chefs rock!

  • OysterCulture: I don’t believe I have been to Hong Kong Lounge. But yes, if the lines are out the door, the dim sum must definitely be worth the wait.

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