Perbacco: fine dining beyond the Week of Italian Cuisine

Cecilia Chiang, Diane Xu, Umberto Gibin, Eva Flair & Carmen Giannattasio. Photo courtesy of Bloom17

Several weeks prior to the 2018 Week of Italian Cuisine (November 12-17), San Francisco's fine dining establishment Perbacco, offered special guests a particularly stellar evening. On October 25th 2018, owner Umberto Gibin and Chef Staffan Terje hosted an exceptional dinner at their popular 12-year-old restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District.

Helping to organize the event were Mauro Aprile Zanetti (Cloud-4Wi, Chief Evangelist) and Bloom17 founder, Eva Flair. Zanetti shared highlights of the evening's events with L’Italo Americano. "The evening began with a special Prosecco reception as guests arrived and settled in for the main event. Curious diners, foodies and gourmets gathered around a long table for a four-course dinner prepared by Chef Terje with popular Piemontese dishes such as agnolotti al brasato served with the first truffles of the season, and cervo al civet. The family-style meal was complete with thoughtful wine pairings from the region. Throughout the evening, Gibin shared stories and his wealth of knowledge of Piemontese culinary tradition, including anecdotes about the dishes and fun facts like how the region is the origin of the popular Slow Food Movement."

Michael Bauer, Eva Flair & Carmen Giannattasio. Photo courtesy of Bloom17

When L’Italo Americano asked Umberto Gibin to share his perspective, he provided fascinating historical facts about the evening's impressive menu.  "At the dinner, we presented a menu celebrating some of the most traditional and storied Piemontese dishes. In particular the finanziera and the white truffles served with the agnolotti.

"Finanziera has a very humble origin. It was a dish that the peasants cooked dating back to the 1500s and consists of braised cockscombs. Apparently, cockscombs were also used as a payment to get into the city's walls. The name of the dish at that time is unknown. 

Umberto Gibin speaking, Sheila Pierce Ortona, Romana Bracco & Carlo Di Ruocco. Photo courtesy of Bloom17

"Through the years, the dish was doctored and other little parts were added, enriching it with sweetbreads, little meatballs, duck testicles, and duck gizzards. Marsala was used for the sauce. In the mid-1800s it became a dish consumed only by the privileged. It took the name finanziera or financière. Finanziera was the name given to the jacket that these people were wearing.

"Truffles have been around for centuries. Once again the poor peasants were the first to enjoy these precious nuggets. The story goes that the peasants had to give all the meat to the lords thus leaving them with not much else to eat other than vegetables and eggs. The truffles were used to enhance the flavor of the eggs. That is why, still at this point, most of the dishes that pair well with the tubers have an egg component in them.

"Originally pigs were employed to find the truffles because of their high sense of smell. But the pigs would eat the truffle when found if the owner didn't get there on time. Now they train dogs." 

Gibin also shared his thoughts on the Slow Food movement by saying, "Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in protest to the arrival of fast food in Italy with the opening of the first McDonalds in Milano. It is now an international movement based in Bra, in the province of Cuneo."

The Perbacco evening preceded November's Week of Italian Cuisine in San Francisco, a week that parallels the International Week of Italian cuisine. According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Week of Italian Cuisine aims to promote Italian culinary traditions and food-and-wine connoisseurship as a distinctive trait of Italian identity and culture. The concept of the initiative is based on a few key points: bring forth high-quality cuisine, safeguard and promote Italian products, create narratives of the Italian territories. 

Alongside this international movement, since its opening in 2006, Perbacco has been committed to sharing the cuisine of Northern Italy, specifically Piemonte, with the residents of San Francisco and visitors from all over the world. For this particular dinner, the goal was to not only share delicious Italian cuisine, but also to educate diners about it, and have conversations through food and about the region so dear to the hearts of Gibin and Terje. 

Wines were thoughtfully paired with courses as illustrated by the second course of finanziera, ragout of jewels and bits served in vol au vent sweetbreads, chicken liver, giblets, truffled veal meatballs, porcini mushrooms, spring onion, marsala jus, paired with 2015 Barbera d’Alba, “Scarrone,” Vietti.  The main course was cervo al civet, venison leg simmered with spices, cocoa and red wine, seared loin, otto file polenta, paired with 2011 Barolo, “Cerretta,” Barile N.146, Germano Ettore. 

Perbacco was one of the restaurants participating in this year's Week of Italian Cuisine and this particularly festive evening was enjoyed by all as guests left with their appetites and curiosities satisfied. Some notable guests included Carmen Giannattasio (Soprano with San Francisco Opera’s production of Tosca), Sheila Pierce Ortona (wife of the Italian Consul General in San Francisco, Lorenzo Ortona), Cecilia Chiang (restaurateur legend), and Michael Bauer (former San Francisco Chronicle Food critic).

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