We did try the duck confit ($14), a gently crisped leg and thigh half-recumbent on a bed of dandelion greens given some sweetness and crunch by sections of pixie tangerines and rubbly little bits of crushed hazelnuts. Duck confit is one of those ideal dishes for restaurants - it's elegant and slightly exotic, highly skill- and time-intensive, with most of the work being done days beforehand and not much to do at the finish besides crisping the skin and warming the meat through - and Piccino's version does honor to the kitchen. I wouldn't have minded some lentils on the side, though maybe they're considered cliche now, or maybe Americans just don't have much use for legumes other than the peanut. And even with peanuts, we prefer the artifice of grinding them into paste.
There was at lunch an interesting minestrone ($5.50) that consisted largely of a mocha-colored cranberry-bean puree in which orecchiette floated like inner tubes on a muddy summer river. Perhaps legumes are more acceptable to the American palate if pulverized so as to be unrecognizable? And where there is soup, there is likely to be sandwich: of salume cotto ($8.75), slices of warm cured meat on grilled country bread. With arugula! And a nice heap of vinegar-modulated lentil salad on the side, with the legumes daringly left intact.
The advent of Piccino tells us which way the wind is blowing in the Dogpatch. In the evening the neighborhood's streets are quiet (all the traffic is on the freeway a few blocks west and Third Street a few blocks east), and the houses show a friendly dowdiness, like a grandmother's dresses. But the restaurant's crowds are young and knowing, and if they're not sure what speck is, they expect to find out. *
Mon.-Wed., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun. (coffee bar only), 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
801 22nd St., SF
Beer and wine
Cash only (credit cards pending)